5 Amazing Ways Music Can Teach Your Child a Foreign Language

by Amber on May 4, 2009

Kids singing.

Photo by My Aim is True

You know that learning a second language is a great way to boost your kid’s brain power. Educational studies have consistently shown us that kids who are regularly exposed to a foreign language…

  • have better general reading and comprehension skills;
  • appreciate diversity and cultural differences;
  • have increased creativity and problem-solving skills;
  • and have a better grasp of their native language and vocabulary.

But how do you begin teaching a young child a foreign language, especially if you can’t speak it yourself? A really wonderful (and easy) way to introduce a second language to your child is through music. Little kids absolutely love music and kids six and under tend to learn languages faster and easier than adults, especially if given the chance to do so in a fun and stress-free environment.

Here are Five ways music works in teaching children a foreign language:

  1. Music is Fun
    Kids learn better when they are having fun. Learning a new language can be stressful, but if you incorporate the learning into fun activities throughout the day, your kids won’t even notice that they are acquiring a second language! Music is one great way to do this, but also try watching familiar films in different languages (Disney DVDs often come with this option), eating food from the region, or celebrating foreign holidays.
  2. Music is a Memory Booster
    It’s easier to remember things when they rhyme or have a predictive pattern, like most songs do. Also, as you hear a song over and over you’re better able to sing along. At first your child will just mimic the foreign words without really understanding them, but the understanding will come. If you think about it, that’s how they learned to speak their first language, too!
  3. Music Engages the Whole Brain
    When you combine music and rhyme (right-brain learning) with language and syntax (left-brain learning) your child is using their entire brain. Also, music has a rhythm and invovles movement. Encourage your child to dance with the songs because when learning is paired with movement it involves more brain power and the information is better retained.
  4. Music Can be a Game
    When learning to decipher the meaning in a song that includes both their native language and a foreign language, kids are essentially engaging in a puzzle game. For example, in the Spanglish Wrangler song Emociones, you’ll hear lines like “When I’m triste I’ll cry” or “I like to dance when I’m feliz.” The puzzle-solver figures that triste must mean sad and feliz means happy. Also, if kids learn a simple nursery rhyme song in both their native language and a foreign language (like Raffi’s Tete, Epaules-Head & Shoulders in both French and English), they can compare the two and figure out the meanings of the words.
  5. Music is Accessible
    Music is also a great way to bring language to a child with a learning disability or speech delay. Constant repetition, memory enhancers, and simple beats help kids follow the words. Syllables are usually separated and puncuated by the beats in the song which can aid in pronunciation. Kids also have an inborn natural desire to sing along with a familiar song. Even if this just means that your child hums or vocalizes whithout actually saying any words, it’s still a start and it’s getting them to understand that language is spoken and social.

Our Favorite Music for Teaching Language!

The Spanglish Wrangler: Spanglish Sing-Along

The Spanglish Wrangler is definitely our son’s favorite language CD. The songs are fun and up-beat and easy to sing along to. Will Thomas includes both English and Spanish words so the songs are easy to understand even if you don’t know any Spanish—and you’ll be amazed at how fast your kids are able to pick up Spanish vocabulary!

Ivan’s favorite song is probably Desayuno Boogie, most likely because it’s about food, and he also loves Bear’s Picnic, which tells a silly story about a family that meets a bear during a picnic, but also manages to conjugate a bunch of Spanish verbs in the process. Did you ever think you’d hear of a song that makes learning conjugations fun?! I wish they had thought of that when I was trudging through my Latin class!

Click on the CD image above to hear samples of these songs!



Mister Felipe: Cruzando el Border

Mister Felipe offers another great Spanish-English CD that Ivan loves. One of the cool things about this CD is that Mister Felipe samples all sorts of different traditional song styles, like Merengue and Mambo, Bolero and Ranchera. It’s really fun to hear the different musical styles and see how they change the mood of the songs. Mister Felipe also includes lots of kids’ voices on his songs, which children find irrisistable, and hearing kids speak in both English and Spanish makes the language seem much more accsssible. Mister Felipe is also very good at introducing Spanish vocabulary in one song then using it again in another so that you really feel like you are using what you have learned.

Ivan’s favorite song on this CD is The Calendario Mambo because he loves hearing the kids say “Cha-cha-cha!” He also loves Me Gustan Los Animales (I Like Animals) because, like a good game, you hear the Spanish name for the animal then the sound it makes and you have to figure out what animal they are singing about. Very fun!

Click on the CD image above to hear samples of these songs!



Putumayo Kids Presents European Playground.

Putumayo Kids Presents European Playground

If you’re looking for a collection of songs in many different languages, European Playground is a great place to start. This CD includes songs from Finland, France, Denmark, Greece, Scotland, Germany, and many more European countries. You’ll hear both English and the foreign language in many of these songs, but what we like most about this CD is that these artists are popular bands in their homeland who produce very modern music. Want to hear Greek or Dutch ska (Den Kanei Krio or Stop Den Lille Kaenguru)? Sweedish or French rock (Trampolin or En Voici, En Voila)? Look no further!

If you’re not sure which language your child will want to learn, this collection is a great way to introduce them to many different sounds. Our son loves the Spanish songs on this CD, so that’s the language we’ve decided to pursue.

You can preorder European Playground on Amazon. The CD will be released on May 19, 2009.



Raffi

We sometimes forget that Raffi has produced some lovely songs in French (he is from Canada, after all). And, a lot of these songs include both French and English and are a great way to introduce French to your child.

You may already have some of these songs in your CD collection, but if not, we’ve compiled our favorite Raffi songs sung in French and linked to samples on Amazon (just click on the image to the right). These days it’s easy to just buy the songs you want and create your own CD!



Super Simple Songs.

Knock Knock English: Super Simple Songs

Knock Knock English is a group that has developed some very simple and easy-to-learn songs designed to teach kids English as a second language. They use lots of repetition, simple vocabulary, and accessible concepts (like body parts or colors) to teach new words and grammar.

This is a great idea for young (or even not-so-young) kids trying to learn English, but also for young kids who are native English speakers but aren’t yet verbal. Try this CD with babies, young toddlers, or kids with speech delays and use it to help teach them the basics of language through songs.

Super Simple Songs is available at CD Baby or through their website: www.supersimplesongs.com.



You can’t ever introduce too much music to a kid, so play around with these songs and see which ones grab your child. When you see a response, go with it!

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane May 10, 2009 at 3:46 am

An outstanding post! I have been teaching children languages since 1990, and music is by far THE most effective trick up my sleeve. Even my high school students quickly learn and retain any information I can present in the form of a song or chant. Merci :-)

Beth May 13, 2009 at 10:45 am

Another outstanding series is from LYRIC LANGUAGE (produced by Penton Overseas). This was one of the first to combine music with teaching a foreign language (20 years ago) and my daughter loved it. Also, even if your child doesn’t learn to speak a foreign language, the child hears sounds they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to which forms neural connections to make it easier for them to learn one later in life.

Amber May 13, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Great point Beth – and I’ll check out Lyric Language. Thanks!

Geek in Texas August 17, 2009 at 9:13 am

It’s true! I’m 48 years old, and I can’t remember many of the things I had to memorize in grade school (e.g. Gettysburg Address), but when I’m listening to the 70s radio station, I can often sing along with every word. What a waste of brainpower. :-P

Georges Rouget October 26, 2009 at 10:02 am

Hello,

Wondering if you would consider reviewing a Francophone CD I published for children. I am Georges Rouget and the album title is Pistache la moustache on itunes and CD Baby.

Best,
G. Rouget
Italy

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