30 April 2008

On using songs to teach vocabulary

I would venture to say it is risky to use any songs that the students themselves don't recommend. Just ask them who and what they like and they are eager to let you know. Remember, if you like it they probably don't.

I believe teaching songs may be one of the most undervalued methods of TESL. Just think: the students usually love them (low affective barrier), they are catchy and easy to remember, they are real language (realia), it is likely that the students will hear them again and again and thus have ample opportunity to review the language, they are culturally informative, they add another media of presentation (music, not just listening to the teacher or looking at a book).

Other teachers had a big discussion (read: argument) about the value of teaching Shakespeare. The claim goes that the bard set a valuable milestone in the progress of English. But frankly, for young people especially, I think Backstreet Boys, Westlife, Dion and Houston would help students make greater progress in communicative skills.

Some care needs to be exercised to select songs with the highest potential of useful language. Many rap songs are hindered with a total absence of grammar and high density of slang or invented language.

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