The Use Of Songs To Teach Grammar and Pronunciation in ESL Classes, by Paul Rogers, January, 2000

For those constantly seeking materials to use in the classroom, here is an article on the use of songs to teach pronunciation and grammar to Spanish speaking (and other) students.

I wrote this article based on my experience teaching in a private school that was a high school followed by two years of college. I had 6 to 8 classes every day, no materials, small rooms, and no idea what to do with so many young people!!!!!

Note: in those days we used tape recorders and audio cassettes!

Paul Rogers

 

Summary -

Popular songs, such as those of The Beatles, can be very effective in teaching English pronunciation and grammar in ESL classes. Many students from Latin American countries, especially Mexico , have already attended classes in which they have learned basic vocabulary and grammar, and they are capable of translating English to Spanish. But, unfortunately, these students also cannot or are reluctant to speak English due in great part to difficulties in pronunciation of certain sounds. These difficulties in pronunciation seem to “cause” the students to feel hesitant to attempt to speak English. Conversely, when the students learn English pronunciation to a certain extent, this hesitancy to speak English decreases.

 

Methods used in the classroom

A. The following letters or sounds have been found to be particularly

difficult for Spanish speaking students:

1. the short i and u

2. the soft g and the j

3. th

4. v (as distinct from b)

5. y (as distinct from j)

6. gh words (e.g, though versus through, thought, etc.)

7. the three pronunciations of the past tense of regular verbs (e.g.

looked, lived, constructed)

8. There is a tendency for Spanish speaking students to pronounce an e before s in words beginning with s and followed by a consonant (e.g. student, school)..

 

B. I usually begin each class by explaining in Spanish that for a

month or so the classes will focus on pronunciation using songs as the material to be “studied” and as homework. I mentione that a lack of ability or confidence in pronouncing English is “normal” because the pronunciation of English is difficult for the following reasons:

1. The previous teachers concentrated on vocabulary, grammar and

translating.

2. There are certain sounds in English which are very foreign,

like the short i, short u, etc.

3. Unlike Spanish, English words are not pronounced the way they are spelled because English is a language consisting of many words from Latin, Greek, German, Dutch, French, etc.

4. And sometimes the pronunciation is very comical and people may feel “stupid” speaking English.

 

D. In a humorous way, I then how to make certain sounds, followed by a class exercise (for example, TH - “the three thirsty boys drink the soda”).

 

E. In 1999 I wrote songs on the blackboard to be copied, followed by a translation. Some of the more popular songs are: “Stand By Me”,

“Unchained Melody”, “”Yesterday”, and “Saw Her Standing There.”

Now - of course - we can go to YouTube and listen to the song with the lyrics on the screen Karaoke style.

 

F. The song is played once.

 

G. I read the song out loud with the students reciting after me.

 

H. Certain words containing problem sounds are repeated by each student 2

or 3 times.

 

I. A brief grammar lesson is given.

 

J. The song is played again with the students being encouraged to sing along.

 

K. Cassettes are loaned to those students who wish to listen to the songs as “homework.”

 

I. Students are encouraged to bring in a cassette of their favorite

songs.

 

An Example: “Saw Her Standing There”
There are many different pronunciation and grammar lessons contained in the Beatles’ song, “Saw her Standing There.”
 
A. The pronunciation exercises include:
1. “TH” - with vibration, there, the , that, without vibration, through.
2. “j” - just
3. the “t” sound of various regular verbs - looked, crossed, danced.
4. “V” - love
5. gh words - through, night, tight
 
B. Grammar lessons include:
1. The past tense of irregular verbs - saw, was, went, held, fell.
2. The use of could and would.
3. The use of the apostrophe - I’d, wouldn’t, I’ll.
4. The use of will - I’ll.
 
C. “Saw Her Standing There” - by The Beatles
Well, she was just seventeen,
And you know what I mean -
The way she looked was way beyond compare.
So how could I dance with another
When I was her standing there?
 
Well, she looked at me,
And I, I could see, that before too long
I’d fall in love with her.
She wouldn’t dance with another
When I saw her standing there.
 
Oh, my heart went BOOM
When I crossed that room,
And I held her hand in mine.
 
We danced through the night,
And we held each other tight,
And before too long
I fell in love with her.
Now I’ll never dance with another
When I saw her standing there.
 
Discussion
In January of 1999, I began to teach English in Tijuana. There were 6 to 8 classes at a private school which is both a High School and a Junior Technical College. The classes consisted of between 25 and 35 students, and the grade levels were between the 9th and 14th. Each class also contained students of various levels of English proficiency.
There were no textbooks, nor any curriculum to be followed, so that I was “on my own” and needed to develop a curriculum that was both instructive and interesting. Previously I had used songs and poems in some classes, but not in an organized or planned way. Faced with more than 200 students who seemed to know the basics of English grammar but could not or would not speak English, I introduced the “study” of songs at first to hold the students’ attention.
The initial success of this approach led me to conclude that I
should base the curriculum almost totally on songs, at least until the
majority of the students had learned how to pronounce English relatively well. After a few months, not only had the students’ pronunciation improved, but their overall interest in speaking and learning English increased.
I have found that there are a number of advantages to using songs as an important part of any curriculum. First, there is an infinite supply of songs, an important consideration for those teachers who have a limited supply of materials. And permission to use songs which are copyrighted is not necessary under the “Fair Use” clause which permits material to be used as long as the purpose is educational and there is no profit made. Many songs are well written and can be considered to be good
examples of English poetry. All students in the US and along the border are exposed to English songs on the radio, especially the Oldies which apparently are making a “comeback” in popularity among young people.
Needless to say, the students know a number of songs already, and usually need to translate them and practice the pronunciation. Playing songs in a classroom setting is an excellent way to establish rapport and introduce fun into learning English. Plus “active learning” evolves naturally as students begin to bring in their own songs and form their own singing groups. In addition, adult students usually work and have families, and can therefore keep up with the class simply by listening to the radio or a cassette with the songs being studied.
I have also found that the use of songs creates an atmosphere of
interest in the study of English, and can lead to a change from a
“teacher centered” to a “student centered” class. And, at a certain
point, small groups are formed by the students with the more advanced students acting as teacher’s aides or even as para-professionals.
In addition, using songs is a good way to gradually introduce
English Only instruction, which can begin probably after a month or so. In this case, students began to request that I speak more in English. In other words, their motivation and interest in listening to English had increased.
The songs can also be used as Dictations in lessons to teach writing in English. And they can be used in an “open book exam” to test for vocabulary and grammar rules.
 
Conclusion
Learning a language involves learning how to understand, pronounce, speak, read and write in that language. Because of a number of factors, there is a tendency for Spanish speaking students to know how to read and write in English to a certain extent, but their skill in speaking is hindered by a number of pronunciation difficulties. The acquisition of fluency and literacy in English, therefore, is affected so that the students’ progress is slowed unnecessarily. The “study” of popular songs in the class is a very effective tool in leaning English pronunciation, as well as grammar, and therefore can lead to a more efficient acquisition of English.

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