By now we’ve all heard about the benefits of learning a second language early in life—cultural sensitivity, improved math and abstract thinking skills, authentic accents—and the best one, it’s EASY and FUN! How can you give your darlings some of these advantages even if you’re not fluent yourself? Sing it! But WAIT! If you’re thinking “I don’t speak a second language, and I sing like a walrus with a belly ache,” read on!
Overcoming Obstacles to Learning Language
Here are a few common obstacles, and my supportive commentary to guide you past them:
1. “I’m not fluent.”
Songs give you the language—fluency isn’t required. Think of yourself as a leader and the songs are the teacher.
2. “I don’t have a good accent.”
While it’s good for kids to hear native speakers, it’s better to hear someone making their best efforts than to hear nothing at all. Plus, you’ll be modeling lifelong learning!
3. “There’s not a spare minute in my day.”
You can tuck songs in ANYWHERE: at the start of an activity, at recess, while washing hands for lunch, or tidying the room, as you’re walking through the halls (quietly!), as you’re lining up— during any transition at all.
4. “Singing@!? Yikes? They’ll think we’re housing nauseous walruses!”
You may not be Mariah Carey—who is? Kids love to sing, and the sooner you get THEM singing, the sooner your voice blends in! Despite our cultural fear of singing (which may be uniquely American, btw), children enjoy good songs and it brings a group together. For inspiration, watch the YouTube videos from PS22. Show it to the kids, if you can!
So why are songs so useful?
10 Reasons to use Songs to Teach Kids Language
1. Songs can be sung anytime
2. Singing gets their attention
3. Singing encourages cooperation—it’s a magical distraction maneuver and can help keep everyone focused on the task.
4. Music is a memory aid
5. Music encourages movement, another memory aid, and a way to get those wiggles out!
6. Good songs include a bit of repetition which locks in the learning
7. Music engages the emotions, and this helps learning stick and brings joy
8. Singing is FUN—and you get to participate
9. Songs sung solely in the target language can help create an immersion experience, which is how kids learn best
10. Singing is speaking. It’s a fun way to get children to actually hear themselves using the language!
So, how do you select songs to sing?
Good songs have these qualities:
1. Upbeat, fun, enjoyable to YOU!
2. Short, simple
3. Pleasant repetition of useful phrases
4. Uses limited, manageable appropriate language
5. Uses rhyming
6. Sung by native Spanish speakers
About the Author
Piña Madera founded Sing-A-Lingo with her husband, Michael, after writing songs to teach their songs the language of her heritage. Piña was raised bilingual by her Mexican mother, and went on to study Writing and Literature at Brown University and later at the University of New Mexico. She became a teacher of many things, including music, piano, Spanish and ESL.