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Despite a positive attitude towards the use of music in the foreign language classroom, teachers rarely integrate music into their lessons. Studies suggest two main explanations for this discrepancy: a limited knowledge of adapted material and a lack of theoretical grounding to support the use of music in the foreign language classroom. This article aims at examining how and why music can be used in the foreign language classroom. The first section describes some musical methodologies frequently used for language acquisition over time and provides references to resources containing music-based exercises for foreign language learning. The second part reviews research studies about the potential benefits of music-related methodologies for language acquisition and for specific linguistic skills.
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Music in the Foreign Language Classroom: How
and Why?
Pauline Degrave
UCLouvain, Belgium
AbstractDespite a positive attitude towards the use of music in the foreign language classroom, teachers
rarely integrate music into their lessons. Studies suggest two main explanations for this discrepancy: a limited
knowledge of adapted material and a lack of theoretical grounding to support the use of music in the foreign
language classroom. This article aims at examining how and why music can be used in the foreign language
classroom. The first section describes some musical methodologies frequently used for language acquisition
over time and provides references to resources containing music-based exercises for foreign language learning.
The second part reviews research studies about the potential benefits of music-related methodologies for
language acquisition and for specific linguistic skills.
Index Termsmusic, songs, foreign language teaching, methodology
Teachers are mostly positive about the incorporation of music in foreign language (FL) classes. In different surveys
(Engh, 2013a; Jamoulle, 2017; Tse, 2015), teachers mentioned that they believe music can be beneficial for foreign
language acquisition, for language skills as for motivational or cultural aspects. They also indicate that it creates a good,
enjoyable, relaxing atmosphere and that it lowers stress levels or affective filters. Despite this positive attitude, the use
of music in the language-learning classroom appears to be rather occasional. Through an online questionnaire about the
practices of foreign language teachers in 2005-2006 compared to 2013-2014, Ludke & Morgan (forthcoming) examined
if the increased scientific interest in research about music and FL learning has been reflected in the extent and the ways
teachers from different countries use music in the classroom. They reported that the actual use of music has not notably
changed between the two periods and that songs were mainly used with young beginners. This was also stated by
Jamoulle (2017) who examined the incorporation of music in English classrooms in Brussels Secondary French-
speaking schools. From a sample of 54 teachers, she found that music was not often incorporated in the English
classroom and that, if it was, music was mostly used as a fun activity.
Two main reasons could explain the lack of crossover between stated teacher attitudes and stated teacher present
classroom practice (Engh, 2013a). First, adequate material is not always easy to find. In his paper, Tse (2015, p. 88)
mentions that more than 60% of the surveyed teachers (N=60) claim that they do not have enough resources, that
there are inadequate song materials, and that they find it arduous to find suitable songs for classroom use (Tse, 2015,
p.88). Creating new musical material can however be very challenging for teachers (Engh, 2013): lyrics of existing
songs are not always appropriate, developing materials requires additional preparation time and leading singing,
creating music or encouraging students to sing are for some teachers not so comfortable. Secondly, teachers sometimes
lack theoretical grounding that could help guide the decision to use music in the classroom. In this regard, Engh (2013b)
states that:
[…] while many teachers intuitively felt music was beneficial in teaching English language, there was also the
perception that there was a lack of understanding of the theoretical underpinnings that supported such a choice.
Therefore, some educators felt unable to defend the decision to champion use of music in the classroom to
administrators, business English students or those in a predominantly exam focused environment (p.113).
All in all, teachers seem to be positive about the use of music in the FL classroom, but the incorporation appears
rather occasional. A lack of resources and a lack of theoretical grounding could explain this discrepancy. In order to
remedy this scarcity of information, this paper aims to state how music can be used in the FL classroom by describing
some methods and by giving some resources, and why music can benefit foreign language learning by reviewing
research about the impact of music-related methods on FL acquisition
When we review the literature about the use of music in the FL classroom, it appears that music-related teaching
methods can be classified in three main categories: the use of music without lyrics (sounds or background music), the
use of songs and the use of rhythmical activities. The following section gives a short description of these different
approaches, and provides references to resources containing exercises to use these music-related methods in the FL
ISSN 1798-4769
Journal of Language Teaching and Research, Vol. 10, No. 3, pp. 412-420, May 2019
A. Sounds and Background Music
Different linguists and researchers have advocated that listening to non-linguistic sounds or having background
music during a task could enhance performance, among others at the linguistic level.
In Tomatis’ methods, active listening to sounds is supposed to train the ear to perceive specific frequencies. Alfred
Tomatis, an otolaryngologist, stated that the voice only contains what the ear hears (Tomatis, 1991, p. 210), which
implies that one can only vocally reproduce what one can hear. For Tomatis, this is also relevant for the perception of
foreign languages: he claims that languages have different frequency ranges, which makes the perception and
production of a language with a large frequency range impossible for a native speaker of a language with a short
frequency range (Tomatis, 1991, p. 129-137). In order to establish or re-establish the full potential of the human ear, he
developed the Electronic Ear. With this ear, participants can hear music (often Mozart) or speech, whose sound has
been modified to train the ear to correctly hear sound, in particular high-frequency sounds. Thanks to the listening to
modified sounds and classical music, the adult learner recovers the ear s/he possessed in childhood and is able to hear
correctly the appropriate foreign-language sounds (Brancroft, 1999, p. 212). This methodology has also been used in
other fields than foreign language acquisition (e.g. to treat dyslexia, autism, motor or attention disorders), has often
been criticized, and has been subjected to many meta-analyses (Corbett, Shickman, & Ferrer, 2008; Gilmor, 1999).
Besides this active listening to specific sounds, non-lyrical music has been played in the background to improve
language skills. In the late 1960s, Lozanov (1978) developed the Suggestopedia methodology which made use of
classical music in order to relax the student’s state of mind and make the brain more receptive to learning: while the
teacher reads, music often baroque was played in the background (Brancroft, 1999; Lozanov, 1978). In the 1990s,
the popular media widely spread the Mozart Effect: listening to Mozart would make you smarter. This popular belief
derives mainly from a scientific study which tested the effect of listening to music on IQ spatial reasoning tasks
(Rauscher, Shaw, & Ky, 1993). Participants were given three sets of IQ spatial reasoning tasks, each preceded by either
listening to Mozart, or to a relaxation tape or to silence. Results showed that participants performed better on the
abstract/spatial reasoning tests after listening to Mozart than after listening to either the relaxation tape or to nothing
(Rauscher et al., 1993, p. 611). Journalists reported these results stating that listening to Mozart actually makes you
smarter (Ross, 1994). This popular misinterpretation led to many new studies on the impact of Mozart or other
instrumental music on cognitive tasks. Even if there is little evidence left for a specific performance-enhancing Mozart
effect (Pietschnig, Voracek, & Formann (2010), Steele, Bass, & Crook (1999), Thompson, Schellenberg, & Husain
(2001)), background instrumental music, in general, seems to affect learning (e.g. foreign language vocabulary (de
Groot, 2006)). Today, thanks to the new imaging technology, researchers can anatomically analyze whether background
music can improve abilities and which specific process is affected and how. With this objective in mind, Ferreri,
Aucouturier, Muthalib, Bigand, & Bugaiska (2013) examined the neurological process when background music is
played during the encoding of a verbal memory task. Music facilitated the retrieval of the encoded material and results
suggest that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), a region known to be usually crucial during memory encoding
processes, was deactivated during word encoding in the musical context, and that music helps verbal encoding by
facilitating associative and organizational processes.
B. Songs
Another and more frequent way of integrating music into the foreign language classroom is the use of songs. This
utilization has evolved over time to become a multi-level and multi-skills methodology. From the 1950s through the
1970s, songs were sometimes used with the Audiolingual Method, which is an approach in the teaching of foreign
languages based on a system of drills in which the student repeats or adapts model sentences delivered orally or played
aloud by the teacher (Oxford English Dictionary). In this approach, singing songs made the repetitive drills possible,
since songs contain redundancy, and at the same time reduced the boredom of this drill method (Kanel, 2000). When
some language teaching approaches became more pervasive, such as the communicative language teaching and the
task-based language teaching, there was a sudden demand for pedagogical material for the use of songs in the
language-learning classroom (Engh, 2013b, p. 113). Different teachers developed their own FL teaching approaches
including songs, such as the Contemporary Music Approach of Anton (1990), which uses songs to train grammar skills
or the Melodic Approach of Mora (2000), which uses songs and melodic emphasis on language. Except for these
specific methodologies, songs can be used in many different ways in the FL classroom, whether using the song as such,
the context, the singer, etc.
C. Rhythmical Activities
Teachers sometimes intuitively use music-teaching methods to train oral FL production. For example, they clap their
hands to emphasize the rhythm of the speech, they make gestures that illustrate the speech intonation, they annotate
written sentences to indicate the position of the stress as in a music score, etc. Some of these intuitive rhythmical
activities have been formalized. For example, Graham (1993), an English teacher, linked the rhythms of spoken
American English to the rhythms of traditional American jazz, creating the Jazz Chants. These chants are rhythmic
presentations of natural American English that emphasize natural stress and intonation. The same kind of rhythmic
presentation exists for Dutch, with the Taalriedels (Deen, Van Veen, & Schutte, 2014) or Taalraps (Verboog & Ader,
2016), short rap-songs with useful everyday language. In French, Llorca (2008) developed a similar method in her
Ritmimot, which emphasizes French rhythm and prosody.
D. Useful References with Music-based Exercises for FL Classes
Table 1 lists references to different resources that contain exercises using music or rhythm for foreign language
teaching. The table mentions the kind of resources (e.g. book, article, website…), gives a short description of the
resource, and details the target language, the skills and the level of the resource.
Kind of
Short description
Background music
or songs
Description of activities using
songs or instrumental music to
learn a foreign language
listening, writing
Description of 85 activities about
songs. Section ‘Just music’
describes activities with
background music
English, but can
be used for
other languages
Low to
Arnold &
Collection of 101 adaptable
Reading, writing,
listening, speaking,
vocabulary, cultural
British Council
Songs for kids
Animated and subtitled songs
with activities
de Vries & van
Songs written for FL learners,
with typical structures,
collocations, intonation patterns.
The book contains different
exercises using the songs
17 pedagogical forms, each based
on a popular French song
Lennaert & de
Book &
Songs written for FL learners.
Each song is accompanied by
specific pronunciation exercises
Description of 7 activities using
authentic songs
k, online
10 lessons using authentic songs,
each focusing on one specific
French, but can
be used for
other languages
Reading, writing,
listening; speaking;
grammar; culture
Lyrics Training
Fill-in exercises with songs
Low to
Book about the use of authentic
material in the FL classroom. One
chapter is about music and
contains theory, followed by
some exercises (pp. 207-2013)
English, but can
be used for
other languages
Tefl Tunes
Ready made ESL song lessons
(! some are not free)
Low to
Briet, Collige,
& Rassart
Theory about pronunciation,
followed by pedagogical forms
using rhythmic and music-related
Speaking (prosody/
consonants/ vowels)
Deen, Van
Veen, &
Schutte (2014)
Book &
Rap songs with typical sentences
about many topics
Pronunciation &
vocabulary (phrases)
Low to
Rhythmic presentation of
American English
Lorca, R.
Video’s explaining short games
using gestures and voice about
the rhythm of French
Verboog &
Book &
60 rap songs about specific topics
Each song is accompanied by an
activity (speaking, writing,
n), but also grammar
Low to
Besides a lack of resources, teachers seem also to need some theoretical grounding about the effect of musical
methodology on FL acquisition. Research reveals that music can be beneficial for foreign language acquisition, both for
specific linguistic skills (e.g. vocabulary, listening skills or pronunciation) as for more general aspects, such as
motivation or attention.
A. Non-linguistic Aspects
Several factors have been stated to influence (language) learning, such as motivation (R. C. Gardner & Lambert,
1972), anxiety (Horwitz, Horwitz, and Cope, 1986), personality (Gardner, 1983), etc. The use of music can have an
impact on many of these factors, which will in turn affect foreign language acquisition.
According to Mora (2000), one non-linguistic benefit of using music in the classroom concerns the learning styles.
As Gardner (1983) pointed out, there exist multiple intelligences: people have different types of intelligences and learn
in different ways. In this context, the teacher should vary activities to develop the different intelligences. Using songs
makes it possible to address the musical intelligence. Second, using music can reduce foreign language anxiety. It is a
proven fact that a feeling of nervousness or apprehension in learning a foreign language is linked with poor foreign
language performance (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991). Dolean & Dolean (2014) and Dolean (2016) analyzed the impact
of using songs on foreign language anxiety. They concluded that teaching with songs decreased foreign language
anxiety, especially for students with rather high anxiety. As Engh (2013) mentions, music lowers affective barriers and
assists in making students more relaxed, thereby more receptive to language learning (p. 117). Third, music in the
classroom can increase motivation. Since authentic materials are a motivating force for learners (Gilmore, 2007),
music, which is an authentic activity, and songs, which use authentic texts and language of native speakers, can support
the motivating factor (Mishan, 2005). Fourth, the use of music can sustain attention: Wolfe & Noguchi (2009) observed
that the participants in their study were more attentive, focused and engaged when listening to a musical story compared
to a spoken story. Finally, the use of music and songs in the FL teaching methods provides cultural knowledge of the
target language: the context, the singer, the musical style, etc. are culturally rich resources for language lessons.
B. Linguistic Aspects
Many studies examined the potential benefit of music-based FL materials on different language skills, such as
vocabulary acquisition, listening comprehension, writing skills or phonetic acquisition. The following section reviews
the main results.
1. Vocabulary
The potential effect of musical FL teaching methodology on vocabulary recall has been analyzed in several studies.
Results are given for the three main approaches, namely music in the background, songs and rhythmical activities.
De Groot (2006) analyzed the effect of background music on vocabulary recall. 36 university students were
presented several times L1 FL pairs of words, followed by different vocabulary recall tests. Half of the students
learned the pairs in silence and the other half learned while a Bach’s concerto played in the background. Recall scores
were higher for the musical condition compared to the silent condition.
Concerning the use of songs in the FL classroom, Murphey (1990) argues that songs could help to easily remember
vocabulary or phrases: this author stated that the ‘involuntary mental rehearsal’ (i.e. a ‘phenomenon occurring after a
period of contact with a foreign language in which the new information repeats without the speaker’s intentional effort’
(Salcedo, 2010, p. 22) exists - and is even stronger - with songs. He argues that the rehearsal of language from music,
the Song Stuck in My Head Phenomenon, may be triggered with a much smaller amount of input time. Different class
intervention experiments confirm this phenomenon. In Medina (1990), participants having heard a sung story obtain
higher scores on a multiple choice vocabulary test than participants who heard a spoken story. Similar results were
found by Salcedo (2010) who observed that text recall was better when students heard a recorded song, than when
students heard a recorded spoken version of the song. Legg (2009) tested the impact of the song on text recall through
an active production of the students: participants had either to rehearse and perform a musical version of a poem or
either to answer questions and play memory games. Results show that the students in the musical condition obtain
higher results on a translation task than the students in the non-musical situation. However, contradictory evidence was
found in other studies. In order to examine word recall in the mother tongue, Racette & Peretz (2007) tested university
students in three conditions: either they heard the song and they repeated singing, either they heard the song and they
repeated speaking, either they heard the spoken lyrics and they repeated speaking. Unexpectedly, participants recalled
fewer words when singing than when speaking, whereas the presentation mode (song or spoken lyrics) had no influence
on lyric recall. The authors concluded that ‘the best strategy for learning song lyrics is to ignore the melody. The
melody seems to interfere rather than facilitate word recall in songs […]’(Racette & Peretz, 2007, p. 250). As Ludke,
Ferreira, & Overy (2014) write ‘one possible explanation for this unexpected result is that the folk songs used by
Racette and Peretz had complex, nonrepetitive melodic lines’ (p.43). Furthermore, a non-beneficial effect of songs was
also found by Kilgour et al. (2000). They tested lyrics recall with sung lyrics and spoken lyrics. They first observed
better recall with the sung than with the spoken version. In a second experiment, they manipulated the presentation rate,
so that the duration of the sung and the spoken versions were identical. They found that with an equal presentation rate,
there was no advantage for sung over spoken lyrics and suggested that [P]previous findings of melody's aiding text
recall may be attributed to presentation rate (Kilgour et al., 2000, p. 700).
Regarding the impact of rhythmic activities, the experimental study of Ludke, Ferreira, & Overy (2014) gives
interesting results. They analyzed vocabulary learning in three listen-and-repeat conditions: participants heard either
sung phrases, rhythmic spoken phrases or spoken phrases. A significant difference between the sung/rhythmical and
spoken conditions was found for the tests in which the participants had to speak in the foreign language (Hungarian),
although performance was highest in the sung condition for all tests.
2. Writing fluency
Alisaari & Heikkola (2016) analyzed whether writing fluency, viz. the number of words produced in a written text,
can be influenced by musical pedagogical methods. In this classroom intervention study, students heard different sung
or spoken versions of songs seven times during 15 minutes. The first group just listened to the sung songs, the second
listened and sung the song and the third listened to a spoken version of the songs and recited them. At the end of these
seven sessions, as in the pretest, students wrote two stories, based on comic strips. The authors observed that the
number of words produced increased more in the singing group than in the reciting or listening group, but the
differences were not significant.
3. Listening abilities
Kanel (1997) examined whether song based tasks would be as effective at improving listening comprehension in a
standard listening test as conventional listening tasks. During this classroom intervention, one group of 10 classes heard
regularly songs and made gap-fill quizzes while the other group of 10 other classes was taught listening with
nonmusical materials, such as textbooks. The results indicate significant improvement for both groups, but neither
treatment was more effective than the other. Furthermore, the participants answered a follow-up questionnaire about the
learning methods. Even if there was little variation between both groups about the educational benefits of the respective
listening training, it seems that the regular practice, the value in time spent on the quizzes and the interest in English
were higher in the song group.
Another important listening skill in foreign language acquisition is the ability to segment speech into words. Schön et
al. (2008) performed an experiment to determine whether songs can help learners segment foreign language speech.
One group heard a continuous spoken stream of syllables, a second group heard a continuous sung stream of syllables
with an association syllable/pitch (e.g. syllable gi = C), a third group also heard a continuous sung stream of syllables
but without association syllable/pitch. After this training phase, they heard words and had to mention whether these
were present in the stream that they have heard. The percentage correct responses was the highest for the group who
heard the sung stream with an association syllable/pitch and the lowest for the group who heard the spoken stream.
4. Phonetic skills
Different studies examined the impact of musical FL methodologies on phonetic skills, both at the segmental and
suprasegmental level.
At the segmental level, Lakshminarayanan & Tallal (2007) analyzed whether phoneme discrimination can be trained
by listening to stimuli which are non-linguistic but which imitate the acoustic characteristics of linguistic stimuli.
Therefore, they tested 19 students divided in a training and a control group. The pre- and posttests were same/different
tasks for pairs of stimuli (e.g. ba/da). During the training period (30min per day during five days), the training group
heard pairs of frequency modulated sweeps rising or falling in pitch. The participants had to mention the order of the
falling and rising sweeps. Observing a significant improvement in ba/da discrimination for the training group,
Lakshminarayanan & Tallal (2007, p. 270) concluded that non-linguistic acoustic perceptual training can impact
syllable discrimination.
Moradi & Shahrokhi (2014) examined the impact of using songs on both segmental and suprasegmental production.
During 25 sessions of 20 minutes, the musical group listened to songs with music, repeated and memorized them,
whereas the control group listened to spoken versions of the songs, repeated and memorized them. The results of the
pre- and posttest in which participants read aloud words and sentences of the songs in a new context indicate that
the pronunciation of phonemes, the intonation, and the stress patterns were better for the musical group than for the
control group.
Different researchers tested the efficacy of music use on FL suprasegmental abilities. Degrave (submitted) examined
whether melodies or rhythm can help French-speaking university students to perceive lexical stress in Dutch. 46 French
speakers (25 non-musicians and 21 musicians) performed a discrimination task in which stimuli were either naturally
spoken, either spoken with a beat on the stress, either sung. Scores were higher for the sung stimuli and for the spoken
stimuli with a beat, compared to the spoken stimuli. Heidari-Shahreza & Moinzadeh (2012) focused on the impact of
listening to melodies on stress perception. Participants were divided into two groups and were taught four stress patterns
of two- and three-syllable English words1 . The experimental group heard first musical stimuli that are acoustically
similar to word stress patterns (see Figure 1 for an example).
Figure 1 Musical stimulus acoustically similar to a two-syllable word with the stress on the 2nd syllable
After having heard the musical stimuli, the related target words (e.g. Japan, hotel) were introduced and practiced2.
This procedure was repeated for the four stress patterns. The control group listened first to each group of target words,
then the placement of the primary stress was indicated and finally, the participants repeated the target words. After a
short diversion activity, participants heard sets of four words and mentioned which has a different stress pattern. The
experimental group obtained significantly higher results than the control group. A more detailed description of the
methodology used would be needed to correctly evaluate the findings reported in this paper.
Finally, Fomina (2000) examined how the quality of the songs can impact the acquisition of FL intonation. In her
study, participants heard songs that had either concurrent or non-concurrent melody with natural speech intonation. For
example, in the song ‘Tom’s diner’, some melodic lines have a falling intonation, whereas the spontaneous speech
intonation should rise (e.g. before a subordinate clause). Participants, who had to reproduce lyrics from the songs in
another context, reproduced the phrases with the intonation of the song, even if it was wrong. Fomina (2000) concluded
that there exists a certain influence of song melody on speech intonation memorization and that song material for
teaching and developing different language skills should be carefully selected.
5. Various skills (vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, listening comprehension)
Some researchers measured the impact of their musical classroom interventions on different FL skills.
Ludke (2016) conducted a study in two classrooms of English speakers learning French. One group had French
lessons that integrated different musical activities, such as creating (rap) songs, singing, listening to music, creating and
performing a musical theatre piece. The other group received French lessons that were supplemented with visual art and
drama activities, e.g. exercises with pictures, drawing, reading cartoons, write and record a script for a dramatic play.
The pre- and posttests measured 12 language skills, as described in Figure 2.
Figure 2 Description of tasks on the pre-and posttests (Ludke, 2016, p.7)
Similar results between the two groups were found for productive vocabulary (task 2), receptive vocabulary with a
picture-matching task (task 5) and grammaticality judgments when reading (task 8). The music group obtained lower
scores than the visual art group for their pronunciation when reading aloud a list of words (task 6), a slightly higher
1 The four patterns are: 1. two-syllable words, stress on the 1st ; 2. two-syllable words, stress on the 2nd; 3. three-syllable words, stress on the 1st ; 4.
three-syllable words, stress on the 2nd.
2 The authors do not describe what ‘introduce’ and ‘practice’ exactly imply.
score for the pronunciation of individual words from photographs (difference of 1.3% - task 3), but got higher scores
than the visual art group for the seven other tasks.
Good, Russo, & Sullivan (2015) investigated the effect of a classroom intervention on the pronunciation of phonemes
and vocabulary recall. Two groups were trained during four sessions of 20 minutes. The singing group heard a song,
repeated the song singing and translated words; the spoken group heard a text, repeated the text and translated words.
After the training sessions, the participants took part in four tests: 1. a pronunciation test in which they reproduced the
lyrics (singing or speaking), 2. a vocabulary recall test in which they mentioned as many words as they could, 3. a
vocabulary translation test which consisted in the translation of given words and 4. a test 6 months after the training in
which students had to recall the lyrics and translate words. Results showed that the singing and spoken group equally
performed for the pronunciation of consonants and for the translation of words after 6 months. The singing group
outperformed the spoken group for the other tasks (pronunciation of vowels, recall, and translation on short term).
The present article aimed to provide information about how and why music can be used in the FL classroom, since
studies revealed that the discrepancy between the teachers’ positive attitude toward music use in the FL classroom and
its limited actual use could be explained by a lack of resources and a lack of theoretical grounding.
The first section provided a short review of music-related methods used in the FL classroom over time. Three main
approaches have been described, namely listening to non-linguistic sounds or background music, practicing lyrical
songs and using rhythmical activities. Moreover, some references to resources were gathered in order to provide
teachers with adapted material to use music in their FL classes.
The second section examined why music can be beneficial for foreign language acquisition. Studies reveal a positive
effect on general learning aspects, such as increased motivation and attention, reduced anxiety and cultural enrichment
as well as on different linguistic skills. In terms of linguistic improvement, some results state that foreign language
performance was higher when methodologies incorporated music, either in the background, through songs or in musical
and rhythmical activities, than when no music or other artistic intervention was used. These findings are promising for
both teachers and learners: using music for foreign language acquisition would have numerous learning and linguistic
benefits and has not to be simply reduced to a ‘fun activity’.
Despite these positive results, it seems that empirical research about the relation between music-related
methodologies and FL acquisition is still in its recent years. Hence, there is little published data for some skills or there
is contradictory evidence between studies. For example, concerning vocabulary acquisition, Legg (2009), Medina (1990)
and Salcedo (2010) reported higher vocabulary scores in the musical groups compared to the control groups, whereas
Kilgour et al. (2000) and Racette & Peretz (2007) did not observe any advantage in the musical condition or stated a
musical benefit explained by the presentation rate. More research would be needed to enlighten these findings and to
fulfill results about other skills, such as listening comprehension, phonetic proficiency or writing skills. In this respect,
Ludke (2016) points out: To date, relatively few published, empirical studies have investigated the effects of FL
learning through singing and song activities in the classroom, particularly for grammar or pronunciation skills (p. 2).
In addition to the need for further research, the present findings must be interpreted with caution. Most studies
reviewed here were comparisons or correlational studies. Inferring causation would thereby be unfounded. Such as
described in the article, many external factors could explain the improvement of foreign language abilities with musical
intervention, e.g. reduced anxiety or the increase of motivation and attention.
Finally, the question arises whether musical methodologies are adapted for every language learner. Personality,
hobbies, and interests can positively or negatively interfere with the use of music for foreign language acquisition. For
example, De Groot, (2006) reports findings of Furnham & Allass (1999) that stated that introvert persons performed
better in observation or recall tasks in silence condition, whereas extraverts generally performed better in the music
condition (de Groot, 2006, p. 496). Musical training or aptitude could also be an influential factor. Many studies
revealed a better performance of musicians compared to non-musicians in language tasks (for a review see Chobert &
Besson (2013) and Magne, Schön, & Besson (2003)). In Degrave (submitted), results show that musicians benefit more
from the use of melodies or rhythm for word stress detection, compared to non-musicians.
In summary, even if research about the use of music in the foreign language classroom is still in its recent years, this
paper contributes to our understanding of FL methodology, giving different ways and resources to use music in the
classroom and showing that music can benefit some foreign language skills. Teachers have now to carefully choose,
structure and sequence their musical material and methodology in order to fully take benefit from the music-based
The author thanks Prof. Dr. Philippe Hiligsmann as well as the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments
about the previous version of this paper.
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Pauline Degrave graduated in Modern Languages and Letters at UCLouvain (Belgium) in 2009 and specialized in university and
higher education pedagogy in 2013 and in secondary school pedagogy in 2017.
She is currently completing her Ph.D. at UCLouvain in Dutch language and linguistics. Her main interests include foreign
language acquisition (especially Dutch) and the relationship between music and language. More particularly, she conducts research
about the influence of musical practice or ability on the acquisition of foreign language prosody and on the use of music in the
foreign language classroom. Next to her research activities, she taught Dutch as a foreign language at Université Saint-Louis and at
UCLouvain (2010-2019). She published several research papers and Dutch handbooks. She is currently also working as project
manager at UCLouvain for a project around language learning.
Pauline Degrave is member of the board of the ANBF (the association of professors of Dutch in French-speaking Belgium and in
France) and she received the ACCO Prize 2009 for Best Innovative Research in Applied Linguistics.
... Repetition and application of what is learned during class are two strategies in enhancing memory and understanding. Problemsolving skills further augment recall and understanding while promoting reasoning and executive functions such as decision-making [21][22]. ...
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... As a matter of fact, music is universal as it exists in every society and is tied to specific perceptual, cognitive, and affective abilities, including language (all societies add words to their songs) [1]. In language classes music can be used with plenty of benefits such as increase of motivation and reduction of foreign language learning anxiety [2]. Songs are beneficial for various reasons: they are meaningful, authentic [3], easily available and suitable for different levels of language learners, they generate interest, they are encouraging, inspiring and motivating. ...
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Why should we use music in language classes? We can use song lyrics as authentic material to improve listening skills, pronunciation, accent, spelling, expand student vocabulary, cultural knowledge, work on language components, and inspire students at the same time. The paper describes a project of international collaboration based on the use of music in language classes regardless of the language taught. The aim of the project is to show how songs are beneficial and can boost motivation in learners. Following a survey carried out among students, in the first stage an Italian and English version of a song was prepared and used in class with several groups of students in the Czech Republic and in Italy. The focus was then creating an anxiety-free environment by generating fun and enjoyable warm-up, main and follow-up activities in class as well as in VLE (Virtual Learning Environment). The experiment of how several aspects of a language can be addressed and recycled in songs was based on experience with students of different degree courses and levels of competences. A number of VLEs were used and the paper also discusses internet issues experienced and solved during the experiment. In a context of international collaboration, this experiment represents a contribution to more complex research based on the elementary idea of music as universal language.
... For instance, word pairs were linked by auditory (Altarriba & Basnight-Brown, 2012;Altarriba & Mathis, 1997) or pictorial (Altarriba & Knickerbocker, 2011;Lotto & de Groot, 1998) presentation. Other cognitive strategies include for example semantic mapping, in which semantically close words are presented together visually (Badr & Abu-Ayyash, 2019;Zahedi & Abdi, 2012), imagery by using key words (Atkinson & Raugh, 1974), and rhythmic speaking, singing, or music piece accompaniment (Degrave, 2019;Good et al., 2015;Ordin & Polyanskaya, 2015). ...
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The aim of the present thesis is to investigate the source of Stroop (interference) effects in weak bilinguals (Experiment 1) and in early language learning (Experiment 2-6). Participants performed a bilingual colour-word Stroop task with intermixed first language (L1) and second language (L2) words. The typical finding from the Stroop literature is slower and less accurate responding when the word and colour are incongruent (e.g., “red” in blue) relative to congruent (e.g., “red” in red). Interestingly, this congruency effect occurs for the colour words from both L1 and L2. What produces this congruency effect? That is, what is the source of the conflict produced by incongruent colour words? First, stimulus or semantic conflict is a conflict between the meaning of the word and ink colour. Second, response conflict occurs when different response alternatives are activated. Both types of conflict contribute to L1 congruency effects.According to some theoretical accounts on early language learning, only one of these two types of conflict should emerge for non-fluent L2. Stimulus and response conflict are separated with a 2-to-1 keypress dissociation procedure. Both stimulus and response conflict were evidenced for the weakly spoken L2 (Experiment 1; English in native French speakers). In series of L2 word learning studies, participants were trained with novel Croatian colour words associated with their L1 translations and corresponding semantic representations. Word trainings differed in their structure (types of training trials, number of response alternatives), length (from 32 to 576 trials) and to-be-learned word types (colour words, colour associates) across studies. The L2 word trainings were followed by the Stroop task. Stimulus conflict was observed in response times and response conflict in errors for recently learned L2 words (Experiment 4) when optimal training was administered (in contrast to Experiment 2 and 3, with considerably shorter training). However, this approach did not reveal the source of conflict with colour associates, because no substantial L2 Stroop effect was observed for these stimuli (Experiment 5 and 6). The present findings suggest that low proficient L2 words, when trained in adequate conditions, are potent enough to affect semantic identification and response selection.
... Another factor that has more recently been put forward is that of musical training and aptitude. Studies have examined whether learners with musical training or aptitude are better able to acquire foreign language prosody (Chobert & Besson 2013;Zeromskaite 2014) and whether the use of music in language teaching methodology is beneficial to develop prosodic abilities (Degrave 2019). This paper aims to provide a review of studies on foreign language prosody acquisition, more specifically on the potential effect of music on this learning process. ...
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There is currently little information about the kinds of foreign language pop music, songs and activities used by language learners in informal learning contexts. This systematic analysis provides an overview of research from 2010–2020 in an attempt to describe how foreign language learners find, listen to, and engage with pop songs from another country or culture and how this can lead to increased informal language learning, using qualitative observations and interview responses found in published articles to conduct thematic analysis using grounded theory. Thematic analysis resulted in six themes within the peer-reviewed qualitative journal articles, and we argue that more research is needed into learner perspectives and about how learners engage autonomously with L2 pop music in informal language learning.
Previous studies have reported that the use of music-related activities (e.g. hand-clapping or songs) can help learners to acquire foreign languages. It remains unclear, however, whether music-based approaches help every learner equally or whether it is more beneficial for learners with a musical background, such as musical practice, musical abilities, or engagement in musical activities. In order to answer this question, we tested 80 French speakers whose musical background was evaluated using a questionnaire. They performed a word stress processing task in Dutch containing spoken stimuli, spoken stimuli with a beat, or sung stimuli. The results show that learners with some musical characteristics obtain higher scores than other learners and that the use of music in the task can favor learners with a musical background.
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The performance of musical drama is critical to be implemented in the classroom, especially for Introduction to Literature subject. Since this activity relates to art and literature, students might be interested in learning an Introduction to Literature with a performance that is amusing their motivation and interest. This paper provides information about how crucial musical drama is, the definition of musical drama, its procedure in the classroom, the aspects that should be applied to the students, familiar genre of song and theme of drama for the performance, the scoring system or rubric, the influence of musical drama for students' development, the advantages and disadvantages contained in musical drama performance, and the urgency. This paper also reviews the previous study about musical drama performance, which is applied by art and literature teachers in the classroom to increase the motivation of students to learn literature.
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Leisure time (or extramural) English activities have been an important resource in foreign language teaching and learning for decades. They may provide a plethora of EFL input, thus contributing to learners' second language development even from an early age. The incorporation of extramural English activities into EFL lessons still remains rare, focusing only on mainly songs and short videos from YouTube. Despite this, an array of different extramural English activities is available, which could and should be exploited in EFL lessons in order to support second language acquisition. In the Hungarian context, little research investigates the potential impact of extramural English activities on the foreign language learning process, let alone the different individual learner differences. The aim of the present paper is to introduce a pilot study reporting on the development and validation process of a research instrument. The main aim of the study is to obtain insights into Hungarian secondary school students' extramural English interests and individual learner differences, namely motivation, anxiety, willingness to communicate and additional variables affecting these learner differences. The preliminary results of the study show that Hungarian EFL learners engage in several extramural English activities on a regular basis and participants seem to show a relatively positive attitude to the use of English language subtitles. Furthermore, certain extramural English activities seem to have a positive impact on extramural motivated language use. It is hoped that the findings of this study will contribute to a better understanding of Hungarian secondary school EFL students' engagement habits in extramural English activities, which may prove useful for EFL teachers planning to incorporate their students' extramural interests into their EFL lessons.
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The role of music in learning a foreign language can be investigated from various dimensions. Highlighting the similarities between music and language, increasing learner motivation, reducing learners’ fear and anxiety when participating in class activities, increasing learners’ understanding of literary texts, and improving learners’ pronunciation are among the topics underlining the significance of music in the process of learning a foreign language. The results of a 2019 survey conducted on German youths by Shell show listening to music is the most popular activity among this age group, occupying an average of 57% of their leisure time. The present study seeks to find out to what extent and in what fields textbooks employ music to teach a foreign language. To this end, in addition to introducing appropriate music styles for use in language teaching, we refer to the criteria for selecting music for the purpose of teaching as well as techniques and strategies for using music in a foreign language class. In the practical section, the music used in a number of up-to-date textbooks is analyzed from various aspects, including vocabulary, grammar, language skills, and regional and cultural input. The results indicated that despite what is mentioned in the theoretical section about the role and importance of music and its educational value, the textbooks analyzed in the current study have failed to sufficiently benefit from this popular tool among the young.
The purpose of the study is to measure the impact of creative musical activity on the success of foreign language learning by children. The sample consisted of 42 participants; the average participant age was 4.5 years. The duration of the experiment was 20 weeks (45-minute classes). The results of the study of the pre- and post-tests and observations showed an improvement in the quantitative indicators of students, whose grade point average reached 4. 51-90% of the participants learned to understand English and answer questions. The study can be useful for foreign language teachers and administrations of primary and language schools.
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Previous studies revealed that musicians outperformed non-musicians in different language tasks and that the use of music or rhythm in teaching material can benefit language learning. Here, we examined whether music, as a learner’s characteristic (musicians/non-musicians) or as a characteristic of the task (use of music or beat) can facilitate foreign language lexical stress processing. 25 non-musician and 21 musician French native speakers performed a discrimination task in which stimuli were either naturally spoken, spoken with a beat on the lexical stress, or sung. The participants heard 96 stimuli of three Dutch (non)words varying in the lexical stress position and mentioned which of the last two words was pronounced as the first. The results show that musicians outperformed non-musicians, that the accuracy rate is higher for sung stimuli and spoken stimuli with a beat than for spoken stimuli and that music training interacts with the musical characteristics of the stimuli.
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Fluency is an essential part of a language learner?s skills. Despite various studies on fluency, little is known about the effects of different pedagogical methods on the development of written fluency. In this paper, we examine how different pedagogical methods affect the development of second language learners? written fluency. Participants in this study were 51 language learners enrolled in two intensive Finnish courses. The pedagogical methods investigated in the study were singing, listening to songs, and reciting lyrics of songs. Written stories based on cartoon strips were used as a pretest and a posttest. The fluency of written stories was analyzed based on the number of words used in the texts. Differences between the groups taught by different pedagogical methods were analyzed. The results seem to indicate that fluency increased the most in the singing groups compared to the other groups. There was also a statistically significant difference between the singing group and the group reciting lyrics, as well as between the group listening to songs and the group reciting lyrics.
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The purpose of this study is to find out whether children learning English by music can improve their ability in segmental and suprasegmental pronunciation or not. In this regard, three hypotheses were proposed. A total of 30 female elementary students with the age between 9 to 12 years old were chosen. They were learning English in a private English school in Isfahan. According to the placement test of the institute, all of them were in the beginner level of pronunciation. They were assigned to two groups, that is, control group and experimental group. The selected material for both groups was Song Time book. The book was taught to the experimental group with music. The students listened to songs with music, repeated, and finally memorized them. Regarding the control group, the teacher read the songs and the students repeated after her and tried to memorize them. The results of comparing the pretest and the posttest showed that music had a better effect on pronunciation and intonation and stress pattern recognition; that is, the students in the experimental group had a better performance in these areas than the control group. Therefore, the three proposed hypotheses were safely rejected, and it was concluded that using music can push students to learn suprasegmentals better. The study has implication for teachers as well as material developers to include music in the teaching process.
The use of music and song in the English language-learning classroom is not new. While many teachers intuitively feel that music is beneficial in teaching English language, there is sometimes a lack of the theoretical underpinnings that support such a choice. There are examples in the literature to argue the strong relationship between music and language that are substantiated by research in the fields of cognitive science, anthropology, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, First Language Acquisition (FLA) and Second Language Acquisition (SLA).
Foreign language classroom anxiety (FLCA) has been the subject of several studies aimed to optimize learning of a foreign language in the classroom. However, few studies provide specific curriculum-based methodological strategies to be used in the classroom in order to lower the anxiety level. In this article, two experimental classes of 8th-grade students participated in a 5-week intervention program aimed to teach French as a foreign language through music during the regular French classes. One class had a higher anxiety average (ExpHi) compared with the other (ExpLo). The self-reported level of anxiety of the two experimental classes was compared after the intervention program with the self-reported level of anxiety of two control classes with similar levels of anxiety (CtrHi and CtrLo). The study also compared the opinions of students from the experimental classes regarding their overall experience of the foreign language classes. Findings indicated that teaching songs during FL classes was perceived as an enjoyable experience by students from classes with both high and low anxiety; however, this teaching method decreased the FLCA average of classes of students with rather high anxiety, but not of the ones with a rather low anxiety.