MASARYK UNIVERSITY IN BRNO
FACULTY OF EDUCATION
Teaching Vocabulary through
MASARYK UNIVERSITY IN BRNO
FACULTY OF EDUCATION
THE DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE
Teaching Vocabulary through
Mgr. Jaroslav Suchý
Prohlašuji, že jsem diplomovou práci zpracoval/a samostatně a použil/a jen prameny
uvedené v seznamu literatury.
Souhlasím, aby práce byla uložena na Masarykově univerzitě v Brně v knihovně
Pedagogické fakulty a zpřístupněna ke studijním účelům
Brně dne 5. prosince 2008
I would like to thank my thesis advisor, Mgr. Jaroslav Suchý, for his supervision,
helpful advice and recommending literature.
1. THEORETICAL PART
1.1. The Role and the Importance of Music .............................................9
1.2. History of Music ..............................................................................11
1.3. The Psychological Effects of Music ................................................12
1.4. Music and Language Learning ........................................................14
1.5. Why should this method work? .......................................................24
1.7. Summary ..........................................................................................32
2. PRACTICAL PART
2.1. Information about the students ........................................................33
2.2. The Questionnaire ............................................................................35
2.3. The Evaluation of the Questionnaire ...............................................36
2.3.1. The Seventh Grade ................................................................36
2.3.2. The Eighth Grade ..................................................................37
2.3.3. The Ninth Grade ...................................................................38
2.3.4. Overall results .......................................................................39
2.3.5. The Selection of Songs .........................................................40
2.4. Practical exercises for the songs ......................................................41
2.4.1. Rihanna – "Don‘t Stop the Music" .......................................42
2.4.2. Shakira – "Don’t Bother" ......................................................45
2.4.3. Fergie – "Clumsy".................................................................48
2.4.4. Ozzy Osbourne – "Mama I’m Coming Home".....................49
2.4.5. Eminem – "Mockingbird" .....................................................51
2.4.6. Blink 182 – "I Miss You" .....................................................55
2.4.7. Jamiroquai – "Cosmic Girl" ..................................................57
2.4.8. Red Hot Chily Peppers – "Under the Bridge" ......................60
2.4.9. Student’s reactions to the exercises ......................................61
2.5. Students’ Test Results......................................................................63
2.6. Evaluation of the Test Results .........................................................65
LIST OF APPENDICES
The Objective and the Content of the Diploma Thesis
This work is concerns using popular songs to teach English, especially
vocabulary since learning vocabulary is one of the key elements in learning a foreign
language and has always caused students difficulties. Thornbury quotes the linguist
David Wilkins to stress the importance of learning vocabulary: "Without grammar very
little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed“ (2002:13). He also
quotes several students who complain about their lack of vocabulary and points out that
"vocabulary teaching has not always been very responsive to such problems“ (2002:13).
The objective of this work is to measure the effectiveness of using popular songs to
The work is divided into two parts: theoretical and practical. The theoretical part
discusses many aspects of music and language learning themselves, such as the role and
the importance of music in people’s lives. A brief account on history of music is also
included. This is followed by an analysis of the psychological effects of music. The
benefits and the effects of music on language learning are covered in the following part.
The last chapter of the theoretical part focuses on the general process of learning and
memory and those are implied on the tested method of using popular songs to teach
All the knowledge gained in the theoretical part is applied in the practical one.
The practical part describes author’s own research, the individual steps of the procedure,
and, of course, the results of this research. The practical part also includes exercises that
can be created for any song. The whole author’s research and practical part are
described in detail beginning on page 33.
The conclusion summarises the content of this work, reflects on the results of the
research and evaluates the tested method.
Reasons Why I Have Chosen this Topic
There are two main reasons as to why I have chosen this topic. The first reason
is a personal one dealing, with my own experience with this method. This is how I had
taught myself English before I started attending an English course. I would look up the
lyrics of my favourite songs in a dictionary, and listening to my favourite songs made
me never forget these words, even though I have hardly ever used some of them. I
wanted to find out if this method would be as successful with my own students.
And the second reason is that there are many students at our school who love
and listen to music most of the time on their mobile phones and MP3 players. There are
problems with them on a daily basis listening to their favourite music on headphones
even during lessons. That is why I thought that I could make use of their habit and listen
to their music in the lessons - studying the lyrics of those songs making the lessons
more enjoyable and, hopefully, more effective.
Information about the Students
The students are pupils of an elementary school in Kroměříž. This method will
be tested on three groups of students – the seventh, the eighth and the ninth graders.
There are fifty-two children altogether in those three groups out of which eighteen
pupils are in the eighth, the same nimber in the ninth grade, while there are only sixteen
students in the seventh grade.
Their levels range from beginner to pre-intermediate. However, two of the three
groups consist of rather weak students with disciplinary problems and little interest in
English. On the other hand, one group, the seventh grade, consists of hard-working
students who like to study and are active during the lessons.
The students’ ages are from twelve to fifteen.
More information about the students is provided in the practical part on page 33.
The hypothesis for this work is that students who are interested in the subject,
which in this case is going to be their favourite music, learn more easily and more
effectively. This method also includes repetitiveness, which is so important for the
process of studying because it is almost certain that the students will encounter the
material, their favourite songs, outside the classroom. Students at this age identify with
their favourite stars and are interested in what they are singing about and interest is also
fundamental for learning.
1. Theoretical Part
1.1. The Role and the Importance of Music
Why should music be suitable for teaching vocabulary? The answer is simple.
Music has always played a big part of humans’ lives, beginning with child’s birth and
mothers singing lullabies to their children. It is used during all important occasions of
human lives beginning with child’s christening, through weddings, to funerals. Each
country has its own anthem. Music has been important during many revolutions and was
even the cause of some of them. John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Karel Kryl can be mentioned
as some of the revolutionary musicians. The flower generation also connected through
Pilka believes that every piece of art is a gift since it deals with big ideas and
social ideals as well as the most inward matters of each and everyone of us. It speaks a
language intelligible to everyone. Music brings emotions to life and it also serves as a
testimony of people from any land or time. It fills the gap between nations, crosses
thousands of miles and reveals more about its people than a scientific elaboration. It
may also help people to get into their own hearts. It speaks for us where words fail
(1959:275-277). Just as all different kinds of art, it serves many purposes. People create
and listen to it for the same reason - they all want to touch others with music or to be
touched by it.
Murphey made the following list about what people usually do with songs. We:
sing, hum, whistle, tap, and snap fingers while we listen
sing without listening to any recording
talk about the music
talk about the lyrics
talk about the singer/group
talk about video clips
use songs and music to set or change an atmosphere or mood […]
use songs and music to create a social environment, form a feeling of
community, dance, make friends and lovers
read about the production, performance, effect, authors, producers, audiences
of music and song
use music in dreams
use music and song to make internal associations between the people, places,
and times in our lives, so they become the personal soundtrack of our
Even the ancient Greeks knew of the importance of music. Holzknech assumes
that poets such as Homer and Hein must have been drawing from their own experience
when they celebrated the power of music and that their listeners would not have
believed them or would have laughed at them if the power of music had not been a
general experience. (1969:404).
Nowadays, it is almost impossible to escape music. It is used in films,
advertisements, it is on radio and even in most shops, restaurants and other public
places. Current technological inventions, such as the iPod, mobile phone and MP3
player enable people to enjoy their favourite music anywhere at any time. People listen
to it while traveling and even while walking in the streets. In fact, a lot of children get
into troubles for listening to music on their headphones during lessons. So why not use
music to our advantage?
Music as such has always been important, especially to most young people. It
has always brought them together. They love to share their music with one another.
Students of the three groups that the songs were piloted with love to talk about their
favourite artists. Talking about their favourite artists is a part of their everyday
communication. Music is connected to many areas of their lives. People who like
similar kinds of music usually dress in a similar way (see appendix number 12 and 13).
It is part of people’s way of living, of their world and it can be used as a means for a
teacher to get into his or her students’ world, to get closer to them.
Music may touch topics that people can relate to. Murphey writes that "songs
can be appropriated by listeners for their own purposes, largely because most pop songs
do not have precise people, place, or time references. For those who find them relevant,
songs happen whenever and wherever one hears them and they are, consciously or
subconsciously, about the people in one’s own life" (1992:8)
For instance, any pupil in the group that listened Fergie’s song called "Clumsy"
could relate to it, since they all could think of a situation when they had felt clumsy.
This shows that music is personal and people in general are most interested in and
motivated by things that they can relate to.
All of the above-mentioned arguments indicate that music is a subject of
everyday communication and it is something that is ever present in people’s lives
intentionally or unintentionally, which can be very beneficial for the method of using
songs to teach English vocabulary since it increases the possibility that students will
come across the taught material, frequently revising it.
1.2. History of Music
The history of music is worth mentioning because it connects language and
music together, which may further support the idea that teaching vocabulary using
songs should work.
The history of music is tied not just to the development of human culture, but
also to animals. Animals, such as birds, have always used music to communicate. There
are even many theories connecting the origins of music and speech together. According
to Geist, there are three theories connecting the origin of music to the origin of speech.
First theory was developed by people such as Charles Darwin, James B.
Monboddo, Charles D. Isaacson, Richard Wagner and others who claimed that speech
arose from singing. Monboddo believed that screams changed into tones before they
became articulate and that is why music can be more easily acquired than speech.
The supporters of the second theory, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Johann Gottfried
Herder, A. W. Schlegel and many others, claimed that speech and music were originally
connected. However, this theory has not been proven.
The scientists supporting the third and scientifically verified theory argue that
singing arose from excited speech. Scientists such as the famous Charles Darwin,
Herbert Spencer, Edward Mac Dowell, John Frederic and many others believed that
music was a result of excited speech caused by inner emotional states. Stabon´s thesis
says that singing and talking is the same thing. (1970:25-28)
This brief account of the history of music proves that music and language have
always been connected, which implies that teaching the vocabulary of a foreign
language through songs could be effective.
1.3. The Psychological Effects of Music
What makes music such a powerful tool for teaching vocabulary of a foreign
language? Music has its effect not just on people, but also animals and even plants.
Robertson claims that "music with a ‘beat’ can stimulate your body; music with
powerful melodies and harmonies performed with feeling can make you weep or cry out
with joy; and music like the fugues of Bach and Mozart can be mentally invigorating."
Film makers are very aware of the power of music. The movie “Jaws“ directed by the
legendary Steven Spielberg proves that, since it is mainly the music thst brings tension
to most scenes of the film, not the images. For instance, if there was different music
accompanying the scenes of children playing in the sea, the footage could have easily
been used for a travel agency advertisement. This proves that music influences the way
people perceive things as well as the way they behave and it is used in many ways, even
as a therapy.
The website of the American Music Therapy Association gives the following
brief account of the history of music therapy:
The idea of music as a healing influence which could affect health and behavior
is as least as old as the writings of Aristotle and Plato. The 20th century discipline
began after World War I and World War II when community musicians of all types,
both amateur and professional, went to Veterans hospitals around the country to play for
the thousands of veterans suffering both physical and emotional trauma from the wars.
The patients' notable physical and emotional responses to music led the doctors and
nurses to request the hiring of musicians by the hospitals. It was soon evident that the
hospital musicians needed some prior training before entering the facility and so the
demand grew for a college curriculum. The first music therapy degree program in the
world, founded at Michigan State University in 1944, celebrated its 50th anniversary in
1994. The American Music Therapy Association was founded in 1998 as a union of the
National Association for Music Therapy and the American Association for Music
Music therapy is an established psychological practice in which music is used to
“achieve therapeutic goals“ (“Music therapy“). Its beneficial effects have been
supported by a vast amount of research published through, for instance, the Journal of
Music Therapy or Music Therapy Perspectives promoted by the American Music
Therapy Association (AMTA).
According to the American Music Therapy
Association’s website it “improves the quality of life“ and “music therapy interventions
can be designed to:
promote physical rehabilitation.“
Music therapy is beneficial for anyone from children to elderly people, healthy
or ill. It is not just classical music that is used for therapeutic purposes. All styles of
music may have a healing effect. The AMTA website stresses that “the individual's
preferences, circumstances and need for treatment, and the client or patient's goals help
to determine the types of music a music therapist may use.“
Holzknech further mentions an experiment done in prison when trying to support
his claim that music has a relaxing and soothing effect on people. In the experiment,
music was used to dispel prisoners’ depression. This method was highly successful with
the exception of felons who remained indifferent to the music. Music helped in many
cases where spoken word and books failed. Prisoners were even saving money to buy
their own musical instruments and started forming little groups. Forbidding them to
participate in the musical sessions was viewed as the hardest punishment (1969:406).
However, Holzknech also admits that music may have the opposite effect,
describing a story of a friend of his who was unable to continue with her scientific work
because her neighbour kept playing music that made it impossible for her to concentrate
or ignore it (1969:407). Although, the above-mentioned disadvantage may not be valid
in the case of teaching vocabulary through songs since in the case of a student working
on her scientific work, music served as a distraction and not as a means of learning the
Music therapy is done by music therapists who assess emotional well-being,
physical health, social functioning, communication abilities, and cognitive skills
through musical responses. Then, they design music sessions for individuals and groups
based on client needs using music improvisation, receptive music listening, song
writing, lyric discussion, music and imagery, music performance, and learning through
music; participate in interdisciplinary treatment planning, ongoing evaluation, and
follow up. Naturally, such profession requires special education.
The most important aspect of music therapy connected with the method of
teaching vocabulary through music is that music is also used in schools to improve
students’ non musical areas especially physical coordination and communication skills,
which are probably the most important skills when learning a language.
The powerful effects of music on human’s mind are well documented, but could
music positively influence foreign language learning?
1.4. Music and Language Learning
According to Thornbury, words are organised in the human mind in what is
called the mental lexicon, which means that the vocabulary is stored in "highly
organised and interconnected fashion“ (2002:16). He believes that "knowing a word
involves knowing its form, and its meaning As well as "knowing the words commonly
associated with it (its collocations) as well as its connotations, including its register and
its cultural accretions“ (2002:15). Both Harmer and Thornbury distinguish between
receptive and productive knowledge. Thorbury writes that "receptive knowledge
exceeds productive knowledge and generally – but not always – precedes it“ (2002:15).
However, Harmer points out that it is difficult to say which words that students know
are passive and which are active.
"A word that has been active through constant use may slip back into the passive
store if it is not used. A word that students have in their passive store may
suddenly become active if the situation or the context provokes its use. In other
words, the status of a vocabulary item does not seem to be a permanent state of
Hopefully, the words used in the lyrics remain in the active store as long as
students listen to the particular song and since the aim of this work is to use students’
favourite songs, the period of time when pupils listen to the song for is long.
Thornbury described the following challenges that a learner of a second
language has to face:
"making the correct connections, when understanding the second language,
between the form and the meaning of words (e.g. mouth, feel and grippy),
including discriminating the meaning of closely related words (e.g. lush and
when producing language, using the correct form of a word for the meaning
intended (i.e. nose not noise)“ (2002:2).
Thornbury continues with recommendations of what a learner needs to do in
order to meet these challenges:
"acquire a critical mass of words for use in both understanding and
remember words over time, and be able to recall them readily
develop strategies for coping with gaps in word knowledge, including coping
with unknown words, or unfamiliar uses of known words“ (2002:2).
Hopefully, music could help students fulfil one these recommendations since the
words used in songs are remembered, along with the melody of the song, throughout a
How is vocabulary learned? Thornbury mentions three ways of acquiring words
– labelling, categorising and network building. Labelling means "mapping words on to
concepts. Categorizing skills enable a child to "extend the concept of a word“ (2002:18)
which means that a child understands that the word dog includes "other people´s dogs,
toy dogs, and even pictures of dogs“ (2002:18). Network building stands for
"constructing a complex web of words so that items like […] family and brother are
When learning vocabulary, some words seem to be easier to remember than
others. What makes a word difficult? Thornbury made a list of several "factors that
make some words more difficult than others:
spelling (e.g. words that contain silent letters such as foreign, listen),
length and complexity (long words are more difficult),
grammar (e.g. verb patterns),
meaning (two words overlapping in meaning get confused, words with
range, connotation and idiomaticity (idiomatic expressions will generally be
more difficult than words whose meaning is transparent)” (2002: 27 – 28).
According to Thornbury, these are "the implications for teaching:
Learners need tasks and strategies to help them organise their mental lexicon
by building networks of associations – the more the better.
Teachers need to accept that the learning of new words involves a period of
Learners need to wean themselves off a reliance on direct translation from
their mother tongue.
Words need to be presented in their typical contexts, so that learners can get
a feel for their meaning, their register, their collocations, and their syntactic
Teaching should direct attention to the sound of new words, particularly the
way they are stressed.
Learners should aim to build a threshold vocabulary as quickly as possible.
Learners need to be actively involved in the learning of words.
Learners need multiple exposures to words and they need to retrieve words
from memory repeatedly.
Learners need to make multiple decisions about words.
Memory of new words can be reinforced if they are used to express
personally relevant meanings.
Not all the vocabulary that the learners need can be ′taught′: learners will
need plentiful exposure to speech and text as well as training for self-directed
Using songs to teach vocabulary, several conditions for teaching stated by
Thornbury are met. In lyrics, words usually appear in context, the sound of new words
is easily remembered along with the melody of the song and by listening to the song,
students are exposed to the new words many times.
As mentioned earlier, the roots of music and speech seem to be closely
connected. Stansell believes that
“music positively affects language accent, memory, and grammar as well as
mood, enjoyment, and motivation” and that “pairing words and rhythm properly
helps to hold songs together, and to improve the ability of the mind to recall it.”
He insists that “music and language help each other in the process of learning
human expression, a common goal. Interconnections between the musical and
linguistic areas enable music to assist in learning vocabulary and phrases, which
tasks are governed by the linguistic intelligence. High musical ability is common
among multilingual individuals and professional singers with thick accents
otherwise still sing in a standard dialect. With this appreciation for the assistive
place of music in the mind, researchers must try to discover ways that music can
more effectively awaken students to language learning.”
Medina, who has conducted several researches on using music to teach
vocabulary and who was kind enough to grant her permission by email to quote her
work, which can be found in the appendix on page, writes that “second language
researchers [...] have distinguished between vocabulary that is acquired incidentally and
vocabulary that is acquired intentionally,” meaning that the former one is learned
through “variety of sources” and the latter one is learned in school. The above
mentioned sources include, for example, reading and listening to oral stories. Medina
mentions Krashen’s "Input Hypothesis", which explains how new vocabulary is learned.
“According to this hypothesis, new and unfamiliar vocabulary is acquired when
its significance is made clear to the learner. Meaning is conveyed by providing
extralinguistic support such as illustrations, actions, photos, and realia. This, in
turn, results in what Krashen refers to as "comprehensible input" since the
linguistic input is made comprehensible to the second language leamer. Krashen
further states that the amount of comprehensible input is proportionate to the
amount of vocabulary acquired. Thus, vocabulary is incidentally acquired
through stories because familiar vocabulary and syntax contained in the stories
provide meaning to less familiar vocabulary.”
Medina adds that “songs share all of the same elements of an oral story.“
Medina made a research related to the discussed method of teaching vocabulary
through music to determine the effects of music and illustration on language acqusition.
She created four equivalent groups “by matching subjects on the basis of vocabulary
“The Music treatment group heard the story in its sung version while the No
Music group heard the spoken rendition of the story (i.e., oral story). Subjects in
the Illustration treatment groups were shown large, color illustrations of the story
while listening to the tape-recording. […] Subjects were able to derive the
meaning of unfamiliar words from illustrations. Subjects in the No Illustration
group were not shown illustrations; therefore, they extracted meaning from
Her research proved that “the same amount of language acquisition resulted
whether musical or non-musical means were used“ (“The effects of Music Upon Second
Language Vocabulary Acquisition (ERIC)“). However, “the combination of music and
illustration consistently yielded the highest average amount of vocabulary gain” (“The
effects of Music Upon Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition (FLES)“).
Some scientists claim that the first thing we learn when acquiring our first
language is the discourse intonation that may be viewed as music since it is the actual
melody of the language. “The pre-existing patterns of music in the early development of
language prove that the two are already long acquainted. Through its mother's body,
womb, and amniotic fluid, a fetus cannot hear consonants; it only hears the musical
vowel sounds“ (Stansell). Lake states that “children learn to sing before they speak. An
infant’s communication is a series of coos that communicate hunger, fatigue, alarm or
pleasure. Further, a child’s mother can discern the child’s need based on pitch.” Mora
quoted by Stansell adds that “later on, it is through interaction that a child picks up not
only the musicality of each language, but also the necessary communication skills.”
Moreover, for better acquisition of their mother tongue, children are taught nursery
rhymes, poems, but also songs. Why should it be any different when learning a second
language and its vocabulary?
Learning a mother tongue, the child first hears the language before it can speak
it. Brown writes that
“one should learn with his/her ears before learning with his/her eyes. In learning
one’s own language there are five or six years in which language skills are
developed by ear before the reading and/or writing of language is introduced.
This natural process enables one to instinctively communicate verbally with
words and later, after learning to read, learn to write those thoughts down.”
Thornbury agrees when he describes the difference between acquiring a first
language and a second language is that "second language learners already have a first
language […] with its conceptual system […] it involves both learning a new
conceptual system, and constructing a new vocabulary network – a second mental
lexicon“ (2002:18). However, there are some shared features. "The adult learner’s
concept system is already installed and up-and-running“(2002:18). This means that the
learner is "saved a lot of the over- and under-generalising associated with first language
When using songs to teach vocabulary of a foreign language, the pattern of
learning is the same. It also starts with the listening and ends with fluent
communication. However, many students are not comfortable speaking in a foreign
language. Stansell claims that “language students that lack familiarity with a target
culture and have trouble expressing themselves can connect through the freeing
influence of music.” This freeing influence results in students being more relaxed.
According to Medina, in such atmosphere, “they are also more attentive than usual, and
therefore, more receptive to learning. Through songs, students are exposed to
“authentic” examples of the second language. Furthermore, target vocabulary,
grammar, routines and patterns are modeled in context. These are but a few of the
benefits associated with music use in the second language classroom” (“Using Music to
Enhance Second Language Acquisition: From Theory to Practice”).
By listening to English songs, students can hear the native pronunciation of
words. It improves their ability of hearing the language. Farrug argues that "music lends
a natural rhythm to words and phrases, helping language learners to use good
pronunciation. Melodies and rhymes guide learners to speak in a native cadence."
Brown states that it trains "the ear to hear and produce nuances of sound whether they
are musical or linguistic. Orchestra, band, and music teachers have noticed the ability
their immersion students have to hear variations of sound that non-language learners do
not even know exist."
Stansell quotes Palmer & Kelly explaining that “the 4-beat division of most
songs coincides well with the linguistic foundation of binary alteration, or stressed and
unstressed syllables” (Palmer & Kelly 539). Use of music is recommended by them for
better understanding of language because “when songs and words match in stress and
accent, the learner can experience gains in comprehension of word stress, attention
span, anticipation of new text, and memory (Palmer & Kelly 539).”
Moreover, the authors of Spectrum (Prentice-Hall Regents Publications) state
that "songs are an important aspect of culture, representing the history, folklore, and
current idiom of a country. [...] Singing can build students’ confidence by allowing
them to enjoy a degree of fluency in English before they have achieved it in speaking"
(qtd. in Music in the EFL Classroom). Shtakser also wrote that "didactically songs are
also useful in teaching the rhythm of the language and informing the students about the
culture of that language’s speakers." And even if the teachers’ aim was not to use music
to teach vocabulary Shtakser argues that
"even just playing music without words creates a relaxed atmosphere that
enhances learning. The best example for this is the Suggestopedia method of
Georgii Lozanov in which foreign texts are read dramatically with the
background of several carefully chosen works of classical music. Lozanov
claims that the atmosphere created by the music enhances the ability of the
students to remember vocabulary words and thus shortens the study period of the
Suggestopedia is also going to be analysed in this work as one of the two
language teaching methods that are connected to using songs to teach vocabulary.
The question is, how can teachers put the use of music into foreign language
teaching practice? Many teachers are concerned about using songs in their lessons
fearing a number of factors. Murphey conducted a survey in a group of commercial
school teachers and made the following list of items that teachers most often worry
"Administrators/teachers/students do not take music and song seriously.
It disturbs neighbouring classes
Some students get too excited
It takes away from the normal syllabus. Time is lost.
Students disagree about songs, and have different musical tastes.
Pop songs have poor vocabulary – too much slang and bad grammar.
How do you exploit the material usefully? What is the goal?
It is hard to find lyrics – source of old recorded material are no longer
Students just want to listen, not to work.
Poor quality cassette/video recorder.
Lack of technical equipment due to cost.
Teachers do not like to sing or are not musical.
Many songs are not intelligible.
EFL songs are boring.
Students will not sing
Which songs should you choose? Many express violence and sexism.
What to do when students bring music which teachers hate?
Songs go out of date very quickly.
How do you share in materials production" (1992:8-9)?
Many of the above mentioned are, of course, irrational. For instance, most
students take music seriously, especially their favourite music by their idols. The
vocabulary of many songs may be of poor quality and full of slang, but so is the natural
language used in everyday situations, therefore it is necessary that students get
acquainted with the slang. Nowadays, it is very easy to find any lyrics on the Internet.
The technical equipment should not be a problem anymore since there is at least one CD
player in most schools. Even though some EFL songs are boring, the teacher may
choose any other song. Murphey argues that "the supply is inexhaustible!" (1992:8) and
summarises this by saying "no material will answer all our different needs", and that
success depends "on successful manipulation of the material by the teacher" (1992:9).
How can teachers use the material effectively? Murphey suggests the following
activities that teachers can do with students when teaching English through popular
practice selective listening comprehension
read songs [...] for linguistic purposes
compose songs, articles about songs, letters to singers, questionnaires
discuss a song [...]
write dialogues using the words of a song
use video clips in many ways
do role-plays (as people in the song, or the artist/interviewer)
dictate a song
use a song for gap-fill, cloze, or for correction
use music for background to other activities
integrate songs into project work
energize or relax classes mentally
practice pronunciation, intonation, and stress
break the routine
do choral repetition
learn about your students and from your students, letting them choose and
explain their music
have fun“ (1992:10).
For teaching vocabulary, the most appropriate activities are probably writing
dialogues using the words of a song, dictating a song, using a song for gap-fill, cloze, or
for correction, integrating songs into project work, practicing pronunciation, intonation,
and stress. However, Murphey stresses that teachers should “be careful not to kill the
material by doing too much of serious work“ (1992:10), that is why he believes that
probably the most important thing to do with a song in an English classroom is just to
have fun because it can “stimulate very positive associations to the study of a language,
which otherwise may only be seen as a laborious task, entailing exams, frustration, and
Blodget, who is not only a teacher, but also a musician and songwriter, has used
music to teach a second language successfully for many years. He mentioned even
some more ideas as to what students can do with the song in the lessons. They can:
“create booklets illustrating the lyrics
karaoke, sing-along, or lip-sync video performances
dramatic interpretations/mime/acting out performances
dance and choreography – moving hands, head, feet, and body to the music
in creative ways
re-write the song either altogether in an original and creative lyric (for those
who can), or by substituting all the nouns, or adjective, or other parts of
speech so as to make a new song lyric, and much more.“
Stansell mentions Fawn Whittaker’s article that deals with the use of music
through literature review. She believes that songs have a positive effect in all languagelearning areas (listening, speaking, reading and writing). She describes her process of
presenting a song to a class, which consists of four steps. The first step is playing the
song to the students. Then, she has students repeat the words which is followed by
pointing out new expressions giving students pronunciation cues. She finishes by
playing the song again while the students are allowed to sing along. Stansell concludes
that this approach might "lead to the out-of-class associations that are crucial to
language learning. Simply attending class a few days a week and doing homework does
not a proficient language speaker make, but adding songs encourages rehearsal." Of
course, this theory is also valid for teaching vocabulary.
Blodget also stresses that by using music to teach a language,
“all of the (Howard Gardner’s) seven multiple intelligences are addressed when
teaching language through music with the appropriate accompanying exercises:
kinesthetic (dance, clapping, stomping, body movement, percussion)
musical (listening, singing, playing, distinguishing)
linguistic (interpreting lyrics while listening or through exercises)
logical/mathematical (music is maths)
social (choral, dance, cooperative learning with the exercises)
visual (illustrations, dramatizations, video)
individual (the fallback for all of the written exercises, as well as with
individual projects and culminating activities).“
Moreover, music does not only reach students’ inteligence. It is also emotional,
so even if students do not understand the meaning of all the words, music itself might
help them. There are music videos to most popular songs that also help students
understand the content of the lyrics. There is usually some topic or story covered in the
lyrics therefore students learn the new word within a context.
Another reason for using songs in English lessons is that the lyrics are often rich,
sometimes deep, at times silly or funny, which is something students appreciate. They
are full of slang words that are not covered by traditional English textbooks. Some
songs touch interesting topics that may be used for further discussion. Some lyrics are
even demanding and can be useful when trying to teach students to see the deeper
meaning of different texts. Murphey agrees that “some songs can be quite complex
syntactically, lexically, and poetically and can be analyzed in the same way as any other
literary sample“ (1992:8).
The fact that song lyrics cover vast themes and topics means that the vocabulary
that students are exposed to is immense. One student of Spanish revealed at Language
Learner Adviser web site that using music to learn another language
"has increased my exposure to everyday vocabulary, and also to some more
poetic or idiomatic uses of the language. Some words, which I would pass by in
a vocabulary list or dictionary as 'uninteresting' or 'not useful' I now learn by
hearing over and over in songs, or by looking them up to figure out what the
However, some lyrics may be offensive or inappropriate, so teacher should
always be cautious when choosing the songs.
All of this should help students when learning new vocabulary. Listening to
something students like makes it interesting and motivating to learn. Music also serves
as an escapism from class and makes the learning almost effortless meaning that
students might learn the language without noticing it. Volín summarizes it perfectly
when he says "We all have experienced it. A songs sticks in your head and it is
impossible to get rid of it. But do you know anybody who would have experienced a
grammar exercise stick in their head" (1997:cover of the book).
1.5. Why should this method work?
Using music to teach vocabulary attracts students’ attention. Their natural
admiration for their favourite artists should motivate them to try to understand the lyrics
of their songs and according to Harmer, motivation "is the biggest single factor affecting
students success" (1991:3). Linhart writes that motivation influences one´s performance.
It is closely connected to the energy that one puts into an activity and conditioned by
one’ s needs and emotions. Motivation is the initial stimulus for learning. It is tightly
knit to one´s attitudes, which means that it is personal. The need to understand what is
happening around me is also a learning stimulus (1967:53-54). Murphey also believes
that “highly motivated language learning starts with the students and what they are
interested in” (1992: 5) Wikipedia lists the following six effects that the right
motivation can have on students’ learning and behaviour. “It can:
1. Direct behaviour towards particular goals.
2. Lead to increased effort and energy
3. Increase initiation of, and persistence in, activities
4. Enhance cognitive processing
5. Determine what consequences are reinforcing
6. Lead to improved performance” (“Motivation“).
There are two types of motivation; intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic
motivation "occurs when people are internally motivated to do something because it
either brings them pleasure, they think it is important, or they feel that what they are
learning is significant" and extrinsic motivation means that "a student is compelled to do
something or act a certain way because of factors external to him or her (like money or
good grades)" (“Motivation“). Educational psychologists have studied intrinsic
motivation "and numerous studies have found it to be associated with high educational
achievement and enjoyment by students"(“Motivation“). The intrinsic motivation can be
achieved, if students:
" - attribute their educational results to internal factors that they can control (e.g.
the amount of effort they put in),
- believe they can be effective agents in reaching desired goals (i.e. the results
are not determined by luck),
- are interested in mastering a topic, rather than just rote-learning to achieve
good grades" (“Motivation“).
The method of using popular songs to teach vocabulary should make students
motivated intrinsically since it is believed that students will be interested in the songs
for they were chosen to be their favourite songs by their favourite artists based on a
questionnaire that they had answered. Shtakser mentioned that
"students relate to songs as part of entertainment rather than work and find
learning vocabulary through songs amusing rather than tedious. This is true especially
with pop songs which are part of youth culture. Better familiarity with these songs
improves students’ status within the peer group and therefore stimulates learning."
Thornbury writes that "for a long time, teaching approaches such as the Direct
Method and audiolingualism gave greater priority to the teaching of grammatical
structures“ (2002:14). He claims that it was the communicative approach that played the
key role in the "re-think of the role of vocabulary“ (2002:14). Teaching vocabulary
through music has similar features as two effective modern language-learning
approaches, one focusing on vocabulary called Lexical Approach and Suggestopedia.
Here’s a brief discription of the two methods.
Lexical Approach was developed by Michael Lewis who believed that
"an important part of language acquisition is the ability to comprehend and
produce lexical phrases as unanalyzed wholes, or "chunks," and that these