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Spanish Teachers Unite Newsletter: October 1, 2021
Using music to improve reading skills
Can music be used to improve student’s reading skills in their target language? How do you music with your class to improve reading skills?
Music can be a wonderful tool for practicing reading in a new language. I have been creating a lot of “guided notes” activities for students where they are asked to fill in missing words or strings of words from a larger text, take note of vocabulary, and answer comprehension questions. This is usually a listening activity where I give them oral input or ask them to follow along with a text projected on our board. Using songs and lyrics as the “comprehensible input” for this type of activity is a great place to start because students can follow along with lyrics as they listen. The rhythm and potential familiarity of a song can guide students in recognizing patterns and understanding meaning in subtle ways. When I can get students to sing along, that adds a new dimension to reading with music because they are essentially reading aloud as they sing. Wondering where to start with new Spanish-speakers? I like to start with simple lyrics and slower tunes that allow students to discern specific words and extract meaning with more ease. “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom”, “La Bamba”, “El mismo sol”, and “La Bilirrubina” (Alex Ferreiro version) are some of my favorites!
Some studies reveal a correlation between Music and Reading in language learning, since both subjects use a symbol structure that can be decoded into sounds, and at the same time they have a meaning, besides visual and auditory discrimination are also required (Israel, H. F. 2013, p.1363), which, among other things, is part of Receptive Skills development. That implies learners do not need to produce language; they receive and understand it instead.
Along with Listening Skills, Reading Skills are part of Receptive Skills. Often in the process of learning a new language, students begin with receptive understanding of the new items, then later move on to productive use (British Council), so their learning language foundations lay in Receptive Skills first.
Learning to read is a complex thing, one that requires students to learn a series of skills in order to recognize and understand text. They need to approach literacy areas, which some of them are: Phonemic awareness in the first place, comprises a range of skills with words, syllables and sounds within words (phonemes), that many learners only come to recognize in a formal learning setting; secondly, the more words students know, the easier it will be for them to comprehend the text, that is Vocabulary. And thirdly, what is seen as the essence of reading, since it might seem useless if students cannot understand what they read (Reading eggs), that is Reading comprehension. In addition, Israel (2013) also mention that “reading skills can be more effectively taught through song lyrics” (p.1363), as long as each new song students learn have the right balance between new and learned vocabulary, since the appropriate overlap level will keep them motivated, and it will also naturally reinforce their prior learning, for maximum benefit in Reading skills development through song lyrics.
For use in class, pre-reading activities can be done, like matching words with definition, before contextualizing song lyrics. Thanks to that, students will understand their meaning once they entirely read them.
I think it is an effective and fun way to improve such skill, because the student will be practicing reading while singing in a pleasant environment. Singing is an alternative to reading sessions in order to do something different. Don’t forget it: students who are taught in a fun and creative way, love coming to class. I love hosting karaoke sessions where students choose the songs of their choice in advance to practice at home. In class, they sing in turns whether individually or in pairs. If one of the class members feels unconfident, I sing the song together with the student, that helps a lot. On the other hand, students who love singing will love this type of activity. Ask your student what they prefer.
Tip: You can make use of the karaoke videos from Youtube, just make sure the lyrics are complete in each verse and the words are correctly spelled!