Lighten up lessons with songs

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP - BY BHAVANI KR­ISHNA IYER

THERE is a com­mon un­der­stand­ing that mu­sic, which is univer­sal, con­nects and unites peo­ple. Mu­sic is also ther­a­peu­tic and it can lift you from the deep­est of dis­tresses to guile­less ec­stasy. Mu­sic ap­peals to all age groups and it can also serve to di­ver­sify the monotony one sees in life.

As a teacher, both for chil­dren and adults, I found us­ing songs perked up the mood in an English Lan­guage learn­ing class. We must re­mem­ber, lan­guage classes can be an or­deal for those with pro­fi­ciency is­sues and cre­at­ing a stress-free at­mos­phere in the class can have amaz­ing re­sults.

One of the big­gest prob­lems we face, whether teach­ing English to chil­dren or adults, is main­tain­ing learn­ers’ in­ter­est through­out our lessons. Con­se­quently, we of­ten have to be cre­ative in the tech­niques we use. What makes mu­sic such a great teach­ing tool is its univer­sal ap­peal, con­nect­ing all cul­tures and lan­guages.

This makes songs one of the best and most mo­ti­vat­ing re­sources in the class­room, re­gard­less of the age or back­ground of the learner, not for­get­ting the teach­ers who need a break from the te­dium and hence the need for some form of in­ter­lude.

I have a col­lec­tion of songs that would fit into my teach­ing and learn­ing ob­jec­tives of a typ­i­cal English Lan­guage class. A word of cau­tion though – not all songs are suit­able to be brought into a class­room. There are many types of songs which can be used in the class­room, rang­ing from nurs­ery rhymes to con­tem­po­rary pop mu­sic.

“Real” mu­sic that the chil­dren lis­ten to ev­ery day can be ex­tremely mo­ti­vat­ing in the class­room, too. How­ever, the lyrics may not al­ways be suit­able: they may, for in­stance, con­tain slang or of­fen­sive words, there may be gram­mat­i­cal mis­takes and they may only marginally teach the lan­guage points you want to fo­cus on.

Songs as ped­a­gog­i­cal tools is not a new and it has been valu­able in adding colour and vigour to an oth­er­wise dull lan­guage class. Songs can be a flex­i­ble tool in that it can be ex­ploited in any num­ber of ways for teach­ing the lan­guage com­po­nents.

It is es­pe­cially use­ful in a lis­ten­ing ac­tiv­ity with other lan­guage com­po­nents rid­ing on it.

Songs, which I con­sider sim­i­lar to other lit­er­a­ture gen­res can also be use­ful tools in the learn­ing of vo­cab­u­lary, sen­tence struc­tures, and sen­tence pat­terns, not to men­tion their re­flec­tiv­ity of life’s quirks.

Per­haps the great­est ben­e­fit to us­ing songs in the class­room is that they can be fun. Plea­sure for its own sake is an im­por­tant part of learn­ing a lan­guage, some­thing which is of­ten taken for granted.

One song that I have en­thu­si­as­ti­cally used in my lan­guage classes is Phill Collins’ Another Day in Par­adise. The emo­tional twang in the song is numb­ing and weighs heav­ily on our thoughts like a pes­tle.

It is about a home­less old woman jux­ta­posed against an av­er­age man on the street who ap­pears bliss­fully ig­no­rant of the suf­fer­ing around him.

The mes­sage re­it­er­ated is that what­ever one en­joys, it is only tem­po­rary as ev­ery day is just another day, till the next day comes. For those who are en­joy­ing the best things in life, it may not last and so, share your wealth with the less for­tu­nate.

That re­minds me of a short video that was in cir­cu­la­tion some weeks ago where a lit­tle girl in a de­mand­ing tone re­minds the Bri­tish prime min­is­ter to deal with the va­grants and home­less peo­ple in Lon­don. It made me re­alise that poverty is a univer­sal prob­lem and one that needs more than po­lit­i­cal will to erad­i­cate.

Now that we have a man with lots more money than any of us can dream to head the world’s most il­lus­tri­ous and pow­er­ful coun­try, let us see if he will serve his peo­ple or will he be sub­servient to his power.

The writer be­lieves that the Malaysian ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem will reach greater heights with a strong an­ti­dote to rev­o­lu­tionise just about ev­ery­thing. Com­ments: let­ters@ the­sundaily.com

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