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7 Ways ESL Kids Can Learn with Music

7 Ways ESL Kids Can Learn with Music

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Updated on Apr 1, 2012

With roughly 7,000 languages being spoken around the world on a daily basis—by linguist estimations—it's no wonder that parents of ESL kids are constantly looking for new ways to supplement their kid's language lessons and find common ground with English speakers. According to the Public School Review, it's predicted that in 2020 nearly half of the students in U.S. public schools will be from non-English speaking backgrounds. The universal language of music offers a harmonious way to teach your child English, whether her native tongue is Chinese or Spanish. Singing along to English-speaking tunes not only helps kids feel less self-conscious about language barriers, but the music brings fun to the fundamentals of speaking English.

Teaching language through music can be extremely useful for your ESL kid if she struggles to pick up dialects, phonics and articles—all while remembering the vocabulary and concepts she's learned in the lyrics. "Music positively affects language accent, memory, and grammar as well as mood, enjoyment and motivation," says Jon Weatherford Stansell, an educator from the University of Illinois. So find your favorite artists, turn up the melodies and check out these tips for teaching English linguistics over the airwaves.

  • Perk Up to Pop. If your child battles to master English, try putting some popular pop songs on the stereo in the car or at home. Kids who speak other languages usually prefer to chat in their native tongue but are more than happy to practice their English when it comes to singing the latest hits. Children all over the world enjoy American music, and most will recognize the current chart-toppers and even some classic oldies. Listening to Lady Gaga on repeat will encourage your little learner to pick up English vocabulary—without realizing that she's learning!
  • Listen, Sing, Repeat. Knowing English vocabulary, but not being able to pronounce the words, can be frustrating for your ESL learner. Once you've chosen an album you think is appropriate for your kid, allow her to listen to the songs she likes best, whenever she wants. The best way to learn enunciation is through repetition and practice. Belting out the recurring chorus of a song is a good way for your child to practice the same phrases over and over without getting bored.
  • Work with Your Child's Style. Find out which learning style works well with your child—whether it be logic, spatial, kinesthetic, musical or something else—then incorporate that into her English lesson. If she's a kinesthetic learner, choreograph some dance moves. Verbal learners will catch on to rap quickly, while mathematical minds will appreciate the methodical beats and rhythms in songs as you clap and tap along to a song. "Students loosen up and become more confident by singing along to their favorite English songs, which also sparks their creativity and individualism," says ESL teacher Deyta Adiwoso.
  • From Rock to Relaxation. Music is a great way to help your child relax before she's ready to learn. "Everyone responds to music. It's used to create a relaxed classroom atmosphere," says Bernice Ege-Zavala, Director of the School of Teaching ESL in Seattle. Let your child borrow your music player and listen to tunes from his favorite English-speaking artists during a stress-inducing outing, such as going to the doctor or dentist. She'll calm down in time for his check-up, and pick up some vocabulary along the way.
  • Learn as a Choir. It's no secret some people are more musical than others, but everyone can still enjoy music, whether they play an instrument, sing or just listen. Even if your child sticks to the triangle in the orchestra or belts out tunes off-key, she'll still reap educational rewards by simply nodding her head to the beat and paying attention to lyrics. If you are willing to sing along with your child, she will be more likely to learn from the music as well.
  • The Song Stuck in Your Head. Music is a great tool for triggering memories, and if your child uses his favorite English songs on a daily basis, it's unlikely she'll forget phrases in the lyrics. Chris Brewer, a pioneer in the study of music and education who has published many articles on the topic, suggests using a "soundtrack" to help you ESL kid focus on the subject at hand. Play one tune to wake your kid up in the morning, and another for play time. The lyrics are bound to stick, and she'll be able to transition from one activity to another more smoothly.
  • Feel the Rhythm. Every language has a beat and rhythm of its own. All different types of songs from love ballads to rock and roll will help your child better grasp the unique intonations, rhythms and patterns of sentences in English. As your ESL child subconsciously grasps the English language rhythm, she'll become even more confident speaking with native speakers or giving oral presentations at school because her speech will sound natural and smooth.

Learning English doesn't have to be difficult and frustrating. Using music at home is simple and fun for both you and your child. Create a playlist of songs she loves and knows the words to on your music player and leave it in your purse so the two of you can get in some language learning time no matter where you are.

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