Did you know that music can be beneficial to language learners because it stimulates parts of the brain conductive to learning a foreign language?
I recently began researching data that supported my personal belief that music is the perfect vehicle for learning a foreign language, and I stumbled upon a book called “Language is Music” by Susanna Zaraysky. From her book I learned that the neurological links between language and music are many but the basic thing to remember is that music activates both the right and the left side of the brain, so if you remember something to a tune, you are more likely to recall the information than if you just read it or heard it spoken. As an example, I remember putting to a tune the names of the Latin declensions and the endings when I was in high school and still to this day, I can recite them thanks to the catchy tune I invented!
Since the Italian immersion music classes I teach cater to both native and non-native speakers, I try to use a variety of mediums to teach both language and culture. I use a lot of folk dancing, puppets, flannel board stories, as well as sing alongs and play alongs. One of Suzanna Zaraysky’s recommendations is to watch music videos which may facilitate an understanding of the song’s meaning. This is particularly useful for visual learners because they can see the story being told by the lyrics and match new vocabulary to the images on the screen. While this might be the perfect tool to use at home, the way I translate that into my classes is through the use of “song books”. These are books that we sing instead of read.
For my Italian classes I really like the Gallucci collection of traditional children’s songs. One of my favorites is “La Gatta” which comes with a CD sung by the songwriter himself, Gino Paoli. The children also really like “I Due Liocorni” and “Mi Piace il Mondo.” These books can be hard to find but I recently found a San Francisco Bay Area Italian online bookstore called “Libreria Pino” with a great collection. Good picture books are also naturally appealing to young children and offer lots of opportunities for conversation. A great conversation starter is to simply ask the children to tell us what they see in the pictures, “Che cosa vedi?”
Although I still have a lot to learn as a language immersion teacher, I am confident that music can help the young and old enjoy the pleasure of learning a language while being immersed in the cultural nuances of the country where the language is spoken. I encourage you to discover song books from your own native language and you’ll be surprised to find how many are out there and the joy they bring to the children we love so much. The songs will bring back childhood memories and will become something you can share and pass down to your children.