There are some things that naturally go together: Batman and Robin, Ben & Jerry’s, Peanut Butter and Jelly. Let’s add another to the list: Language and Music.
If you think about it, music itself is a language. Even if there are no words set to a tune you can still grasp what it’s trying to express. It could be a happy song meant to make you smile, a love song that makes your heart skip a beat, or a blues song about loneliness, all conveyed through the music.
A Universal Language
As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” From the beginning of time, humanity has been singing. Do you know why? Because singing is an effective way for humans to communicate and show how they feel or what they think. Music is a powerful tool to help us learn about different cultures, people, and their languages.
Experts say children as young as newborns have a basic understanding of music. According to Anthony Brandt, an expert on music theory and composition, it’s the sounds of language, not the meaning of it, that infants learn first. Later on, they’re able to associate those sounds with what they mean. He says newborns can dissect parts of sound like pitch, timbre, and rhythm. This is how exposure to music trains babies’ brains for language comprehension and the art of speaking!
Using Music to Teach a New Language
There are so many ways music helps with learning a new language. It’s motivating and fun, and when you’re having fun, you learn faster and more comfortably! The more you enjoy something, the more you’ll do it. That repetition, coupled with a catchy tune, is the perfect formula for locking new words and phrases in your brain.
It’s portable! You can take music with you to listen to anywhere, and you can create your own immersion experience by putting on your headphones.
Lyrics in music help you learn vocabulary in the context of spoken language. The melody, tone, and rhythm of music help with this. These elements express a mood and set the scene for the story the lyrics are telling. They help build associations which are more impactful than simply memorizing isolated vocabulary words.
Learning a language through music helps to improve your pronunciation. The joy of singing along to songs you like makes it easier to pick up correct pronunciation.
Listening to music activates many regions of the brain. It calls on both the left and right sides to work together, and this neurological boost helps with the language retention!
Overall, learning through music encompasses the four basic skills of the language learning process: listening, speaking reading and writing. If you can sing it, you can say it. If you can say it, you can read it. If you can read it you can (eventually) write it!
Songs in the SSH Curriculum
Music surrounds the learning experience at Spanish Schoolhouse. From the moment children arrive in the morning, they are greeted with the sounds of Spanish children’s music. Some of these songs are what are known as “earworms” – those devastatingly catchy songs that wriggle their way into the brain and won’t leave. They pop up when least expected, so don’t be surprised if your child suddenly bursts into Spanish song at home, in the car, or at the grocery store!
Throughout the SSH school day, our routine is punctuated with songs that help students predict what comes next. When it’s time to line up, we sing “A la linea,” and students know it’s clean-up time when we sing, “Limpia, limpia.” By the way… as an interesting side note, song titles in Spanish only have the first word capitalized!
Music can relate to the monthly theme (for example, “En la del tío Juan” when we learn about farm animals), or to learning the vocabulary of shapes and colors, body parts, family members, etc. Circle time opens with a greeting song like, “Hola, amigos,” and calendar time incorporates songs about the days of the week and months of the year. Music can be used to tell stories and sometimes even to just shake our sillies out!
Our Christmas and End-of-Year performances showcase traditional music and rhythms, which are awesome tools for learning about the Latin culture. Traditional music from any country is a goldmine of cultural information! Since it often contains language of rich, visual imagery, it’s a great way to introduce more complex and poetic vocabulary.
A Beautiful, Natural Way to Learn!
While each culture, society, and individual use music in their own way, it’s truly a universal language. It’s a uniquely beautiful form of human expression and when we pair music with language instruction, this dynamic duo makes learning natural, fun, and effective!