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Using English Songs: An Enjoyable and

Effective Approach to English Language

Teaching by Dr. Sheila Vijay
May 1, 2013 by eltweeklyeditor 1 Comment


How can English Language Teaching be made enjoyable and effective? One
possible pedagogical application is to integrate English songs into English
Language Teaching. Song, a combination of music and lyrics, possesses many
intrinsic merits, such as kaleidoscope of culture, expressiveness, recitability and
therapeutic functions, which render it an invaluable source for language teaching.
This paper provides theoretical arguments and practical support for using English
songs in English Language Teaching.

Language is a treasure that enriches my mind.

Music is a treasure that enriches my soul.

Teaching enriches my spirit.

Veronika Rosova


English Language Teaching (ELT) in India has for a quite long time followed the
traditional path-teaching vocabulary and grammar textbooks, cramming students
with a considerable amount of exercises and then evaluating their
accomplishments through consecutive exams. It is no surprise that EFL learners
view English language learning as insipid and an unconquerable obstacle. In fact,
ELT can be implemented in a relaxed and enjoyable way by using English songs in
EFL classes.

Songs have been an amusing companion for human beings for as long as or even
longer than we can speak. As an integral part of our language experience, it can
be of great value to foreign language teaching. Using songs in teaching English is
unquestionably very natural, very scientific. No one can deny that, as humans, we
have a special ear for music. Try teaching alphabets to a child and you will realize
that the child picks them up faster and memorises them better if you sing out for
him/her. This is the precise reason that rhymes and verses are the chief modes of
teaching the basics-both numerical lessons and the linguistic lessons- to a child in
the early years of life. Actually, the melody echoes in the childs mind and the child
soon grows familiar with the accompanying word or number. Seen from that angle,
ELT programmes are cashing in on this human fondness for music and using
songs in teaching English. Besides, songs are generally a real source of authentic
language and since a large fraction of the world populace listens to English songs;
it will be more fun than hard work for the learners to acquire mastery in English. As
teachers, we can try using songs in teaching English to enrich students English
vocabulary, to improve their grammar and accents. And the many-faceted merit
songs possess may enrich and activate our foreign language class.
Suggestopaedia, a teaching methodology developed by Dr. Georgi Lozanev in
Bulgaria, claims to produce hypermnesia- an excellent memory. The idea behind
using music is apparently to relax students defenses and to open up their minds to
the language. Besides music, the lyrics of the songs serve as a direct genuine
source of teaching materials in ELT classes.

Confucius said that music produces a kind of pleasure which human being cannot
do without.

No one knows why songs are powerful but everyone knows from a personal point
of view they are, wrote Dale Griffee (p.4).

There have been abundant researches abroad on songs as an authentic teaching

resource in language teaching (Gaston, 1968; Enright & Mc Closkey, 1988; Curtain
& Pesola, 1994; Eken, 1996; Orlova, 1997; Maley, 1997; Chiaili & Meilo, 1998;
Geoff, 2003) to name just a few, but a paucity of such studies is reported in India.
This paper endeavours to demonstrate the value of English songs in ELT and
meanwhile reports some teaching activities as attempts to work it out in EFL

Songs should be used in ELT for their own merits

According to BPS Research Digest, a psychology magazine (May 2008 edition),

the answer to the age old question of learning a language, might lie in a
songThe researchers concluded that we find it easier to remember words if
theyre set to music, partly because its more emotionally engaging, and partly
because the words are structured in such a way that makes it easier for us to
segment the information and store it in our memories. Being a combination of
music and language, songs have innumerable virtues that deserve our attention.
Their richness in culture and themes, their idiomatic and poetic expressions, their
therapeutic functions and so on make them an impeccable tool for language

A kaleidoscope of culture

Language expresses, embodies and symbolizes cultural equality (Kramsch,

2000, p.3). Language and music are interwoven in songs to communicate cultural
reality in a very unique way. English songs endow the English native speakers with
an opportunity to put across their own culture. Black Americans call for equality
and respect, the legends of the American West, celebration of western festivals
and peoples attitudes towards love, friendship and marriage all find expression in
the lines and rhythmic melodies of the songs.


Songs are highly expressive. Some convey love and emotions; some tell a
memorable and moving story; some embody ones dreams and ideals; and some
reminisce about the golden past. Songs are abundant in themes and expressions
which will echo in the learners heart. Acquisition of automatic language skills
depend on rich, meaningful, repeated exposure to comprehensible input without
awareness.(Bolitho et. al., 2003, p.253).


Lyrics are characterized by the use of rhythms, conversational speech and poetic
expressions. Learners are likely to be attracted by these beautiful and poetic, or
colloquial and lucid lyrics, which will be easily recited and long remembered.
Singing a song by heart is more delightful and meaningful than rote learning. Many
people cannot help recalling the songs learned in their early years, even when they
only vaguely remember the old melodies and some fragments of the lyrics.

Therapeutic functions

In general, the foremost function of songs is to provide relaxation and recreation. It

is quite common that when people are tired, they will sit back and listen to a piece
of music. Music has the power to soothe peoples emotions, refresh their minds
and to unlock their creativity. Gaston (1968) has pointed out that music has several
therapeutic functions, such as promoting self-esteem through increased self-
satisfaction in musical performance and using the unique potential of rhythm to
energise and bring order.

Here is a list of advantages of teaching English through songs:

Music motivates to learn

Listening to song lyrics improves Comprehension skills

Singing songs develops good pronunciation

Singing songs increases vocabulary and speech pattern

Music aids memory

Music brings culture alive

Music acts like a stress buster

Music saves time

How can English songs facilitate English Language learning?

Stimulation of Linguistic Learning by songs

Using English songs in EFL classrooms can successfully bring about linguistic
learning by:

Enlarging the vocabulary background of students

Developing pupils listening and speaking skills

Introducing and familiarizing students with the target language culture

Improving students pronunciation

Teaching various language functions

Recalling grammatical points

Developing auditory discrimination

Stimulation of Affective Learning by songs

Using English songs in EFL classrooms can successfully bring about affective
learning by:

Adding fun to learning

Motivating students to participate-even the shy ones

Helping teachers to get close to their students

Stimulating students interest in the target language

Creating a lively atmosphere in the language classroom

As a result, the students will regard English songs as part of entertainment rather
than work and thus find learning English through songs amusing and relaxed.
Many English songs, especially pop songs are quite popular among the Indian
youth, such as Jingle Bells, Yesterday Once More, My Heart Will Go On and Big
Big World. Firstly, these English songs employ the themes that appeal to young
people like holiday celebration, memories of childhood, love and friendship, and
secondly, many students desire to learn these English songs, because they want
to model themselves on the Hollywood stars and singers to improve their status
among the peers. The greater their desire is, the faster they learn. When they are
learning fast and continuously making progress, they will be more confident, highly
motivated and devoted to the learning task.

Effects of Affective Learning

Affective learning is also effective learning. In the light of psycholinguistics,

affective engagement with language can stimulate a fuller use of the resources of
the brain and deepen the multidimensional processing of language (Bolitho et. al,
2003, p.256). Through affective learning, the learners capacity for learning will be
expanded and whereby unexpected results will be produced.

Songs can promote language awareness

Language awareness is a means of helping learners to help themselves. The

result of raising language awareness will not just be language use, but also
language use which is more sensitive to issues of culture, identity and equity (ibid,

Songs serve as the very source of such target language use that helps to promote
students language awareness in learning English as a foreign language. As for the
students who are earnest to learn or sing English songs, listening to English songs
can prompt them to ask questions about the language. They have to grab the skills
of speaking the English language before they can sing the songs on their own.
Hence, they are encouraged to probe how every sound is pronounced and how all
the sounds are chained together, thereby attaining growing insights into the way
English language functions to convey meaning. In addition, although most students
regard listening to as well as learning English songs as entertainment, they are
also learning implicitly and unconsciously, which is more pleasant and efficient way
to promote language awareness than mechanically memorizing tedious course-
books of vocabulary and grammar. Language awareness is not taught by the
teacher or by the course-book; it is developed by the learner. Language awareness
is an integral, gradual, realization of the realities of language use. (Bolitho et. al.,
2003, p.252).

Choice of songs

Choose songs that are good to listen to- not a loud, earsplitting background score,
rather soft renderings with each word, each syllable being clearly articulated. Equal
emphasis should be laid on the theme also. We should go for plain, simple
language. It is also helpful if the words of the songs are highly repetitive and they
have a refrain: a repeated stanza between verses of the song.

How to utilize English songs in EFL classrooms

Here are some specific practices adopted by the researcher, which are
recommended as initial attempts to integrate English songs into teaching various
aspects of language skills-listening, speaking, vocabulary, grammar and writing in
college English teaching.


The principle condition of working with songs lies and depends on listening, which
represents here the medium of receiving information. The pupils, students, learners
of a language usually say that speaking is the most important skill to master. But
hardly anyone is aware of the fact that before speaking we usually have to listen to
be able to react then. And even if speaking precedes listening in the form of asking
or saying something, in most cases this act involves expectation of response which
is again listening.

Listening tasks

1 These are the first four lines of a song Let It Be by Beatles. Work on your own
and complete the lines by putting the first word with verb+ing. E.g. Sitting, playing

1 _______ words of wisdom, let it be.

2 She is _______ right in front of me.

After the exercise is over, let the song be played in the class so that the students
listen to the song and cross check their blank words with their other class-mates
and also from the song being played. This activity kindles enthusiasm and interest
among students.

2 The words in the next few lines have been jumbled up. Put them in the right order
in the space given below each line. Listen to the song and cross check it.

1 Myself trouble I in when times of find.

2 Wisdom let of speaking words be it.

3 Hour and my darkness of in.

3 Fill in the missing words in the next few lines:

1 Mother Mary ______ to me.

2 And when the ______ people living in the world agree.

3 There will be an ______ let it be.


Speaking skill involves enriching pronunciation, vocabulary and fluency. Songs can
be used to teach natural pronunciation efficiently. Native singers pronunciation
provides a model for EFL learners. We can easily find songs sung by either
American, British, Canadian or Australian singers and let learners choose which
pronunciation they would like to imitate. By repeatedly listening to and learning
these songs, students will gradually correct their errors and achieve more native-
like pronunciation. It is also felt that students who always listen to English songs
pay more deliberate attention to pronunciation, phonological rules, stress and
intonation than the other and thus pronounce more correctly and speak English
more fluently.

Speaking tasks

Activity 1

Teacher should select a song and play it twice without providing lyrics to the
students. After that, teacher should show the lyrics either through LCD or by writing
in the blackboard. Then let the students see the lyrics. Finally let all the students
sing together. Attention can be drawn to different varieties of English dialects, and
accents from various English speaking countries such as America, Canada,
Australia, Ireland etc.

Activity 2

Identify the content words in the selected songs and ask the students to write
synonyms and antonyms to the given words. Using the dictionary in connection
with the song lyrics is worth doing. You can make it a competitive quiz. In the first
stage, pupils choose any word from the lyrics and try to invent 3-4 definitions as
options. In the second stage, they read out the options for other groups who are
supposed to guess the correct word. In the final stage, there should be a final
check and then appointing the winner.

Activity 3

Giving practice to word form is important. So ask students, questions about the
word forms in the song like

Which word ends in z?

Which word starts with a vowel letter?

Which word has the most syllables?

Which is the best idiomatic expression?

Activity 4

Teacher can assign innovative projects on music by instructing students to collect

songs according to themes such as songs about inspiration, friendship, war, racial
discrimination, nature, love, motivation, life, religion, sports, military etc.

Here is a list of some other suggested speaking activities:

Reading aloud

Recitation of a song exposes to the rhythmic aspect of language i.e. Stress,

intonation, accent, and pronunciation

Students give their thoughts on the theme of the song, assigned by the teacher

Students listen to their classmates thoughts and respond

Oral diary

Picture description

Role play

Story- telling and chained story- telling


In Memorising Vocabulary, Structure and Grammar

When coming across an impressive song, most learners are eager to take a further
step- to understand what the singers are expressing and to sing it by themselves.
With such a motivation, learners will feel surprised they can remember all the
words that appear in the lyrics, even difficult ones. The nature of songs is fairly
repetitive and consistent. This repetition will activate the students to get a lot of
pattern drills automatically without realizing it. The songs offer a lot of practice for
students to link the sounds of phrases or sentences naturally as they listen and
sing, following the tape, so that they can improve their pronunciation and the use of
natural reductions of English without noticing it.

Reading tasks

1 Read a list of phrasal words and idiomatic expressions at random from different
songs and ask the students to identify the title of the song and context of the song.

Ask the students to use them in own sentences. This helps the students to think in
the target language.
2Have students select a song of their choice and ask them to work on enunciation
and the inner meaning of the song, and then have them present their choice in
groups to the class. This interactive learning style helps students feel self-directed
and can deepen their interest in English.


Serious writing may bore EFL learners. So why not occasionally make writing fun
in class by inventing something new?

Writing tasks

1 Teacher should select a song and play it in the class. After listening it twice or
thrice, ask the students to rewrite the lyrics from the other persons point of view in
reply to him. Let the students sing it using the same tune.

2 What do you think will happen next? Get the students write the next verse.

3 Teacher should select a song and play it in the class. After listening, the students
have to answer the questions given. After reading the theme, title and history of the
target song, the teacher can set opinion questions which demand effective
answers from the students.

Therefore, writing tasks might be an effectual way of digging out EFL learners
creativity in language. The right song will arouse their empathy, stimulate their
inspiration and light their passion to express their experiences and emotions in the
same way.

Songs that can be used in ELT classroom for activity

Father and Son by Cat Stevens

Let it Be by Beatles

Yesterday by Beatles

Sailing by Rod Stewards

Nothing Compares to You by Sinead Occonor

Last Night I had by Simon and Garfunkel

Blowing in the Wind by Bob Dylan

Take Me To Your Heart by band Michael Learns to Rock


Use of songs in ESL classroom motivates the students to attend lessons and pay
attention in class. Songs are the product of a culture and shared values,
commitment, responsibility, love, history, traditions, customs and specific
characteristics of spoken language. Songs present new vocabulary and
expressions in context. Through songs, students become familiar with the
pronunciation of native speakers and they also provide topics for discussion. Most
students enjoy listening and analyzing songs because of the fact that music is
everywhere and they are always in contact with music.

What speaks in favour of using songs in ELT class is also the fact that according to
research results, the students perceived the lessons with songs as interesting,
instructive, positive, relaxing and enjoyable. Songs can become a tool which we
can use to animate and facilitate language learning and acquisition stated Tim
Murphy (p.16). Mario Papa with Guiliano Iantorno concisely described this tool
saying that it is an exceptional teaching tool: in fact, students will take songs
outside the classroom and will go on performing them long after the lesson has
finished purely for their own pleasure.(p.8) I am convinced of the truthfulness of
their statement. They cherish both, a treasure of music that enriches my soul and a
treasure of language that enriches my mind.


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questions about language awareness, ELT Journal 57/3: 251-259

Carroll, D.W. Psychology of Language. Beijing: Brooks/Cole/Thomson Learning

Asia (2000).

Chomsky, N & Halle, M. The Sound Pattern of English, New York: Harper & Row.

Eken, D.K. Ideas for using pop songs in the English language classroom, English
Teaching Forum(1996). 34: 234-41

Gardener,H.(1983), Frames Of Mind. New York: Basic Books.(1983),

Gardener,H Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice.New York:

Basic(1983) Books.Gaston,E.T Music in Therapy. New York: Macmillan.

Geoff,P.SMusic and Mondegreens : extracting meaning from noise. ELT journal

57/2:113-121. (2003).
Tomlinson,B Pragmatic awareness activities. Language Awareness. 3/3:119-129.

About the author

Dr. Sheila Vijay is an Assistant Professor of English at Govt. College Saraipali,

District-Mahasamund, under Govt. of Chhattisgarh. She is M.Phil., Ph.D. in
English Literature. She completed her Ph.D. on Feminist Aesthetics and
Discourse: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. She has a total teaching experience of 24 years
and her areas of interest include English Language Teaching, Women Writings,
Indian Writing in English. She has attended and presented research papers in
many State, National and International Seminars/ Conferences/ Workshops. Many
of her articles have been published in National/ International journals.