Sunday, November 6, 2011

Using Music to Teach Language

photo by Vectorportal
The following article is a guest post by Michael Fee, Managing Director of Lango, as part of our series, Music in Education.

At Lango, we teach foreign languages to kids ages 18 months to 11 years old. We do so with passion and enthusiasm, believing that every child should learn another language, and every child can learn a language. And we believe that language learning sinks in most deeply when students don’t just hear new sounds or even read new terms, but when they feel the new language, experiencing it deeply.

Music has the power to reach students deeply. Music has touched all of us; a profound musical experience can reach us on a visceral level, beyond superficial memorization. This is why, at Lango, music is part of every class, for every child – toddlers to tweens!

We’re hardly the first to suggest that language should be learned with one’s entire being; indeed, “Total Physical Response” (TPR) is an almost universally-accepted methodology that suggests that students learn languages best when they use not just hearing and speaking, but movement, tactile response and a full range of sensation. Meanwhile, language educators like Dartmouth’s John Rassias tell us that “the best way to learn a second language is to speak it and to live it; to involve both your intellect and your emotions.”  At Lango we believe the best way to experience a new language in such a way is through music.

When learning a new language through music, a student shouldn’t just listen, or even just sing along; she should dance! She should use her entire body to experience the rhythm and changes in pitch and volume that makes music so much more memorable than simple text, or even than a poem.

Music helps us teach new languages by ensuring that students acquire new sounds deeply, because music creates lasting impressions that make the new language easy to recall, but also because listening to lyrics forces a student to listen closely. During music-time in a Lango class, as students dance in time and in keeping with the content, our teachers cup their hands to their ears, reminding students to listen closely; invariably we see students nod vigorously as they pick up key words and begin to comprehend the thrust of the song.

But learning languages through music is about even more - more than learning with one’s entire self, or indelible impressions, or even comprehension; it reminds students (and us teachers!) that people exist behind the music and the language we’re hearing. At Lango we use toe-tapping, contemporary music we’ve created just for our lessons, but also traditional music, the music of the peoples whose languages our students are learning. For only by developing that richer understanding of the people who speak these languages do students truly grasp the depth of what they’re learning.


Michael Fee, Lango's Managing Director, has spent his entire career in education, starting as a high school English Teacher with Teach For America in rural Arkansas. Since then, he has held various leadership positions, including running after-school tutoring facilities for Score Educational Centers and leading Intrax Cultural Exchange's study abroad and English-instruction businesses. He also earned his BA from Stanford and his MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Most proudly, he is father to three children, all of whom are learning Spanish at Lango!


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