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How to Use Music in the Spanish Classroom

Throughout centuries, music has been considered as a universal means of communication.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”

Aldous Huxley

Nowadays, music can be seen as one of the most relevant aspects in our lives, which makes it a very valuable tool for teaching languages. Music has the ability to represent ourselves in different emotional states (sadness, happiness, anger, melancholy, etc.). Because we can relate to it, it is easier for teachers to motivate and involve students in the process of learning a foreign language.

Today we are exploring the benefits of using music in the Spanish classroom, some factors to consider and activities to exploit this type of resource. Let’s begin!

The benefits of music in learning

Music has been argued to provide effective experiences for children to develop listening skills. Studies (Whitwell, 1977; Marshall, 1978; Broh, 2002) have drawn correlations between improved self-esteem, better social adjustment and involvement in musical activities.

Without a doubt, songs are fantastic authentic resources that can enhance learning. But why?

  • Song lyrics are a good source of comprehensible input and a great way to improve our cultural immersion.
  • Music can help learners memorise content.
  • Listening to music and singing are relaxing activities that make students more comfortable about using a foreign language.

But like any other learning resource, there are some essential factors to keep in mind.

Factors to consider

#1. Suitability

Suitability is a key aspect to consider, especially if we teach beginners. It is imperative that we find artists that show clear pronunciation and pace, and songs where the instrumental is not too loud.

In terms of language, try to choose songs without too much slang or cultural expressions that require a detailed explanation. If students do not understand the language, they are more likely to get distracted and give up. In any case, it’s important to stress that they are not expected to understand everything from it. Not even natives get all references from songs!

#2. Goal

What are students going to learn or revise with the song? And how is that connected with the curriculum or scheme of work?

We all love discovering new music from time to time. However, the use of music in the Spanish classroom will be much more effective with a clear goal in mind. The options are endless here! For example, we can use songs to deepen our knowledge of a certain topic, such as festivals or historical events; to expand our vocabulary; revisit grammatical structures and verbal tenses or to train students’ pronunciation.

#3. Is the song of interest to the students?

Our musical tastes might differ from our students’.

Forget about what you personally like and select a piece according to your students’ age that will provoke thought and dialogue. I cannot stress enough the importance of connecting with our pupils. If they can relate to the topic or message of the song, they will be more likely to enjoy and engage with the activity. After all, that’s why we listen to certain songs on and on: They depict how we have felt at some point in our lives.

#4. Effectiveness

If your objective is for your students to remember key expressions or vocabulary, choose a catchy or easy-to-remember song. Nobody likes a boring theme, even if the lyrics are great and well-thought out. A trendy song is definitely more likely to engage them.

Of course, I am not saying we always need to use Despacitos (very rhythmic, mainstream songs) in class. Try to open your students’ minds with new musical styles that they haven’t encountered before. Variety is the spice of life.

These addictive songs in Spanish are a good place to start.

What can you do with music?

The activities that we can carry out with music in the Spanish classroom are endless. This section consists of three parts: Pre-listening, while-listening and post-listening activities.

Pre-listening activities

  • Provide a context: Pictures or even a brief biographical note about the artist are more than enough. If you have chosen a historical or autobiographical song, I strongly advise you not to skip this step!
  • Make predictions: You could start by giving students just the title of the song so that they can make guesses about what it is about. Another alternative is to play the music video without any sound, then ask students to create a title for the song or make assumptions about what the song is about, the mood of the people appearing in it, etc.

While-listening activities

  • Filling the gaps: I am sure all of us have gone through this exercise in a language lesson. Filling the gaps is a classic task that requires very little preparation. Nevertheless, it’s important to think the kind of words we are going to remove from the lyrics. Do they belong to a specific topic (emotions, food, numbers, etc.) or grammatical category (nouns, verbs, adjectives…)?
  • Order the lyrics: A simple but very useful activity to enhance listening skills and keep students on task. The song is divided in verses, which are handed out to students. They have to order the verses as they listen to the song.
  • Create a choreography: Ask your students to come up with a choreography including the actions described in lyrics. Actions can serve as memory-joggers and will help learners remember important vocabulary. They’ll love this idea, especially the young ones!
  • Sing, sing, sing: Once students are familiar with the song, get them to sing along with you!

Post-listening activities

  • Organise a debate: Sometimes songs give rise to interesting debates among students, especially if they tackle social or political matters. Encourage students to share their points of view about the topic in question by using the target language.
  • Continue the story: Some songs have very good stories behind them (an excellent example are Mecano’s songs!). Get students organised in groups and ask them to come up with a different ending for the story. This is a great task if you want them to practise future tenses.
  • Re-write the lyrics: Re-writing the lyrics from another perspective is a very appealing and creative exercise. For instance, we could imagine the singer is from a different country or culture, of a different age or gender identity. If the song addresses a specific person, get your pupils to write a reply from the addressee’s perspective. Beatriz Luengo did an amazing job with “Hawái” by Maluma!

Beatriz Luengo’s answer to Maluma’s “Hawái”
  • The best verse: Let students choose their favourite verse from the song and get them to explain why they liked it so much by using the target language.
  • Comic strips: Songs with a story behind them are great for this activity. Instead of a verbal discussion to check listening comprehension, give your students some paper and colouring pencils to draw the key moments of the song in chronological order.
  • Substitute: Underline or highlight words that can be replaced with something else. This is a fantastic task to practise with synonyms and antonyms.
  • Follow-up: Get your students to do some research about the artist and perhaps produce a presentation.

That’s all, dear teacher friends! If you can think about any other activity to introduce music in the Spanish classroom, please leave a comment with your idea. It’s always enriching to learn from others!

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