Nel secondo post di “Stay in the loop”, il blog della nostra  scuola di inglese, Paul Bowley spiega l’importanza della musica nell’apprendimento di una lingua, raccontando la sua esperienza personale come docente e quella dei suoi allievi. 
Ascoltare musica innesca una relazione emozionale tra noi e le canzoni e rappresenta una modalità divertente e funzionale per migliorare il proprio inglese. Ascoltando musica da bambini esercitiamo la nostra innata capacità di  imitare e replicare  i suoni. Anche da adulti non dobbiamo rinunciare a questo approccio e capire il ruolo cruciale della componente emotiva nell’apprendimento di una lingua.
Buona lettura e … buon ascolto!

When I first arrived in Macerata to work as a language assistant all of thirty years ago, I noticed that some of the young people I taught seemed to have a natural flair, or at least a particular interest for English. But not just English as a subject at school. They were really interested in listening to and talking in English.

In many cases, they had one thing in common: they loved listening to English songs. They listened to Dire Straits, UB40, Michael Jackson, Queen, Bon Jovi, Guns’n’Roses, U2 and countless others.
They said this was how they learned English! It was a far cry from school lessons about the present perfect progressive or studying Beowulf and Wordsworth.
But the amazing thing was that these kids really wanted to tell me – in English – about their love for English music. They also wanted to know what music I liked. They wanted to share. It seemed to me then, and I’m sure now, that this was a highly effective approach to learning English.

So, how does this work?
We listen to music because we like the sounds, the rhythms and the emotions.
But what about the words? Where are the words in this experience?
We listen to the music. We don’t, initially at least, really hear or read the words of the music.
But the words are often there. If we’re honest with ourselves, we realise that we are initially drawn to music for these emotional, non-conceptual characteristics – usually, not just the words.

immagine di un bambino che ascolta la musica felice

So, our relationship with music is prevalently emotional. If there are words in music, those words maintain the same emotional charge and exert the same attraction as the music. This offers an excellent method for establishing the right approach to language learning.
When we were babies, we heard our mother, or our father, making sounds. We didn’t think about them as words with meanings. We thought about them as sounds to initially observe and admire, then to respond to, and to imitate – but always driven by a desire to interact and participate, not only for functional needs like hunger or discomfort, but also as an expression of general emotion, such as joy, playfulness, affection, or anger. They were a way of affirming our relationship with the people we loved most. As we grew, we improved our ability to mimic and replicate sounds. This was the beginning of the way we acquired our own language, and there are interesting parallels with how we relate to music. And this shows us how our we can use music to help us learn English.

Our emotional attraction to music is similar to the attraction for our mother’s words that we felt when we were babies. Both trigger a strong desire to imitate and participate. And the experience of these moments is planted deep inside our mind. Even though they are non-conceptual, formless and purely emotional moments, they are embedded – maybe unconsciously – forever. These are the roots of our language which, in some ways, we experience again when we listen to music that we like, to the point of motivating us to feel strong emotion. We even try to replicate the music in the form of the words (which are basically sounds) that we can sing and move to. 

When we sing in these circumstances, we are expressing a connection that is like the connection we felt with our mother.
We feel part of it, it is an expression of our lives as connected beings, it is profound and energising.
When we do this, we are not thinking in rational terms. We are emotionally involved and that’s enough. It is, however, interesting to notice that, at this point, our only intention is to make sounds to express our emotion and our desire to participate.
The sounds that we make may even not be identifiable as words, but this is the moment when our bond with the music is at its purest. It is emotional and non-conceptual. So we learn songs without even realising that we are learning language.

But then, as teenagers and adults, we can supplement this basic act of bonding by discovering the formal pronunciation and rational significance of the words, or “lyrics”, of the song. Here, non-anglophones can fall into the trap of confusing English spelling with English pronunciation. But if they remain faithful to their initial drive to replicate the sounds they really hear, those sounds will guide them to produce sounds that are much closer to real English pronunciation. This approach is also much more memorable. It’s easy to find the lyrics of a song on the internet.

Reading the words that are being sung is sometimes a surprise because people often imagine the spelling of some written words to be quite different from the way they are actually sung (and said). It can also provide a demonstration of the way English ‘skips’ syllables and creates abbreviations that you would never have thought possible!
Also, be warned that the way lyrics are written often doesn’t really respect the conventional rules of written English.
Introducing, for example, “gonna”, “wanna” and “gotta”! The words of modern pop and rock songs are full of slang and poetic licence, so this is not a particularly good way to prepare for English tests at school!
But it can be highly effective in creating a fascination for English and helping people to find the right “wavelength” of English that goes well beyond anything that could normally be achieved at school.
An understanding of grammar and vocabulary will follow much more easily in the context of a motivated interest in English.


In a nutshell: here’s the procedure!
• Choose a song you love
• Listen to it repeatedly and learn how to sing it (without reading the words)
• Practise singing it just like the original singer
• Read the words and discover what they are and what they mean
• Use the same language in your conversation!