When my youngest son came back from Lac du Bois, a French-language summer camp run by Concordia College – French language camp info, I pumped him for information about what they did. As a French teacher, I’m always looking for new activities or insights into how better to hook students and plant the French bug!
He shared the many songs they had learned and continually sung. But I didn’t do too much with that information. Then a couple of years later, he attended the 3-week Governor’s School for French in Virginia. He returned bubbling over with new language, a lot of which came from the songs that one of the teachers had employed. I was convinced!
Soon after I read about the ‘Ohrworm’ syndrome – German for ‘ear-worm’. You know that principle – you hear an annoying TV jingle or song and you can’t GET IT OUT OF YOUR HEAD! Or….in the middle of the night, a song will invade your mind UNBIDDEN and not leave!
Right then and there I committed to finding appropriate songs for each level of French I teach. That was 11 years ago. And I will attest to the usefulness and rich payback for the time spent in class on music.
Disclaimer: I am NOT a musical person. My mom bribed me to continue piano lessons through high school. None of it stuck. But in my classroom, I sing and I don’t care what my students think, so much do I value what music can do to transmit language.
I teach 4 different levels of French (5th -8th) in my current job. I have assembled a rich inventory of songs for each. And I keep my eyes open all the time for clean and current music being produced. Most of the songs are connected with a You Tube video. Some of them, especially the first few weeks in my beginning courses, are those artificial language learning songs created JUST for the the classroom. But soon I introduce my students to real-live contemporary songs that they can search for on their own when they are in You Tube.
Here’s my schedule:
Monday – play the song as they enter the classroom and settle in
Tuesday – show the You Tube video if available
Wednesday – pass out printed lyrics if appropriate and not TOO over their head. I search for the French lyrics by googling, for instance: “Paroles pour Zaz – Je veux”. For some of the lines, I type in a translation and leave blanks for words I think they know.
Thursday – if I want, I’ll schedule another 5-10 minutes to work with the lyrics
Friday – just play the music as they come in
When we work with the printed lyrics, I spend about 10 minutes working with words, phrases appropriate to their level and/or of interest to them. A lot comes up. At the upper level I can actually get a bit philosophical with them and lead a discussion. If I think the theme is valuable, I’ll switch to English for 5 minutes and try to get them to REFLECT and make connections to their lives or what they know.
Once in a while, if a phrase is especially useful and we hit it several days in a row, I’ll include it as an extra credit question on a quiz.
For a lot of the songs, I have bought the tunes and brought them into iTunes and created a playlist. Then when students are doing paired or individual work and I’m not actually teaching, I’ll power up that playlist as background music. Many of the songs by then are ‘old friends’ and my students enjoy them and even sing along.
Is the time I spend on music as curriculum worth it? You bet! Frequently students will report:
- Mme Cochrane, I found that song last night on You Tube and played it over and over!
And because of the Ohrworm phenomenon, the language ‘magically’ goes into their brains and sticks. Songs contain excellent structure and help guide their language acquisition and eventual production.
It’s a win-win situation. And incidentally but significantly, my French has improved because of music!