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Cahiers de l'APLIUT

Music, Song and Foreign Language Teaching

Andy Arleo

The use of music and song in the foreign language classroom promotes pedagogical diversity and contributes to effective
learning, especially in regards to pronunciation, fluency, listening comprehension, memorization of vocabulary and
grammatical structures, and cultural awareness. This article first discusses the similarities and differences between music
and language. It then provides an overview of the literature on using music and song in the foreign language classroom.
The final section describes a sequence of activities used to teach a song to IUT students.

Musique, chanson et enseignement d'une langue étrangère.
L'utilisation de la musique et du chant en cours de langue étrangère promeut la diversité pédagogique et contribue à un
apprentissage efficace, notamment en ce qui concerne la prononciation, la fluidité de la parole, la compréhension auditive,
la mémorisation du vocabulaire et des structures grammaticales, et la conscience de la culture étrangère. Cet article
passe d'abord en revue les similarités et les différences entre musique et langage. Ensuite, il fournit une synthèse des
travaux consacrés à l'utilisation du chant et de la musique en cours de langues. Enfin, il propose une série d'activités
employées lors de l'exploitation pédagogique d'une chanson avec des étudiants en IUT.

Citer ce document / Cite this document :

Arleo Andy. Music, Song and Foreign Language Teaching. In: Cahiers de l'APLIUT, volume 19, numéro 4, 2000. Arts et
langue de spécialité. pp. 5-19;

doi : https://doi.org/10.3406/apliu.2000.3005


Fichier pdf généré le 22/03/2019


Les Cahiers de i'APLIUT volume XIX . n° 4 . juin 2000 ISSN 0248-9430


Département Techniques de Commercialisation, IUT de Saint-Nazaire
LACITO-CNRS (Laboratoire de Langues et civilisations à tradition orale)

Key-words: brain, categorization, chanting, emotion, foreign language learning, foreign

language teaching, learner motivation, listening comprehension, melody, memory, music,
pedagogical diversity, prosody, repetition, rhythm, singing, stress, song.
Abstract: The use of music and song in the foreign language classroom promotes
pedagogical diversity and contributes to effective learning, especially in regards to
pronunciation, fluency, listening comprehension, memorization of vocabulary and
grammatical structures, and cultural awareness. This article first discusses the similarities and
differences between music and language. It then provides an overview of the literature on
using music and song in the foreign language classroom. The final section describes a
sequence of activities used to teach a song to IUT students.



Département Techniques de Commercialisation, IUT de Saint-Nazaire
LACITO-CNRS (Laboratoire de Langues et civilisations à tradition orale)

Mots-clés: accentuation, apprentissage des langues étrangères, catégorisation, cerveau,

chanson, chant, compréhension auditive, didactique des langues étrangères, diversité
pédagogique, émotion, mélodie, mémoire, motivation de l'apprenant, musique, parole
scandée, prosodie, répétition, rythme.
Résumé : L'utilisation de la musique et du chant en cours de langue étrangère promeut la
diversité pédagogique et contribue à un apprentissage efficace, notamment en ce qui concerne
la prononciation, la fluidité de la parole, la compréhension auditive, la mémorisation du
vocabulaire et des structures grammaticales, et la conscience de la culture étrangère. Cet
article passe d'abord en revue les similarités et les différences entre musique et langage.
Ensuite, il fournit une synthèse des travaux consacrés à l'utilisation du chant et de la musique
en cours de langues. Enfin, il propose une série d'activités employées lors de l'exploitation
pédagogique d'une chanson avec des étudiants en IUT.

Les Cahiers de I'APLIUT volume XIX . n° 4 . juin 2000 ISSN 0248-9430


Les Cahiers de l'APLIUT volume XIX . n° 4 . juin 2000 ISSN 0248-9430



In a paper presented at the opening plenary session of the XXIème Congrès de

l'APLIUT, Alan Maley emphasized that diversity in the classroom can be viewed as an
opportunity for language learners rather than a threat.2 Research on learning styles and on
"multiple intelligences" (Gardner 1983) also shows that introducing variety in the foreign
language classroom is a sound teaching strategy. This article will suggest that music and song
can contribute to effective language learning by enriching the classroom environment.
Section 1 discusses the relationship between music and language. Section 2, a brief survey of
the literature on using music in the foreign language classroom, aims to offer the teacher a
guide for further exploration and experimentation. Finally, Section 3 describes a sequence of
activities used to teach a song to IUT students.

1. Music and language

As there is a long history of commentary and research on the complex relationship
between music and language, this overview only highlights some of the main issues. First
we look at similarities between music and language, and then differences. This is followed by
a discussion of song, which can be considered as a hybrid form between music and language.

1 Maître de conférences, l'IUT de Saint-Nazaire (Université de Nantes), and member of LACITO-CNRS

(Laboratoire de langues et civilisations à tradition orale). I wish to thank Janet Atlan (IUT de Nancy 2) and
Kathryn Marsh (Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Sydney, Australia) for their helpful comments and
2 "The dividends from diversity", IUT d'Angers, 10 juin 1999.
3 For further information, in addition to the references cited in this section, see Feld 1974, Nattiez 1975,
prosody byand
and Despringre 1991. Diana ( 1 994) summarizes the research on the perception of

1.1. Similarities between music and language

Music and language are primarily aural phenomena. In this respect, they are different
from experiences based on other senses, such as vision, touch or smell. As Flament (1998:
18) points out, musical and linguistic sounds use the same physical parameters:
"Les constituants physiques des sons musicaux sont les mêmes que les constituants de
l'oralité, des sons du langage: durée, intensité, hauteur -fréquence fondamentale (Fo),
que ceux-ci soient isolés or intégrés à un flux sonore, dans un continuum."

As a result, the teacher may exploit (partial) convergences between musical phenomena, such
as rhythm and melody, and linguistic phenomena, such as stress and intonation.
Listening to a piece of music or to a stretch of spoken discourse involves the
perception of an ordered series of events through time. This may be contrasted with the
experience of viewing a painting, in which one may embark on many possible perceptual
paths across a conventionally staked-out portion of space. Although we listen to music in
different ways and may focus on different voices or timbres, it is impossible for one listener
to listen "forwards" and another listener to listen "backwards" to the same piece at the same
time. Furthermore, musical and linguistic experience are generally temporally bounded with
a beginning, a middle and an end, and these are usually marked off by conventional cues.
Thus we can typically say that musical performances or speech acts are "over", but not that a
painting is "over". From a pedagogical view, this means that when a class listens together to a
recorded or performed piece of music, the experience occurs within a predetermined time
frame and the events are perceived collectively in a given order. The temporality of music,
spoken language and other kinds of performances, such as plays, poetry readings and dance,
provides social cohesion by tying the participants together in a bounded collective experience.
Music and language both display hierarchical structure and constituency, where larger
units can be parsed into smaller units. There are rough parallels between linguistic units
(large discourse units, sentences, clauses, phrases, words, phonemes) and musical units (a
piece, sections, phrases, individual notes). In both domains one can distinguish between an
"etic" approach, involving the raw physical patterns of sound, and an "emic" approach, which
takes into account the function of sounds within a system. Just as different languages cut up
the acoustic continuum into distinctive speech sounds, different musical cultures carve out
scales and modes. There are also analogies between musical and linguistic analysis. For
example, Sloboda (1985 : 11-66) discusses the " striking similarities" between the theories
developed by (the early) N. Chomsky and the musicologist H. Schenker, in particular the
notion of transformational rules which link up deep and surface structures. The use of

linguistic models to analyse music has been pursued, among others, by Ruwet (1972) and
Lehrdahl and Jackendoff (1983).
1.2. Differences between music and language
Discussions on differences between music and language tend to focus on the issue of
meaning. An extreme position holds that language is inherently meaningful whereas music
on its own, (i.e. without words) is essentially a meaningless formal system. Such a radical
dichotomy is untenable for several reasons. In many traditions music imitates the soundscapes
of the outside world, such as Vivaldi's "Four Seasons " or blues harmonicist Sonny Terry's
imitations of trains and fox chases. Furthermore, a musical text may refer to previous musical
discourse known to the listener. For instance, jazz improvisors often quote fragments of well-
known pieces of music (e.g. "La Marseillaise") or even provide a clin d'œil to the experienced
listener by citing famous jazz solos (Charlie Parker solos are constantly copied). Music is
therefore more than a formal system because it can refer to entities outside of itself.
Nevertheless, the semantics of music and of language do differ considerably. Music handles

and Bach's
in ainstrumental
vague, allusive
the melody
up images
of "La of
the 18 th century.
may evoke

translating a grocery list into purely musical terms would be a challenge, not to mention a
technical manual. Music lacks precise markers of spatial and time deixis. Even a simple
everyday utterance (e.g. " Yesterday morning I bought Elmore Leonard's new novel at Barnes
and Nobel on 18th Street") cannot be rendered musically. Moreover, there are no clear
musical equivalents to grammatical categories like nouns and verbs or semantic concepts like
tense and modality. Finally, music does not use propositional meaning to make assertions or
to construct arguments about the world, even though one may find analogies between logical
form in language and in music (cf. the exposition, development and recapitulation subsections
of the sonata form).
Music and language also differ in the amount of repetition that is generally tolerated.
Although there is much repetition in language, especially in poetic language, musical
repetition is far more pervasive (Ruwet 1972 : 111). For example, in common musical forms
like AABB, which is found not only in classical music but also in many traditional dance
tunes, or AABA, found in innumerable jazz standards, entire sections are repeated. Another
example is songs with refrains, which are repeated over and over. This feature of music has
great value for the foreign language teacher as it affords enjoyable repetitive practice that is
often boring in ordinary language practice.

Another difference between music and language concerns the role of affect. Clearly,
both forms of expression convey emotion, but it is often claimed that musical emotion
transcends " mere words an idea that is firmly anchored in the Western philosophical
tradition, such as Plato's The Republic or Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy. In addition to our
everyday experience as listeners, singers and dancers, there is empirical data to back up this
view. The relationship between music and trance is well documented (Rouget : 1990) and is
illustrated by phenomena like Beatlemania and rave parties. Furthermore, heightened speech,
such as Martin Luther King's '7 have a dream " speech, often has prosodical features that
recall music. But why is music so emotionally powerful ? While there is no obvious answer
to this question, there has been some speculation. First, musical affect involves more than
simply listening to a repeated sound (otherwise my neighbor's repetitive hammering might be
esthetically pleasing), although repetition undoubtedly contributes to our pleasure. Structure
surely plays a role in our emotional reaction to music. Because music is structured, the
listener builds up expectations, and as these are fulfilled there is a feeling of satisfaction.
However, one of the paradoxes of this approach is that it does not explain how we can enjoy
listening to the same piece of music over and over. This issue is discussed by Jackendoff
(1992 : 153), who endeavors to " rescue " the so-called " expectation theory ".
Finally, recent research shows that there are differences in how the brain processes
music and language. While popular accounts often equate music with the right hemisphere
and language with the left hemisphere (in right-handed subjects), the reality is much more
complex. Firstly, research shows that language is not processed exclusively by the left
hemisphere. Speech rhythm and intonation ("prosody") are disrupted when there are lesions
within the right hemisphere (Springer and Deutsch 1993 : 160). The ability of the right
hemisphere to process prosody has led to the development of a program called melodic
intonation therapy, which helps aphasies (with left hemisphere damage) to improve their
language skills by incorporating word sequences in a song (ibid.). There is also evidence that
the right hemisphere can process concrete nouns like table and contributes to the
understanding of humor and metaphor (ibid. : 161). Furthermore, music, like language, also
consists of a complex set of skills which are not necessarily confined to one hemisphere.
Although the right hemisphere appears to be dominant for music, there is evidence that
trained musicians also use their left hemisphere for certain aspects of musical skill, such as
reproducing rhythmic patterns (Sloboda 1985 : 263). In general, "those aspects of musical
processing that require judgments about duration, temporal order, sequencing, and rhythm
differentially involve the left hemisphere, whereas the right hemisphere is differentially

involved when judgments about tonal memory, timbre, melody recognition, and intensity are
required ' (Springer and Deutsch 1993 : 190). This brief discussion has shown that linguistic
and musical abilities cannot be assigned simplistically to the cerebral hemispheres. There are
certainly " differences in the brain mechanisms underlying the processing of music and
language " (Besson, Faïta, Requin 1994 : 104), but, as Sloboda (ibid., p. 265) observes, "the
brain areas responsible for music seem to have a partial, but incomplete, overlap with those
responsible for language ". Furthermore, "music, if not a totally distinctive neural function,
almost certainly employs a distinctive configuration of neural resources ." From a practical
viewpoint, the research suggests that harnassing together music and language is
neurologically enriching, although further work is no doubt necessary to confirm this
1.3. Song as a hybrid between language and music
When we hear "Les feuilles mortes", we identify it as a song, that is as a hybrid form
which "puts words to music". Cognitive psychologist D. Rubin (1995) has demonstrated at
length how the respective constraints of music and poetic language combine to create a
powerful aid to memory, especially in oral traditions that do not rely primarily on writing to
transmit their cultural productions from one performer to another, or from one generation to
the next. The mnemonic value of songs is, of course, one of the best reasons for using them
in the classroom (see §2.1 below).
It is difficult to draw a clear-cut boundary between speech and song (List 1963).
Rather, human vocal expression and communication may be seen to form a continuum with
casual speech (e.g., ordinary conversation) on one end and song on the other, as shown in
Figure 1:
Figure 1: The Speech - Song Continuum in English
<r speech ~ heightened speech — chants ~ songs ->

Heightened speech includes storytelling, joketelling, sermons, poetry recitation, dramatic

performance and so on, genres whose prosody differs from that of everyday conversation.
Chants tend to have a regular beat, including forms such as children's rhymes, cheers and
slogans shouted at demonstrations (Arleo 1995 : 19). In contrast to the preceding forms,
songs usually exhibit relatively stable pitches and more elaborate melodies (List 1963 : 3).
Different cultures cut up the speech-song continuum in slightly different ways : the Hopi
Indians, for example, have three categories in their language : speech, announcing (a type of
chant with two unstable pitches) and song (ibid.).

The linear scheme just outlined is not entirely satisfactory since it orders forms
somewhat simplistically along one dimension. Using prototype theory (see Lakoff 1987:
9 Iff.), we might conceptualize song as a " radial category ". In this analysis, "Les feuilles
mortes" is a central, core example of a song, whereas children's rhymes, rap and cheers are
songs only in a peripheral sense, and perhaps not at all for some people. This could actually
be tested experimentally by asking subjects to hit a button if a particular sequence of vocal
sounds is considered a song and then counting the number of hits and measuring reaction
times. Whether we see songs as a radial category or as a point on a continuum, we should
realize that there is no principled absolute division between speech and song. By exploring
both, as well as the whole gamut of intermediate possibilities, we not only introduce cognitive
and emotional diversity, but also authenticity, since these various degrees of vocal expression
and communication appear to be exploited in many cultures and languages.

2. Music and songs in the foreign language classroom: an overview

This section addresses the following basic questions : Why use music ?4 Can music be
used with all learners ? When ? What kinds of music can be used ? How ? As most of these

ideas have been discussed by several researchers, they are not systematically attributed to a
sole author.
2.1. Why use music ?
The use of music for foreign language learning is recommended for a host of
overlapping psycho-affective, social, linguistic, cognitive, cultural and pedagogical reasons.
As many authors point out, music is fun for learners and can create an enjoyable and relaxed
atmosphere in the classroom. At the same time, as was stressed above, music has the power
to affect our emotions and so involves the learner. From a linguistic viewpoint, songs are
useful for listening comprehension, pronunciation practice (especially prosody), vocabulary
learning (especially idioms) and grammar review. Cognitively, the fact that music " sticks in
our heads " suggests that it plays a role in our short-and long-term memory (Murphey 1992 :
7). Like art, film or literature, music is an integral part of the foreign culture ; songs in
particular reflect and comment on key social, political and historical issues. From a
pedagogical point of view, music can be a way to launch discussion and to create authentic
communication in which learners exchange their views and interpretations.

2.2. Can music be used with all learners ?

Music can be used profitably with virtually all language learners. However, the choice
of types of music obviously depends on many factors, including the age, language level,
cultural background and musical interests of the learner as well as the general learning
context. While some learners may initially be reluctant to sing, it is possible to gradually lead
into this activity, as shown in Section 3.
2.3. When can music be used ?
One of the chief advantages of music is that it may be used very flexibly, from the
occasional fifteen-minute activity to an entire course over a semester or academic year (Arleo
: 1992). The teacher may decide to build music into the syllabus by using songs at regular
planned intervals. On the other hand, music can also be used more spontaneously to change
pace, break up routine, and introduce surprise. Song fragments, for instance, are very much
part of spoken language and often they just "pop up " in the classroom. When discussing stress
placement, I ask students to volunteer words ending in -tion. Inevitably, someone comes up
with the word satisfaction because of the song " Satisfaction ", which then becomes a
mnemonic device for remembering that the main stress will always be on the syllable before -
tion. (in honor of the Rolling Stones, I dub this the " satisfaction rule "). In some situations,
such as when students are preparing for an examination, the teacher may feel that music,
although enjoyable, is an unaffordable luxury. However, with imagination, the occasional
well-chosen song may actually provide a refreshing alternative way to study for an exam.
2.4. What kinds of music can be used?

There is a vast amount of musical material available, including popular and traditional
songs, rock, rap, classical music, ethnic music, jazz, film music and so on. Griffee (1992 : 6-
7) suggests taking into account both the student and the teacher: "It is not wise to use music
that you do not like. It is also unwise to use music students do not like. The answer is to find
common ground." Murphey (1992 : 14-15) also recommends taking advantage of student
input, which involves them in the learning process and also provides the teacher with new
material. He provides a useful sample handout designed to collect motivating and
pedagogically useful songs selected by the students themselves (ibid., p. 33).
2.5. How can music be used in the foreign language classroom ?
As Murphey (1992 : 13) points out, " student interest in the topic of music and song can
be used to stimulate language learning, even if the students do not actually hear music."
There is a wide range of activities that can be developed to talk about music, including

4 For convenience, the term "music" will cover both "instrumental music" (i.e. without words) and "songs".

surveys on student preferences, discussions on musical genres, role-play interviews, and

reports or oral presentations on specific singers, bands and types of music. These talking
activities can also lead into a teaching sequence that uses music.
Several authors have suggested ways of using instrumental music or sound sequences
in the classroom. The fact that music is generally evocative rather than referential allows for
open-ended interpretations in which the learner can use his or her imagination. Ostojic (1987
: 51) describes a successful and enjoyable experience in which secondary-school students in
Sarejevo wrote simple poems or short prose pieces in English while listening to classical
music. He noticed that Tchaikowsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 " created a meditative mood,
longings, peace, and sadness", whereas Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue "aroused feelings of a
different kind: joyfulness, brightness, and drunkenness ..." . Murphey (1992) devotes a chapter
to "Just music " in which he describes many activities, including background music, musical
reactions, stream of consciousness writing, film music, and advertising jingles. Maley and
Duff (1975 and 1979) invite the learner to make up stories based on sound sequences, which
might be compared to miniature pieces of musique concrète .5 This is not only a creative and
imaginative activity, but also provides an opportunity for exploring the rich vocabulary
describing sound.
There are many collections of songs for foreign language learners and methods that
give practical advice on using songs in the classroom. The song collections are often sold
with a cassette and usually include notes on vocabulary and grammar in addition to the lyrics
(e.g., Richelet : 1991). Garavito et al. (1991) also includes written music and fairly extensive
notes on the songs, music and dances of Spain and South America. Griffee (1992) describes
76 activities for using music, most of which concern songs. He also provides a useful
introduction for teachers, references, an annotated bibliography of ESL/EFL songbooks, a
sample lesson plan, and four indexes, including one by skill and another by learner level.
Murphey (1992) has a section with 24 activities on using songs and another section devoted to
video song clips. Arleo (1995) discusses the use of songs and chants in relation to linguistic
stress and rhythm, and also recommends the use of karaoke, which in particularly helpful in
developing fluency. The teacher might also want to use or adapt the well-known jazz and
grammar chants developed by Carolyn Graham (1978 and 1993), and perhaps even invent
new ones with the learners. Finally, other authors offer specific practical tips for singing in
the classroom (Griffee 1992 : 83-88, Murphey 1992 : 94-95, Arleo 1997 : 65-67).

When necessary I will refer specifically to these two subcategories.


The teacher may need to adapt many of the above ideas to the local teaching context.
Some of the activities are aimed at younger learners and might not be appropriate for older
students. At the same time, when used at the right time and in the right context, activities that
might look "silly" on paper can go over quite well. For example, students enjoy chanting the
letters of the alphabet in a rap style.

3. Teaching a song : a practical example

This section describes a sequence of activities used to teach a song to IUT students in
the Département Techniques de Commercialisation. Although the description follows my
classroom practice quite closely, each song session tends to be unique with new twists and
variations. There is of course no one best way to teach songs and indeed I would encourage
teachers to experiment with different approaches. It is also important to realize that often
"less is more". In other words, an exhaustive analysis, which might be interesting for the
teacher and a few of the students, runs the risk of "killing" the song for the rest of the class.
3.1. Prelistening activity: talking about music
In pairs or small groups students interview each other on their musical tastes. Below
are some sample questions:
- What kind of music do you listen to ?
- Who are your favorite singers, songwriters and bands ?
- When do you enjoy listening to music ?
- Do you sing or play an instrument? What kind of music do you play ?
- What is your favorite song ? In your opinion, what was the best song of the 20th century ?
- Do you buy CDs or cassettes ? What was the last one you bought ?
- What is your favorite record ?
- Do you ever go to concerts ? Where ? What was your favorite concert ?
- Do you know the words to any songs in a foreign language ? Which ones ?
- Do you think that songs can help you learn a foreign language ? How ?

This is followed by a short classroom discussion in order to summarize and comment

on the information exchanged in the interviews. The "best song of the 20th century " question
was especially appealing to my students. Among the songs most often cited were John

5 Musique concrète is based on the use of real or "concrete" sounds such as street noises, sirens, thunder and so
on. It mayPierre
composer considered
as theca.musical
1948. equivalent of the collage in the visual arts. The term was coined by French

Lennon's Imagine and Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven. Among the musical genres,
American and French rap were particularly popular.
3.2. Guided listening: introductory activities
Rather than give information about the song directly, I prefer to have the students
discover as much as they can on their own. Some of the following questions are put on the
overhead projector and the students are invited to think about them while listening to the song
for the first time.

- What kind of music is this ? How would you classify it in a record store ?
- Who is the singer/songwriter/band ?
- What is the title of the song ?
- When was it recorded ?
- What instruments do you hear ?
- What is the mood/atmosphere/feeling of the song ?
- What is the tempo/rhythm of the song ? Can you dance to it ?
- Where does the singer come from ?
- Does he/she have an accent ?
- What words do you recognize ?
- Does the song tell a story ?
- Does the song have a chorus (or refrain) ?

After this first listening we review the questions. At this point the teacher might offer
additional information about the song. Talking about the mood of the song can also be an
opportunity to explore vocabulary related to feeling and emotion, beyond the simple
adjectives "sad" or " happy ". Students should also learn some basic terms used in discussing
songs, such as line, verse, chorus (or refrain) and rhyme.
3.3. Detailed listening comprehension
Some songs are quite hard to understand, even for the native speaker, and it is wise to
avoid excessively difficult material, in which, for example, the lyrics are drowned out by the
music. On the other hand, songs have built-in features like poetic structure and repetition,
which often make them easier to understand and memorize than everyday conversation.
Furthermore, in a collective listening comprehension task students help each other. The
teacher can therefore let the structure and the students do most of the work, and be available
as a last resort resource person.

To illustrate this listening comprehension exercise, I will use Otis Redding's Sitting on
the Dock of the Bay , recorded several days before his tragic death in a plane crash in Madison,
Wisconsin on December 10, 1967. This is one of the great soul classics of the 1960's and
many students have heard it and like it. For the second listening, I put the following frame for
the first verse on the overhead projector:
Line 1 _____,
2 _______.
3 _____,
4 ______

We listen to the verse line by line and a student fills in the frame, which is projected
onto the board. After listening to the verse two or three times the students can usually find
nearly all the words, which are shown below:

Sitting in the morning sun,

I'll be sitting when the evening comes.
Watching the ships roll in,
Then I watch ' em roll away again.

The learners often do not understand 'em (for them ) which provides an opportunity to review
the contractions that are so common in spoken English. The first verse can also be used to go
over the present and future continuous tenses as well as the when clause. I also emphasize the
fact that understanding is not just a question of hearing, but also of applying grammatical,
semantic and general knowledge to a particular context. For example, it is possible to recover
'em by combining the previous information in line 3 with grammatical deduction : What is he
watching ? What pronoun can replace the ships ?
The first two lines of verse 2 offer a good example of how understanding can be aided
by geographical knowledge :
Left my home in Georgia,
Headedfor the Frisco bay...

This is a good opportunity to ask students to locate Georgia on a map and also to point out
that Otis Redding was born there. Songs are indeed a wonderful way to teach the geography
of a foreign country. After listening to this verse once or twice students often creatively
mishear Frisco as crystal or fiscal (especially before a fiscal law exam!) However, once they
grasp the general sense of headed and think about the first line, some suddenly realize that the
singer is referring to San Francisco.

Like much poetry, songs also provide comprehension clues through the rhyme
scheme. For example, in Chuck Berry's Memphis , Tennessee , the last word of the first verse
is hard to understand:
She did not leave her number, but I know who placed the call,
'Cause my uncle took the message and he wrote it on the _.

Because of the aabb rhyme scheme, the listener knows that the missing word rhymes with
call. Furthermore, we know from the definite article the that the word must be a noun and
from the context that it refers to something that can be written on. By combining these three
clues, most students realize that the narrator's uncle wrote the message on the wall.6
It is not necessary to go through the entire song like this, which could become tedious.
I prefer to do only one verse, or perhaps a verse and a chorus, in this way and then hand out a
cloze version of the lyrics, usually with one gap per line. It is a good idea to vary the gapped
words by using different grammatical categories, blanking out rhyming words and alternating
easy and difficult vocabulary. We listen to the song again and the students fill in the gaps.
This is designed to be a confidence builder after the previous listening task which is often
difficult for the weaker students. It also leads into the next stage, singing the song.
3.4. Singing in the classroom
We usually begin by singing along with the recording. For fast tunes the class might
first chant the song line by line and gradually increase the tempo. This is an excellent way to
work on fluency. The teacher can devise a system to show which syllables are synchronized
with the beat (Arleo 1995 and 1997) and have the students tap along with the beat :
O OOO O 00
Memphis, information, give me Memphis, Tennessee...

After singing with the recording it is fun to get the whole class singing on their own, with or
without instrumental accompaniment. The teacher should not worry about not being a
polished musician or singer. In fact, it is best to stay in the background, providing cues and
help only when necessary. It is very rewarding to sit back and listen to your class sing. In
addition to singing in unison, other variations can be tried out. For example, one technique
that is nearly always successful with students is to assign the odd verses to the women, the
even verses to the men, and have everyone join in on the chorus.

6 This example illustrates the power of combining "multiple constraints", a technique discussed by Rubin (1995:
90-121) and, in relation to visual processing, by Pinker (1997: 234-236).

Because it is both similar to and different from language, music is a valuable and
enjoyable tool in the foreign language classroom. It reinforces classroom cohesion, engages
the whole body through a shared rhythmic pulse, and appears to mobilize (partially) different
patterns of neural resources. Songs, in particular, contribute to better pronunciation
(especially in regards to prosody), develop fluency, facilitate the comprehension and the
memorization of vocabulary and grammatical structures, and promote awareness of the target
culture. Above all, music and song can be used creatively by teachers and learners in relation
to their own goals. Like the other arts, music is still a largely untapped resource that deserves
far more recognition within the university and teacher training programs. It is hoped that this
article and this special issue will incite other researchers to investigate the many contributions
that music and the arts can make to the teaching and learning of foreign languages.


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