I am excited to bring you another guest blogger today!  Maria Rainier is a classically trained pianist, piano teacher, blogger for First in Education and is fluent in Spanish.  I’m sure you will find her ideas inspiring not for foreign language study, but for literacy in general!  ~EMP

I’ve been through years of Spanish instruction – six, to be exact – and the one lesson that stands out in my mind and makes me glad I took all those classes is the one that involved music. It was in high school, and I can’t help but wonder how much more I might have absorbed if my early Spanish teacher had used music in the classroom. The reason I think back to that Spanish class and the music the teacher played for us is that, to me, the song I heard was Spain itself. Music has a way of capturing everything about language, culture, people, and life. When I heard a song written and performed by native Spanish speakers, it was like being transported to that country and having the opportunity to experience Spain the way those performers saw it. My perspective changed and the language came alive to me. Ever since, I’ve loved Spain and have spent as much time there as possible, hoping to return.

Of course, you can’t guarantee that every foreign language student will have that kind of experience when introduced to authentic music performed by native speakers. I’ve always loved both music and language, so I’m biased, but I do know that music and foreign language enhance one another in a tangible way. Music is fun, stimulating, repetitive, and easy to internalize – all perfect qualities to complement foreign language instruction. Students enjoy it and benefit from both the intellectual and the emotional responses they have to music. Fortunately, it’s easy to use music in the foreign language classroom, and the following are some effective activities that can complement almost any teaching style.

Fill In the Blank

This first activity is the simplest one, so it’s a good place to start. Some students may benefit from gradual introduction to music-related activities since, sadly, they are often an unfamiliar experience. To begin with a straightforward strategy, choose a song that represents the language well and doesn’t have too much confusing vernacular or incorrect grammar. It should also be free of potentially offensive material. Once you’ve chosen a good song, type up the lyrics and replace some of the key words with blanks. You can include a word bank if you’d like to, but it’s just as effective to let students try to sound out new words and spell them correctly. Have your students listen to the song and try to fill in the missing words to the best of their ability, then go around the room and have each student volunteer a word to fill a blank. You can allow students to challenge one another if they think someone else’s answer is incorrect or you can simply correct any mistakes. By the end of the activity, your students should have learned some new words and you can assign definitions for the next class period.

What Does It Say?

Choose an evocative piece of music that uses authentic and traditional instruments, techniques, and harmonies. Have your students listen to the song and write down any familiar words they hear. Now, divide your students into small groups and have them try to figure out what the song is about and make up a short skit that communicates the meaning of the song. This can be very funny if you choose the right song. After the skits have been performed, hand out the printed lyrics and explain them to the class. Finally, have the class vote for the group whose skit was closest to the true meaning of the song.

Music Vocabulary Lesson

With more advanced students, you can use music to teach music-related vocabulary like instruments, music styles, techniques, and more. You can also introduce descriptive words that students can use to convey how the music makes them feel. For a short and simple activity at the end of a class, play a song and have students write down five or ten related words in English that they would like to learn in the foreign language. Collect their papers and redistribute them so that they’re looking up each other’s words and bringing the definitions to the next class. This makes for rich discussion time, plus you can add these words to quizzes and tests.

You Be the Artist

Choose a song and play it during class for several days, letting your students get used to it. You can even use it in one of the previous activities to make sure students are very familiar with it. Once they’ve heard it a few times and have started humming along, have them write their own lyrics to the song. You can make this into a big project or simply have your students write a new chorus, but either way, they’ll get to be creative and use language in the process. Helping students recognize that they can “make” something in a foreign language is a big step toward mastering that language.

Photo: Public Domain
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Read more by Maria at the Online Degrees site.