The A to Z of English - Lighten up lessons with songs

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