by Lizzie Davey
Because language learning is a creative process, it makes sense to incorporate the arts when teaching languages, especially to children, who are very visual. Using different art mediums, such as music, visual arts, and film connects the left brain (the creative side) to the right (the logical side). This can speed up learning because as new information is being collected, it is being “pattern matched” to what is already stored in the brain.
For example, a child may hear the word ‘naranja’ (orange in Spanish), and understand what it is. But when they hear the word and see a picture of the object named at the same time, they create a rounder, more complete notion of the word and its meaning. Taking this a step further, if a child can hear the word, see it, and witness it being used as it is meant to – someone eating an orange – the notion is further concretized because all three dimensions of the word are connected using the whole brain.
Music and Dance
Music is great for language-learning lessons. Children love music and find it difficult not to move about when an upbeat song is playing. Simply playing a song in a different language for children familiarizes them with the language’s unique sounds and intonations. But teachers also can incorporate Wendy Maxwell’s Accelerative Integrated Method (AIM), which helps teach vocabulary by matching words with correlating gestures to go along with the audio. So in addition to learning the words to a song and singing along with it, children can make up a dance routine that describes the words being sung. Acting out the word combined with hearing it creates a deeper understanding; the words are much easier to remember when both the body and the brain are being utilized in the learning process.
The visual and hands-on aspect of art makes it an invaluable part of language learning for bilingual children. Bette Setter, founder of Young Rembrandts, a mobile art education program, says that children “have a big responsibility in decoding everything. Art and art images help children develop in their natural quest for knowledge.” Again, the use of visual art when teaching language connects the creative brain to the linguistic one, forming parallels and pairing words with their visual counterparts. Integrating a country’s artwork into a language-learning curriculum also helps children connect to the history and culture surrounding the language they are learning.
It’s no secret that children love films; there is something about the combination of moving images and words that transfixes them. Although there is no substitute to in-person interactions when learning a language, appropriate films and videos can be useful tools to supplement the language learning process. With most DVDs, there are language-altering options – either by applying subtitles in your desired language, or by getting the movie in the target language. Both these ways of enjoying the movie can add to the language-learning schedule. Subtitles familiarize the child with reading the language (even if they don’t know much of it) and gets them used to how the written language looks. Listening to the film in another language gets them used to hearing the language. If a child is very familiar with the movie, they probably know the context and so will be able to connect certain words with certain characters and scenes.
All languages have a culture from which they originate; a culture that incorporates all kinds of art practices. Many of these can be found at cultural festivals and events, which offer a fully sensory experience of food, film, music, art, and dance. Attending these cultural events can open children’s eyes to the new culture, exposing them to the language and its customs in an entertaining and accessible way.
Using the arts to teach children languages can make learning more enjoyable. Follow the child’s lead and you can find ways to integrate learning a language with their love of dance, music, painting, or their favorite film. After all, it’s common knowledge that children are more inclined to learn something when the learning is fun!
Author bio: Lizzie Davey writes for Languages Abroad and Teenagers Abroad, which offer language schools all over the world, from China to Italy to Mexico. Last year, she spent time in Madrid learning Spanish and realized that in order to successfully master a language, language learning has to become a part of everyday life. She now writes about creative ways to learn a language and, most importantly, ways to keep it fun, effective, and accessible.
Children dancing – Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/49503155381@N01/2700242045
Festival – Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/46392003@N07/6123346612
Painting1 – Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/46104149@N07/4249568462