Children love music and singing. There is something magical about words being set to a melody that make children perk up and join in. Since most children’s songs consist of catchy beats and poetry-infused lyrics, it is a perfect combination of rhythm, rhyme and fun.
An added benefit to children’s songs is that they are often easy to learn. The short, repetitive sentences lend themselves to easy memorization and retention. What better way to learn words in context than to sing them out loud? Children don’t even realize how much their language skills are improving while joining in the singing fun.
Bilingual children, in particular, can benefit from singing songs in their second language. Even if most of the words are unfamiliar at first, mimicking the words in a song can help children practice producing sounds in the new language. Eventually the sounds give way to actual understanding as the song is practiced over and over again. It is a win-win situation all around.
Here are a few tips to think about when introducing your bilingual students to songs:
- Repetition: Pick songs that repeat words and sentences over and over again. Focus on these repetitive parts first with your students. Once your students start to memorize these, they will be more eager to participate and will be excited to learn the rest of the song. Encourage children to try and join in even if only now and then – they may have picked up a word here or there and will want to call it out when the song reaches that point.
- Movement: Children delight in songs that include movement. Being able to move our bodies while practicing words and sentences in another language can have a tremendous impact. A favorite movement song for children is the “Hokey-Pokey,”but also see if you can find movement songs that come from a variety of cultures . Another idea is to have your students choreograph their own movements to a song. Choose a song that has a lot of movement words and let your students choose how to illustrate these with their own bodies.
- Rhythm: It is important to pick out songs that have a good rhythm. It is easier for children to learn the words when the rhythm of the song is consistent and follows a regular pattern. The words of the song should fit well with the beat. To add to the fun, bring out instruments for students to play during the song, such as drums and shakers. This kind of movement can have an
- Lyrics: It goes without saying that the words of the song are key when it comes to bilingual children. If there are too many new, difficult words, then the experience can backfire. Singing songs together should be fun and inspiring, not burdensome and frustrating. However, you will also want to help your students expand their language skills each time they learn a new song. Go over some of the words, or even all of the words, ahead of time. Make sure your students understand what they are singing – it makes for a more meaningful activity. Also try to pick songs that have full sentences which students may use in their everyday lives.
- Rhyming: Songs that rhyme can help students memorize vocabulary more easily. Pick songs that have rhyming words that match what you are working on with your students. For example, if you are working on words that have the long-o sound, then choose a song that has at least a good number of rhyming words with the long-o sound. It is a fun way to help students understand the different sounds in words. Another tip is to let students come up with their own songs! Together as a class (or in smaller groups) they can choose the rhythm and then come up with words and sentences to go with it. Or you can give students a list of words that you are working on in class to see if they can put them together into rhyming lyrics to go with music.
- Languages: There is no reason to only stick to songs in English! Give students the chance to share songs from their own traditions as well. Work with students to give them opportunities to teach the class simple songs that everyone can learn and enjoy. This can be a very empowering experience for your students and it shows them that songs from all cultures and in all languages are special and important. Tell your students’ parents that you are working on this – they may even offer to come to your class to teach some songs.
These are 6 different tips for how you can include music and songs in your bilingual classroom. You will be amazed at how quickly your students pick up words and sentences when they are added to music. Giving students the chance to make their own songs can be very empowering. By putting together their own sentences that have personal meanings, your students will more easily remember the words and sentences for many months to come. Plus, it is just so much all-around fun!
If you are looking for board books that are based on simple songs, you may want to look at Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, The Wheels on the Bus and Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Also, Ana Lomba offers books in Spanish, French and Chinese which contain numerous fun songs and activities to support language learning.
Photo credit: caseywest
What are your experiences with introducing music into the bilingual classroom? How have your students responded to this experience?