The Effectiveness of Songs in EFL

I lived in Los Angeles for most of life. When I was a teen, an advertisement for an auto dealer was aired on the radio. It was comprised of two lines put to an annoying tune. Even though I was about two hours away from this dealership, I remember every word of the ditty. “605 to South Street, Cerritos Auto Square!” Many years later and over two thousand miles away, I could still find my way to Cerritos Auto Square because of that song.

Nice Story, but…

The Chinese EFL companies often use English language songs to supplement the lesson materials. It’s not by accident; this may be the most efficient and effective way to learn a language. Music is remembered; monotonous tones are not. Songs give context and meaning to the words through the music, allowing our brains to retain the information more readily. Think of colored pins on a map. Every single note is like a different colored pin for your brain–giving it something to attach the word to, and anchoring it for later use.

“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” is one of the simplest songs, but it contains so much information, which our young students will absorb subconsciously. It shows the relationship between adjectives and nouns (little star). Subject and verb agreement can be discerned through how I wonder what you are. A greater understanding of prepositions of place can be achieved with up above the world so high. Last but not least, the meaning of nouns such as sky and diamond can be extracted because of the context given in the song. Amazingly, the students are picking up this data without you having to expend unnecessary time and energy!

A Personal Observation

When I started taking German several years ago, using prepositions with the correct articles was extremely difficult to memorize. Take my favorite example, the dog.

the dog  // der Hund (nominative case)

with the dog // mit dem Hund (preposition mit is dative)

for the dog  // für den Hund (preposition für is accusative)

Trying to figure out which prepositions brought about a specific change in the article (especially when German uses three genders and adjective declension) was confusing at best. Thus, our professor, Dr. Vic Fusilero, came up with the brilliant idea of putting the prepositions to songs. We used Strauss’ “The Blue Danube” melody for the dative prepositions and “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” for the accusative. More than five years later, I still remember which prepositions are accusative and which are dative, simply by singing the songs to myself.

Age Doesn’t Matter

Sometimes kids are self-conscious or they think they’re too “cool” for singing nursery rhymes. If they see that you are having fun with the singing, perhaps they’ll be more likely to try it out too. Even singing the song for them can help them to retain it. Fortunately, talent isn’t mandatory; the more grating the song is, the more it sticks. I heard that atrocious auto dealership ditty over and over again. I don’t ever remember singing along with it, but I still can recall it word for word. Have you ever wondered why commercials are so irritating? This is why!

My German class was full of college-age kids and older, but we all loved the songs. Dr. Vic would play German recording artists for us, and we enjoyed this immensely. One of my favorite German bands, Rammstein, has helped me with learning the language. Likewise, I occasionally use popular songs for my students. My advanced student loves The Greatest Showman, so I taught her the lyrics to “Never Enough” and we sang it together. With the prominence of the English language in the world, you can find something that will fit your student’s style, no matter his or her age!