7 tips to help children learn a second language with music

Music plays an important role in learning a second language. Similar areas of the brain are activated when listening to or playing music and speaking or processing language. Language and music are both associated with emotions, the combination makes it a powerful way to learn a second language.

Why is music so helpful to learn a second language?

Songs are fun

We know that children, especially small children, really like music. They relate to it as entertainment and find learning vocabulary through songs amusing. Songs associated with hand and arm gestures are even more powerful in engaging children.

Songs increase retention

Most of us are able to remember several children songs we learned as kids. Music helps retain words and expressions much more effectively. The rhythm of the music helps memorize, as well as the repetitive patterns within the song.

Songs place vocabulary in context

A song is also a little story. Children learn new words and expressions in the context of a story within the song. This will more easily captivate the attention of kids learning a 2nd language. Words make sense faster when you learn them in the context of the lyrics in the song than when you learn them by themselves.

Here are 7 tips we used so far to help our children Elena (7) and Pablo (4) learn languages with music, 10 minutes at a time.

Tip #1: Sing while giving the bottle

With both Elena and Pablo, before they turned 1, I used to give the last bottle of the day around 11pm. I made it a habit to sing every time, both to relax them, get them to sleep, and have them hear French songs.

Tip #2: Finish the bedtime story with a song

For about a year, I used to sing the same songs to Pablo in French at bedtime (“Un crocodile”, “Dans la maison un grand cerf”, “Dans la foret lointaine”). He was under two years old and he knew the lyrics by heart.

Tip #3: Play tag with a song

We like “Aline”, a French hit from the 60s that has very clear lyrics. We would play “tag” with it: during the refrain, the kids had to leave “base” and I would chase them in the living room. The kids would ask to play the game almost every evening (and they knew the lyrics really well!)

Tip #4: Role play with a song

There is a great Spanish song Cristina used frequently with the kids: “Hola Don Pepito, hola Don Jose”. It is a short dialogue between 2 characters, with simple lyrics. The music is engaging and made both Elena and Pablo want to sing with Cristina back-and-forth, Cristina and the kids taking turns and role playing one of the 2 characters.

Tip #5: Dance and learn

YouTube has great videos of songs where you can dance. Elena and Pablo learned the alphabet in French with Chantal Goya’s “L’Alphabet en chantant”. It is a fun song where you have to mimic the letters with your hands and arms. They learned the alphabet in French much faster than me trying to teach them.

Tip #6: Sing together in the car

Make a routine out of a specific car ride: going to school, coming back from school, going to the park, getting groceries,… You can listen to your favorite songs in the target language on one of the car rides. This is why Elena and Pablo know the lyrics of “Les Champs Elysees” from Joe Dassin by heart.

Tip #7: Family karaoke

We learn Chinese as a family. We love “Tian mi mi” of Teresa Teng. We found a YouTube video with Tian mi mi lyrics on the bottom of the screen. Everyone in the family can sing the song now. Singing it in our Chinese neighborhood restaurant even got us free desserts.

If you have a way to use music to teach your kids a second language, please share your comment below.

We shared this post originally in Multilingual Living under the title : "Music to help children learn a new language: 10 minutes at a time".