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How to Integrate Music and Foreign Language

Whether you are a homeschooling parent who needs to instruct students in numerous subjects, a music teacher or a foreign language teacher, it is important for you to recognize the connection between music and learning a foreign language.

Have you ever noticed how a song can get stuck in your head? Sometimes, this comes to people in the form of an annoying earworm, but memorizing a song, which often happens without conscious effort, also can serve a critical purpose.

As an example, think about the short, educational cartoon series called School House Rock that once aired on Saturday mornings. These music-based cartoons were super-catchy, but they also conveyed important information about subjects like grammar and history. Many of today’s adults can still recall relatively obscure facts and grammatical rules thanks to their Saturday morning television habit of decades ago.

Similarly, if you took any foreign language classes in high school or college, then you probably were asked to sing songs in that language. It may have seemed a little bit silly at the time, but there were good reasons for learning foreign tunes.

Singing songs in a foreign language is a great way to reinforce pronunciation and diction through repetition. Plus, singing a fun song doesn’t seem so much like work. It’s more like attending a sing-along at a campfire.

Music and Language Intelligence

According to researcher Howard Gardner in his book “Frames of Mind,” people may have several different kinds of intelligence. Most people particularly excel in one of these intelligence types. Here are the eight intelligence types as Gardner viewed them:

  • Naturalist intelligence or nature smart;
  • Intrapersonal intelligence or self smart;
  • Interpersonal intelligence or people smart;
  • Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence or body smart;
  • Spatial intelligence or picture smart;
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence or number and reasoning smart;
  • Linguistic intelligence or word smart; and
  • Musical and linguistic intelligence or music and language smart.

Notice how Gardner connects musical intelligence with linguistic intelligence, showing that the two are intrinsically intertwined.

Accordingly, a teacher can use Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences to craft lessons that appeal to their students’ strengths.

Imagine that you are teaching your student about the history of Europe in the mid to late 18th century. You could take several different approaches such as examining the economy of the various countries, trying some role playing or listening to the works of at least one of the leading composers of the era, Franz Joseph Haydn.

By taking approaches that are analytical, creative and music-based, you can appeal to numerous different intelligence types and increase your chances of creating a classroom experience that captures your students’ imaginations.

Try a Fun Exercise

If you are trying to combine academic work in music and a foreign language, then this is the perfect classroom activity. Pick a favorite song in the foreign language that your students are learning. Play the song for the kids. As they listen, ask them to write down adjectives that describe the music and what they think the song is about. Drawing pictures is another great way to accomplish this.

After the song is over, spend some time talking about the song and what it is about. It is surprising how often students are able to get close to the song’s theme even when they don’t understand all of the lyrics.

Another exercise that kids like to come back to again and again is Filling in the Blank. Pass out papers with the lyrics for a simple song in a foreign language. Make sure that you have left a blank here and there for certain lyrics. Play the song for the kids, asking them to fill in the blank when they hear that word in the song. Pause the song so that you can discuss the word, how to spell it, how to pronounce it and what it means. Next, continue playing the song until the next blank is reached. When all of the blanks are filled in at the end of the song, play the song through a couple more times with the kids singing along. This could become a favorite new song at your house.

Music and foreign language teachers also have had success when they teach lessons about the western composers, using their nationality as background. Here is a sampling of the composers that your students might learn about:

  • Poland, by learning about the works of Chopin;
  • Germany, through studying Beethoven’s compositions;
  • Austria, by exploring Mozart’s creations; and
  • Russia, through learning more about Tchaikovsky.

There are so many ways to make these lessons compelling and memorable. Try listening to a composer’s works while learning to speak their native language. Combine this study with an examination of the history and politics of that country in the composer’s era. Sprinkle the lesson with all sorts of foreign words and phrases. For good measure, make a meal, or at least a dish or two, that reflects the country’s culture.

Why Use Music in Foreign Language Courses?

Instructors who are teaching foreign language classes may not be naturally drawn to music. This can make them feel a little uncomfortable when it comes to using music to introduce their preferred subject matter.

Rest assured that you don’t have to be a professional singer or musician to make this work. Plenty of famous songs in foreign languages have been recorded many times by professionals. This makes it easy for you to bring these examples into your classroom, and there is good reason for doing so.

Teachers of foreign languages have learned that using music is a wonderful way to keep students motivated. It even improves their concentration, and it certainly helps them to absorb new material. Music can even foster a spirit of community in the classroom, which can be an exceptionally welcome element.

Another reason to integrate music into foreign language classes is because songs that are performed in that foreign language have a wonderful way of capturing the local flavor and culture. After all, students don’t take a foreign language just so that they can speak it. Most of them also want to know about the history, lifestyle, food and culture of the country where that language is spoken. Music serves as a wonderful, accessible introduction to all of this.

Remember that music can be a powerful tool for teaching vocabulary. In exercises like the Filling in the Blank one that is described above, students get a lot of repetition in just one hearing of a song. Accordingly, this exercise frequently is a welcome relief from flash cards.

Music also is a marvelous way to reenergize the classroom and change the mood. Drills and flash cards are great learning tools, but they can start to get dull and repetitive. When things get tedious, perhaps it’s time to introduce a song. You may be surprised at how inattentive students suddenly perk up and show an interest.

Looking for Fun Ways to Integrate Music in Other Studies?

If so, then you’ve come to the right place. At Prodigies, we think that everything is made better through music. Music can be used to heal, to energize and even to learn. Whenever you want your students to remember challenging information, encourage them to set it to their favorite melody. This can make any memorization task fun, and with a musical base, they will probably remember those facts for years afterward.

Foreign language teachers have had particularly good success when they bring music into their classrooms. They have discovered that playing a song in a foreign language is immediately engaging for the students who are undoubtedly curious about the culture behind the language.

However, music in the foreign language classroom is so much more than a window into a certain region’s culture and history. It’s also a wonderful tool for introducing new vocabulary and helping students to cement this new and perhaps challenging information in their minds. With music integration in language learning, students may make faster progress than they ever dreamed possible.

If you and your kids or students don’t have a background in music, then it’s time to get acquainted. Learning about music is more fun and accessible than you might realize. With the video lessons and supporting materials from Prodigies, you are your kids can begin to explore the wide world of music. Before you know it, you’ll be familiar with concepts that will help you enjoy and appreciate music more than you ever did. It just might inspire you to integrate music into other academic subject matter.

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