Music to Help Children Learn a New Language

…10 minutes at a time

by CONTRIBUTOR on MAY 14, 2012 (from MultiLingual Living)

Music to Help Bilingual Children Learn a New Language: 10 Minutes at a Time

By Franck & Cristina
Photo credit: sanbeiji

Music plays an important role in learning a second language. Similar areas of the brain are activated when listening to or playing music and speaking or processing language. Language and music are both associated with emotions, the combination makes it a powerful way to learn a second language.

Why is music so helpful to learn a second language?

  • Songs are fun
    We know that children, especially small children, really like music. They relate to it as entertainment and find learning vocabulary through songs amusing. Songs associated with hand and arm gestures are even more powerful in engaging children.
  • Songs increase retention
    Most of us are able to remember several children’s songs we learned as kids. Music helps us retain words and expressions much more effectively. The rhythm of the music helps with memorization, as do the repetitive patterns within the song.
  • Songs place vocabulary in context
    A song is also a little story. Children learn new words and expressions in the context of a story within the song. This will more easily captivate the attention of kids learning a new language. Words make sense faster when you learn them in the context of the lyrics in the song than when you learn them by themselves.

Below are 7 tips to help children learn another language with music, 10 minutes at a time:

  • Tip #1: Sing while nursing/giving the bottle
    With both Elena and Pablo, before they turned 1, I used to give the last bottle of the day around 11pm. I made it a habit to sing every time, both to relax them, get them to sleep, and have them hear French songs.
  • Tip #2: Finish the bedtime story with a song
    For about a year, I used to sing the same songs to Pablo in French at bedtime (“Un crocodile”, “Dans la maison un grand cerf”, “Dans la foret lointaine”). He was under two years old and he knew the lyrics by heart.
  • Tip #3: Play tag with a song
    We like “Aline”, a French hit from the 60s that has very clear lyrics. We would play “tag” with it: during the refrain, the kids had to leave “base” and I would chase them in the living room. The kids would ask to play the game almost every evening (and they knew the lyrics really well!).
  • Tip #4: Role play with a song
    There is a great Spanish song Cristina used frequently with the kids: “Hola Don Pepito, hola Don Jose”. It is a short dialogue between 2 characters, with simple lyrics. The music is engaging and made both Elena and Pablo want to sing with Cristina back-and-forth. Cristina and the kids would take turns and role playing one of the 2 characters.
  • Tip #5: Dance and learn
    YouTube has great videos of songs where you can dance. Elena and Pablo learned the alphabet in French with Chantal Goya’s “L’Alphabet en chantant”. It is a fun song where you have to mimic the letters with your hands and arms. They learned the alphabet in French much faster than me trying to teach them.
  • Tip #6: Sing together in the car
    Make a routine out of a specific car ride: going to school, coming back from school, going to the park, getting groceries, etc. You can listen to your favorite songs in the target language during one of the car rides as well. This is why Elena and Pablo know the lyrics of “Les Champs Elysees” from Joe Dassin by heart.
  • Tip #7: Family karaoke
    We learn Chinese as a family. We LOVE “Tian mi mi” of Teresa Teng. We found a YouTube video with “Tian mi mi” lyrics on the bottom of the screen. Everyone in the family can sing the song now. Singing it in our Chinese neighborhood restaurant even got us free desserts.

What other ways do you use music to teach your kids a second language? Please share them with us!

[Test originally published in Multilingual Living Magazine]


Author: 3rdCultureChildren

Welcome! Here I am, 'releasing' my thoughts on traveling, parenting, raising TCKs, teaching, writing, working... and who knows what else! I’m a WIFE, 'geeky-stuff' SCIENTIST, TEACHER, AMATEUR photographer, MOM of 3, TRAVELER by choice and by marriage, and of course, a HOUSEHOLD QUEEN!!

4 thoughts on “Music to Help Children Learn a New Language”

  1. Learning languages to music works for adults too. It helps them absorb the words without placing emphasis on the subject at hand. You just enjoy the music while learning,


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