Feel the rhythm
Human beings have have created music and danced for thousands of years. As a teacher, one of my favorite teaching tools is a West African drum I bought at a market in Cape Town. The first time I brought it to class, I remember the beginners looking at each other quizzically. “Hello,” I said. “My name is Leigh-Anne.” Then I repeated my name, this time beating out the two syllables of my name on the drum. Then I gave the drum to the students to “beat out” their names. From there, the students took turns “playing out” a variety of words. At first, they were a little shy, but after a while everyone got into it.
Just as music has rhythm, so does language. Research shows how music helps people acquire a new language. “Combined with the musicality of words, as well as the music itself, rhythm can also boost language skills” (Guardian, 2015). Evidence suggests that people who learn music from childhood find it easier to learn languages as an adult. (See full article here ). As songstress Gloria Estefan once crooned: “The rhythm’s gonna get you.” Gloria Estefan
Improve your pronunciation
1. Count the beats
I’ve noticed Portuguese-speaking students swallow “ee” sounds. I once thought a student said he had a cough instead of that he wanted to have a coffee! Coff/ee/ two syllables. Think of the syllables in a word as beats. For example: “in/stru/ment” has three syllables or beats. I suggest syllable-counting with an instrument of choice. Simply tap out the syllables on a drum, table, or by clapping your hands.
2. Word stress
Second language learners often struggle with word stress. For instance, sometimes the stress is placed on the first syllable: BRAzil, PORTugal, AMERica, CHIna, GERmany. Sometimes, the stress is in the middle: AnGOla, MoZAMbique, SwitZERland. Or at the end of the word: such as CamerOON. Stressing the wrong syllable can make it difficult for people to understand you. Listen to the stressed syllable, and beat it out. For example, “InSTRUment.”
3. Catchy songs
In one class, I played a song by Justin Bieber to differentiate the letter “b” from the letter “p”. A few days later I heard one of my students singing, “Baby, baby, baby, ooooh,” while he was walking down the corridor. It made me smile.
I love rap and conscious hip hop because it’s a way to learn sounds that rhyme. This teaches the /ʌ/ sound.
“If you want crime to stop/ stop hiring crooked cops.” Rap artist Heavy D
Rap songs contain words that have the same pronunciation but different spelling.
“The moment you own it you better never let it go/… do not miss your chance to blow.” Eminem
Improve your grammar
Have you ever had a song stuck in your head? That’s precisely why music is so effective for learning English. Ask google for songs that contain examples of the area that you are focusing on. Forgot the rule for present perfect? Sing along to the band U2. “But I still haven’t found/ What I’m looking for”. Or my personal favorite Micheal Bublé, “I just haven’t met you yet”.
Can’t remember the QUASI rule for making questions? Try singing Adam Lambert in the shower. “What do you want from me?” You might annoy your housemates but hopefully they’ll sing along too. The QUASI Rule: present simple or past simple questions are formed with the Question word + Auxiliary + Subject +Infinitive.
Sing Maroon 5 while running, or at K.T.V..
Improve your vocabulary
Music is a fabulous tool for learning new words, whatever your level.
1. Learn slang
While some teachers prefer teaching the Queen’s English (formal English), I think it’s important to teach English the way it is used in the real world. If you wanna learn English slang, you’ve gotta listen to pop music. Many songs contain words such as “gotta”, “gonna”, “wanna”, which are commonly used in spoken English.
2. Learn expressions
Consider the song, Sunflower, from the soundtrack of “Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse.” It contains many expressions such as “Callin’ it quits… Crash at my place, baby, you’re a wreck… You won’t back down.” Even better, watch the film too.
One of the best musicians of the 20th Century is Bob Dylan. He told stories through his music. Listen to his songs for inspiration, and use of metaphors and poetry.
You used to laugh about /Everybody that was hanging out /
Now you don’t talk so loud /Now you don’t seem so proud /
About having to be scrounging [for] your next meal”. Bob Dylan
3. Sing Along
Singing along to music can develop your fluency for two reasons. Firstly, by “singing” the words you feel more confident speaking out. Secondly, it helps you understand connected speech and those tricky shwa sounds. “Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?” Bob Marley is one such example.
Check out lyricstraining.com to read the words to your favorite songs. Music videos are another great resource, with or without subtitles. There are also karaoke apps to have competitions with your friends. Finally, here are some of my song recommendations. “Imagine”by John Lennon , “We Will Rock You” by Queen. ”I’m Gonna Love You, by Meghan Trainor .
In the words of Rihanna, “Shine bright like a diamond”, next time you have a conversation!
By Leigh-Anne Hunter