Music is powerful stuff.
We all know what it feels like when a tune gets stuck in your head.
You know, when you can’t recall what you ate for dinner 5 minutes ago but you can somehow remember all the lyrics to Britney’s greatest hits from 2001 ...even when you totally can’t stand them.
Rhythm and lyrics are master memorisation tools.
And it just so happens music is an effective and easy (yay for easy!) way to begin introducing your kids to a new language - without the overwhelm.
I had the pleasure of chatting with talented bilingual mama Ana Calabrese, founder of Spanish Plus Me who is all about teaching kids a second language through singing, moving and having fun.
She composes her own songs to teach Spanish with the length, amount of vocabulary, and movement component that makes her language classes fun, interactive and super effective.
I’m excited to share a few thoughts, inspired by our chat, on how and why to use music to introduce a second language to your child.
Swap language overwhelm for language dance parties!
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by where to start with this whole language learning thing, I’ve got 1 word (3 times!) for you, mama.
Music, music, music.
Especially if you’re not a native speaker.
“I really think that the power of music is it makes the whole process of learning a language fun and memorable. Those are two very important words!” says A.
“They really can learn and be engaged with fun and playful activities - music gives you that.”
When I first started teaching my kids French, I used to put on French songs and host little French dance parties for them. (Like, yep, coolest mum EVER!)
They loved it! They didn’t mind what they were listening to, as long as it had a good beat.
I noticed they started picking up the words really fast!
Having these little dance parties was a fun and easy way to introduce more French words into our daily routine at home. It didn’t feel overwhelming at all.
Sing along with your child to really unleash the power of music
Let me tell you, I loved grooving around and singing with the kids at our mini french dance parties. Microphone hairbrush, anyone?
Not only was it fun, but actually getting involved with your kids - not just having the music playing in the background - helps them learn quicker, which is super cool!
“If you really want to unleash all the power of music to teach your child a language, you
need to use music to connect with your child. When I say connect, it’s about singing
with your child, dancing with your child. Become a child with your child!” suggests Ana.
I love this aspect of learning languages! Making memories, having fun and engaging with our kids; because that makes them smile, builds our connection and brings something really positive out in them too.
“If you are only using music in the background, well, yeah, they are getting something but when you’re teaching little kids you need to be present.”
“I first explain to them, what this song is about,” says Ana of the music classes she teaches.
“I give them part of the lyrics and then, as I do this as I am teaching them their movements because they love the movement that comes with the song.”
Be specific about your music choice
Ana suggests taking it step by step. Don’t dive in with some bohemian rhapsody-ish choice that just goes on...and on….and on.
And make sure it’s relevant too!
“Don’t just play a 20 minute album to your child. First of all, I would invite you to search. What’s the kind of music that’s going to be more helpful in this process that I’m going through with my child? What is the age of your child?” suggests Ana.
It will take a little experimentation to figure out the songs your child enjoys the most but once you’ve got them, Ana advice is to put them together in a playlist with their other favourite English songs.
‘Shuffle them and when they come up - make it a big deal!” says Ana.
She also suggests finding songs or nursery rhymes (YouTube and Spotify are good starting points) that allow you to download the lyrics so you can familiarise yourself with the words of the song. It’s helpful to try and find songs that have a translation in your native language too.
“Don’t just go just to an album because it says children music. Not all children’s music is for what we are trying to do here. Not all traditional music or folklore music has been designed for learners.”
Experiment with a song before bed
Music is all about introducing new vocabulary and the more exposure your child has, the better.
Don’t be afraid to flip the switch a little from those powered up, dancing, singing activities in the day to something a little more chilled at night.
Playing a song or lullaby at bedtime allows them to hear the pronunciation and accent of words just as they’re drifting off to sleep.
“Music helps with so many transitions and routines during the day,” says Ana.
“I know a lot of parents that play music and do it in the target language to kind of put their children in the mood for story time before they go to bed. It’s definitely a way to add exposure.”
Finally ...keep it simple
If you’ve been around The Cultured Kid for even 5 minutes, you’ll know I’m a BIG fan of keeping things simple when it comes to teaching your kids another language.
Simple sticks. Get too complicated with your approach and you’re probably gonna drop it after not too long ...but the simple activities, well, they stick around.
The way to approach learning through music isn’t any different.
Start with a single, simple song. Introduce it during a daily routine or host a lil’ dance party and focus on learning a few keywords and phrases. Then introduce the next song.
For many of you who have seen a little bit of the Cultured Kid Language program we offer, you know the program provides videos, play-based lessons and resources like flashcards and activity sheets. These learning tools are our sweet spot!
But music is such a key part of learning a new language, which was why I really wanted to be able to share this aspect as well.
Simply fill out your first name and email address and within a few minutes you can be playing your way to fluency with your little ones!