Music and language learning

I’m teaching a semester-long class in computer assisted language learning and we’re systematically going through the different skills. I started with speaking as it’s something Japanese students often struggle with. We’re just coming to the last week of looking at listening and I wasn’t sure whether to include a class on music or not. In a way, it seems so obvious and a bit if a cop-out: use your computer to listen to music… well, thanks for that brainwave, Sensei!

However, as I looked into it I realised that there are some things that can and should be highlighted for the students. Firstly, helping the students to think about a method or procedure for listening to music is important. Just watching videos on YouTube is fun, but wrap some pedagogy around it and you have a very different experience.

Taking time to think about the name of the song, what it might be about and what words might appear in it is useful preparation and can create a simple purpose for listening. The students can then listen to the song, trying to note down any lyrics they can pick up. They can then Google the lyrics and see how accurate their predictions were. True, this is hardly game changing stuff, but it is vital to give the students some structure to help them with their self study. This, I would argue, is especially true with Japanese students who tend to wait for teachers to tell them what to do – they simply don’t think about how to learn by themselves. I think students in other countries would already have figured out how to exploit a song on YouTube for language learning.

Music Streaming

There are also many new technologies available now. Music streaming has arrived in Japan, a country that was very slow to adopt the downloading of music. In fact, CD sales are still huge here. Up until recently, Apple Music was the only serious music streaming option, but they struggled to convert free trial users to paying customers. Enter Spotify. The Scandinavian company has finally arrived in Japan and uses a freemium model. This will surely draw in some punters. Combine this with apps like Shazam that can help you identify a song you are listening to (on the radio, for example) and you are able to find songs you love and listen to them over and over again for free. No buying of CDs, just an unlimited selection of music to listen to.

As for the benefits of listening to music for developing language ability, I think I’ll leave that for another post.

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