The importance of melodies in foreign language learning explored.

Posted on 14th June 2017

A book highlighting the significant relationship between music and learning languages, which has been co-edited by a University of Chester academic, has been launched at the University of Huelva in Spain.

Dr Maria Carmen Fonseca-Mora and Dr Mark Gant (from the University of Chester) pictured outside the University of Huelva.
Dr Maria Carmen Fonseca-Mora and Dr Mark Gant (from the University of Chester) pictured outside the University of Huelva.

Melodies, Rhythm and Cognition in Foreign Language Learning is a collection of essays reflecting on the relationship between language and music, which its authors describe as two unique, innate human capacities. The book provides a clear explanation of how melodies and rhythm are central to foreign language learning acquisition. 

Co-edited by Dr Mark Gant, Acting Head of Modern Languages at the University of Chester, Melodies, Rhythm and Cognition in Foreign Language Learning explores how music can change students’ emotions, aid teacher instruction, make grammatical structures more memorable, and can help students identify with foreign cultures. 

Co-editor Dr Maria Carmen Fonseca-Mora is from the University of Huelva, which is a long-standing Erasmus partner institution of the University of Chester. Maria was a resident writer at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden in 2013, when the idea for the book came about between the two academics. 

Topics include the musical elements of children’s pre-speech vocalisations (which are described as an imperative and necessary precondition for language acquisition); how musical aptitude contributes to the learning of foreign language skills; and studies of rhythm in language learning. 

The use of traditional songs in the teaching of English as a Foreign Language to adult learners is explored, and children’s songs are analysed for their value as an educational resource, in which poems, melody and rhythm are combined. Musical materials can be aimed at practicing pronunciation or the rhythm of speech, reinforcing vocabulary or supporting reading, but the book emphasises that such material must be carefully designed. 

However, the publication does not just focus on more traditional musical material - a review of hip-hop and rap, and how it can be used to assist English language teaching and learning for Chinese learners is discussed. The book closes with a chapter about teacher trainer Fergal Kavanagh’s inspiring and interactive Tune into English Roadshow, which uses well-known pop songs (including Katy Perry’s Hot N Cold and The Beatles’ Hello Goodbye) to help to raise students’ awareness of the language used in pop music. 

Dr Mark Gant said: “The relationship between music and language are two key qualities that distinguish humans. In this book melodies and rhythm are considered to be a springboard for the enhancement of the learning of foreign languages. For example, the repetitive nature of songs and the joy they bring into the classroom can really help to reinforce language acquisition. 

“We are very proud of this publication, which has been an international collaboration, with contributors drawn from Spain, Cyprus, Germany, the UK, Italy, Canada, and the United States.” 

Dr Fonseca-Mora added:The idiom “to have an ear for” is found in many different languages and is directly related to language and music. This shows that beliefs about the relationship between music and language are somehow supported by our shared verbal behaviour; by common sense or street wisdom. 

“Melodies and rhythm have the effect of creating positive emotions; they affect students’ predisposition toward language learning. Musical elements trigger positive emotions, motivation, verbal memory, social bonding or even self-regulation, all of which are needed for the development of good language skills. 

“For our readers, we hope that we have managed to make the values and cognitive benefits that melodies and rhythm can offer for any age group more visible, enhancing learning both inside and outside the language classroom.”