Master of Arts in Upper Secondary Education, 300 credits English Studies and Education
Examiner: Henry King Supervisor: Jasmin Salih
Independent Project with Specialization in English
Studies and Education
15 Credits, First Cycle
Benefits of Songs in the ESL Classroom
Fördelar med sånger i den engelska andraspråksinlärningen
One can argue that songs offer a useful learning opportunity for learning English as a second language since it includes the combination of music and text. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to examine in what ways songs can affect the ESL classroom. The aim is further to compare and apply the findings to a Swedish upper secondary school context to examine how development can take place for ESL learners in Sweden. Moreover, the approach to this study consisted of a literature review of articles within the research area, which were used to answer the two research questions: To what extent can the use of songs in the ESL classroom stimulate incidental vocabulary learning? Additionally, what are other potential benefits from using songs in the ESL classroom? The results were unified regarding the main question of songs and vocabulary acquisition; all findings included positive effects of songs on incidental vocabulary learning and retention of new words. Moreover, implementing songs in the ESL classroom showed more positive attitudes towards school among students and teachers; in addition, the results indicated on a decrease regarding anxiety and stress among the learners. Furthermore, the Swedish National Curriculum emphasizes the importance of a positive classroom environment for the learners, and the syllabus for English requires a variety of texts, in which songs can offer useful learning conditions for vocabulary acquisition. Therefore, the song-based approach is presented as suitable for a Swedish upper secondary classroom.
Table of Contents
1. Introduction 4
2. Aim and Research Questions 8
3. Method 9
3.1 Search Delimitations 9
3.3 Exclusion criteria 10
4. Results 11
4.1 Review of research on the use of songs in ESL classrooms 11
4.2 Effects of Songs in the ESL Classroom 15
4.2.1 Incidental Vocabulary Acquisition and Retention of Words 15 4.2.2 Attitudes, Classroom Environment, and Oral Production 16
5. Discussion 18
6. Conclusion 22
7. References 23
A broad vocabulary is vital for comprehension to occur when it comes to second language acquisition. According to Hirsh (2018), a learner should have a lexical coverage of at least 95% to be able to understand a text (p.169). Moreover, O’Keeffe (2012) states that an improvement in vocabulary acquisition leads to a general improvement in reading, writing, and listening skills. She even refers to Wilkins (1972), who argued for how vocabulary teaching is essential for successful language teaching. Furthermore, Alderson (2006) confirms that an increasing size of vocabulary has a positive impact on other language tests beyond vocabulary acquisition. O’Keeffe (2012) further explains the complexity in not only exposing the learners to new words, and new senses of words, but also teaching it in ways that increase the retention of this new knowledge.
Teaching vocabulary in the classroom can involve different approaches and therefore create different types of learning opportunities for the learners. One example is the audiolingual approach. Exposing the learners to new words by using the audio-lingual approach means that the learners mainly repeat and imitate what the teachers say. According to McCarthy et al. (2010), this behavioristic view of vocabulary acquisition is appropriate in the early stages of language learning, but at a more advanced level, it could lead to boredom and frustration among the learners. Moreover, interactionist and sociocultural theories argue for the use of social contexts around vocabulary acquisition; the former emphasizes the cognitive interaction around seeking meaning of a word, whereas the latter focuses on the collaborative construction of language, which makes task-based and form-focused instructions central (O’Keeffe, 2012). On the other hand, cognitive theories have a more implicit view of vocabulary learning. This is driven by the understanding that new words are acquired unconsciously with no influence of teaching (McCarthy et al., 2008). The implicit learning of new words is also referred to as incidental vocabulary acquisition. Ahmad (2012) describes incidental learning as the process of learning something without the intention to do so (p.71). Furthermore, he argues that a large number of advantages occur when learning from a context rather than intentionally learning specific words separately. For example, he states that incidental vocabulary promotes deeper mental processing as well as better retention of the words, because of the cognitive process it requires. Ahmad (2012) bases his research on learning words incidentally through a reading context, but incidental vocabulary learning can also be used in other contexts, such as in the combination of music and lyrics — that is, songs. Studies show positive results of vocabulary learning as a result of listening to songs in the ESL classroom (Akbary et al.,
2018; Lestari & Hardiyanti, 2020; Li & Brand, 2009; Pavia et al.; Shakerian et al., 2016; Tomczak & Lew, 2019).
Songs usually include two elements: the words that shape the lyrics, and the instrumental part, here referred to as music. Both elements are required to create a song, and it is therefore important to take both parts into consideration when investigating the use of songs in the classroom. The element of lyrics is vital since it includes all words and phrases that can be useful for the learners. Regarding the element of music, Koelsh (2013) has explored the relationship between language and music and resultantly presented a music–language continuum in which several design features of music and language are identical. Even though he does not discuss songs specifically, he argues for musicality in itself to be a natural ability of the human brain, parallel to the ability to acquire language. Fonsesca-Mora (2016) also claims that music and language are two innate human capacities with a link between them which, she argues, can be taken advantage of in an ESL classroom. These advantages include group cohesion, production, health, and memory. Additionally, she argues that music affects the ability to memorize instructions and provide authentic material, as well as aid structures, pronunciation, and vocabulary acquisition. Increased motivation is also mentioned as a result of music in the classroom (p.17). However, Fonsesca-Mora (2016) clearly states that the music itself does not guarantee enhanced teaching; its effectiveness depends entirely on how the teacher uses the tool when teaching.
Furthermore, when it comes to using songs (that is, both music and lyrics) as an educational tool, a teacher in a Swedish ESL classroom can take advantage of this tool to meet several of the demands in the syllabus for English (Skolverket, 2011a) and the Swedish National Curriculum (Skolverket, 2011b). Toscano-Fuentes (2016) argues that the use of songs increases the pedagogical value even more because they encourage motivation and cultural awareness, and help develop the four language skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. These skills are the core of the Swedish syllabus for English (Skolverket, 2011a). The syllabus emphasizes all-round communicative skills for the students to develop ability, desire, and confidence to use English in different contexts. The Swedish National Curriculum (Skolverket, 2011b) also states that students in the English subject should be given the opportunity to develop their ability to interact in different situations. The subject should further aim to improve the students’ correctness when speaking and writing in English as well as their ability to express themselves with variety and complexity. The core content for English 5 requires the use of different texts, used for different purposes, as well as various listening and reading contexts (Skolverket, 2011a). Thus, since the lyrics are a vital part
of songs, different songs can be used to increase the variety of text types in the classroom.
Additionally, in the Swedish National Curriculum, the Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket) argues for different cultural forms to be used in the teaching content, to achieve knowledge, insight, and pleasure in the learning of English. The agency further values giving students the opportunity to gain stimulation from cultural experiences and to develop a feeling for aesthetic values (Skolverket, 2011b, p.8). Songs could be a useful tool to reach these purposes. Further, according to the Swedish National Curriculum (Skolverket, 2011b), the school should also stimulate the students’ creativity, curiosity, and self-confidence. Since songs can be used to increase motivation in the classroom (Toscano-Fuentes, 2016), one could reason that the increased motivation in turn might affect the learners’ creativity, curiosity, and self-confidence, as a result of a more positive and motivated attitude towards school. Moreover, according to a study from Skolverket (2019), roughly 25% of Swedish students in grade 7-9 and 18% of the upper secondary students never or rarely enjoy going to school (p.55). The level of stress has further increased among students and four out of ten teachers always or often experience stress in their working environment (p.92). Therefore, increased motivation and self-confidence might be of great use in the Swedish classroom, and the teacher might be able to achieve both with the help of songs. To sum it up, vocabulary is an essential part of second language vocabulary acquisition, and by applying incidental vocabulary learning in the classroom, it may lead to a deeper learning and more sufficient retention among learners. Implementing the use of songs in the English classroom, and therefore engaging parts of the brain that may contribute and facilitate the vocabulary learning, could be helpful in the vocabulary acquisition context. Finally, the Swedish steering documents call for different learning contexts in the classroom as well as preconditions to develop a varied and complex language. However, the syllabus for English does not mention songs or music explicitly. Neither does the above-mentioned research describe to what extent songs can improve the four language skills which are required in the syllabus. Based on the combination of these factors, this paper focuses on the effects of songs on incidental vocabulary learning, in addition to other possible advantages when using songs as an educational tool, in the ESL classroom.
All research found in this paper will be discussed in relation to a Swedish upper secondary context; therefore, the content of the Swedish steering documents is of great importance. In Sweden, English is not an official language, but it is taught in school, second to Swedish. In the research used for this paper, the terms EFL (English as a foreign language), ESL (English as a second
language), and L2 (second language) are used frequently. EFL and ESL are often used interchangeably in second language research (Nayar, 1997). However, in this paper, the term ESL will be used as an umbrella term for learners of English as a second language. The other two terms, L2 and EFL, are only used in reference to the investigated studies based on which term the authors use in their articles. Furthermore, all mentions of the term “songs” includes music with lyrics, not instrumental music.
2. Aim and Research Questions
The Swedish syllabus for English requires a variety in listening and reading contexts for the learners. A variety of texts exposes the learners to different types of vocabulary, which is of great importance in second language acquisition. Therefore, this study aims to examine present research about incidental vocabulary acquisition in relation to the use of songs in the ESL classroom, in addition to other possible benefits of learning through songs for ESL learners. Further, the purpose is to relate the findings to a Swedish upper secondary school context for learners of English. The research builds on various studies where songs are used as an educational tool in the ESL classroom. Based on this, the research questions for this paper are formulated as follows:
• To what extent can the use of songs in the ESL classroom stimulate incidental vocabulary learning?
This study included a combination of different approaches to literature research. The basis has been databases and literature available to students at Malmö University. Some sources have been found through other platforms as well, such as Google Scholar, but this worked mainly as a source of inspiration.
3.1 Search Delimitations
I began my search quite broadly with the key terms “music” and “language acquisition or language learning”, combined with “EFL or English as a foreign language or English language learner ESL or English as a second language”. This only resulted in a single result on Malmö University’s search platform Libsearch. However, when combining these key terms in different ways on the databases ERC (Education Research Complete) and ERIC (through EBSCO), up to 693 results showed, which instead required a narrower approach. Consequently, “music” turned into music with text, such as “songs” and “lyrics”, and “language acquisition” turned into “vocabulary” and thereafter “incidental vocabulary”. This narrowing process occurred alongside my own increased in depth understanding of related research. Furthermore, as the results became more reasonable to handle, the decision of what to include and exclude became relevant. At last, nine research articles were used in the synthesis, in order to answer both research questions for this paper (see Table 1).
3.2 Inclusion Criteria
In order to create a research basis that is as relevant as possible in a Swedish school context, both English as a Foreign Language (EFL) and English as a Second Language (ESL) were included as search terms. However, only studies performed in a second language setting were used. Further, since the research questions in this study aim at upper secondary students in Sweden, only studies performed on intermediate or advanced learners of English were included. Moreover, all material is peer reviewed, and I decided to use material that has been published within the last 20 years (2000–2020) to maintain a high reliability in the synthesis of this study. Nevertheless, all articles apart from one (Li and Brand, 2009) have been published within the last 10 years.
3.3 Exclusion criteria
The research focus for this paper is mainly vocabulary learning; therefore, only articles regarding music with lyrics (songs) were used, and instrumental music was excluded. Moreover, studies involving beginner learners were excluded to make the findings as reliable and transferable as possible to Swedish upper secondary students.
Table 1: Research Basis
Area of Research
Songs and incidental vocabulary acquisition
Other benefits of using songs in the ESL classroom
This section will present an overview of relevant research regarding the research questions for this paper. First, summaries of the research articles will be provided, and second these articles will be compared to each other to answer the research questions for this paper. Lastly, a discussion will follow about the research findings and their relation to the Swedish educational context.
4.1 Review of research on the use of songs in ESL classroomsSeveral studies investigate and discuss possible advantages of using songs as an instructional tool in the ESL classroom. For example, in “Effectiveness of music on vocabulary acquisition, language usage, and meaning for mainland Chinese ESL learners,” Li and Brand (2009) argue for an increased effectiveness in the ESL classroom when using song-based instructions as an educational tool. Their study is made on Chinese university students who are learning English at an advanced level. The participants were divided into three groups with different amounts of song exposure in the received instruction form: a complete song-based instruction, a non-song-based instruction, and a mix of song based and non-song-based instruction. The researchers investigated the learners’ vocabulary acquisition, language usage, and meaning through pre-tests and post-tests performed by the learners. Their results show a remarkable improvement in the given areas for the group who received song-based instructions, in relation to the other groups, in addition to increased motivation among the learners. However, the non-song-based instructions led to least improvement. Li and Brand (2009) conclude that song-based instructions are a useful tool in the ESL classroom, in terms of achievement as well as student attitudes.
In their article “Incidental vocabulary learning through listening to songs,” Pavia et al. (2019) state that repeated listening to songs has positive effects on vocabulary gains in second language learning. This assumption is based on their study in which EFL learners, who had studied English for a minimum of five years, performed vocabulary tests before and after a period of pop song-inspired teaching. Regarding the retention of vocabulary, three post-tests were made: one test in connection with the teaching period, and two delayed tests after four, respectively five weeks. Two songs were used and listened to a different number of times, which meant pre- and post-tests for each song. Further, when analyzing the tests, the authors investigated the development of three types of vocabulary knowledge: spoken-form recognition, form meaning connection, and collocation recognition. Additionally, they observed the relationship between the number of target words in
the song lyrics in relation to the learners’ vocabulary gains. The results show more gain in all types of vocabulary knowledge when implementing the songs in the classroom, compared to the control groups who did not receive songs as a part of their teaching. Consequently, the authors claim that a frequency of exposure to songs in the EFL classroom leads to improved vocabulary acquisition and retention.
In the study “‘The Song of Words’: Teaching Multi-Word Units with Songs,” Tomczak and Lew (2019) claim that the use of songs in ESL teaching improves learning of multi-word units in a long perspective. The study is performed on intermediate learners of English from Poland through vocabulary tests and questionnaires. The learners fulfilled a pre-test, immediate post-test, and a delayed post-test, and these tests were compared to a control group who did not receive songs as a part of their teaching. The results of the study show that the song group could recall the words more successfully than the non-song group, both at the immediate post-test and at the delayed post-test, which was performed one week after. Therefore, the authors argue that multi-word units seem to retain better in learners’ memory when taught through songs.
Similar findings are made by Akbary et al. (2018), who examine the extent to which different songs are suitable for teaching phrasal verbs. In their study “The value of song lyrics for teaching and learning English phrasal verbs: a corpus investigation of four music genres,” they argue that music lyrics is a good source for both explicit and implicit learning of phrasal verbs. However, they distinguish the following music genres from each other: Hip-Hop, Metal, Pop, and Rock. They claim that Hip-Hop lyrics offer the most variety when it comes to learning phrasal verbs, while the Rock genre offers the least variety. The authors continuously emphasize the need for the exposure to songs in the ESL context since most exposure to English, according to them, is limited to classic classroom material. Additionally, they argue that most learners have a natural appeal to media, such as songs, and listen to it even outside the classroom. Consequently, the authors claim that songs could be highly useful when teaching phrasal verbs.
The use of pop songs is further investigated by Shakerian et al. (2016) in their article “Investigating the role of pop songs on vocabulary recall, attitude and retention of Iranian EFL learners: The case of gender.” They state that pop songs should be used in the EFL classroom to improve vocabulary learning and retention. In their study, the researchers divided 60 learners, consisting of an equal amount males and females, into two groups: a musical group and a non-musical group. These groups performed vocabulary tests and attitude questionnaires before and after a period of
teaching, as well as a one-month delayed vocabulary test. The findings show an increased achievement in acquisition and retention of vocabulary in the musical group. Additionally, the musical group had more positive attitudes and confidence in their language usage compared to the non-musical group. Furthermore, the authors noticed a decrease in stress and anxiety among the students in the musical group classroom. Lastly, the students from the musical group were, according to the researchers, more attentive to the lyrics and to learning new vocabulary, as well as more interested in the given feedback. Based on these findings, Shakerian et al. (2016) insist on song based EFL classrooms to be useful in order to improve vocabulary learning and retention, as well as student attitudes.
When using songs as an educational tool for vocabulary acquisition for Indonesian EFL students, Lestari and Hardiyanti (2020) argue that slow beat songs are the most useful. The participants of their study are four university students from Indonesia and the data was collected through qualitative interviews with all four of the students. The authors divide their findings into three areas: preferred tempo of songs, reasons for using in vocabulary learning, and strategies employed by the learners when learning through English songs. Regarding the preferred tempo, the participants of the study preferred slow beat songs to learn new vocabulary. Furthermore, the learners mentioned four different reasons for why they appreciated using songs in vocabulary learning. First, they valued the authentic exposure to English words. Second, they enjoyed the representations of feelings and emotions within the songs, and third, they appreciated the joy in learning through songs. Lastly, the authors emphasize that students improved in vocabulary retention. Regarding the strategies used when learning through songs, the learners had their individual solutions, but all learners were active in some way when listening. In conclusion, Lestari and Hardiyanti (2020) recommend using slow beat songs in EFL teaching, to promote vocabulary learning, retention, and joy, in the classroom.
Songs as a pedagogical tool are further investigated in “The EFL Teachers’ and Students’ Attitudes towards the Use of Songs in Learning English,” in which Al-afeshat and Baniabdelrahman (2020) present evidence of a high pedagogical value from using songs in the ESL classroom. The researchers gathered information through attitude questionnaires filled in by randomly selected sixth grade students and teachers. Their main findings show positive attitudes towards songs in the classroom among both learners and teachers. Furthermore, the authors found that this teaching approach can improve the students’ speaking and listening skills, as well as their motivation and joy in the EFL classroom. However, based on their results, the authors insist on the responsibility
of the teachers to successfully include songs in the learning process. Implementing different and interesting techniques in the song-based teaching is incredibly important, according to Al-afeshat and Baniabdelrahman (2020). For the best result, they argue that the teaching content should be based on the learners’ interests, age, and curriculum design. Therefore, the authors claim that songs should be used as a pedagogical tool in the classroom, proceeding from the learners’ interests and language levels.
Other advantages, apart from vocabulary acquisition and attitudes, are also present in the research about songs in the ESL classroom. In “The effect of English verbal songs on connected speech aspects of adult English learners’ speech production,” Ashtiani and Zafarghandi (2015) argue that singing songs in the ESL classroom can lead to a remarkable improvement regarding speech production. The authors base their study on an assumption that almost all learners possess a musical intelligence which can be of use when acquiring oral language capacities. In their own study, Ashtiani and Zafarghandi (2015) investigate the difference in oral capacity between two groups; one of the groups received songs in their instructions, and the other group did not receive any musical instructions at all. The 40 participants were adult Iranian male learners of English between 18 and 23 years old, and they all performed an oral test before and after the period of teaching. The results show a clear advantage for the musical group regarding speech and pronunciation, in addition to reduced stress and increased unison among the learners. Consequently, the researchers argue that singing songs in the ESL classroom generally have positive effects on learners’ oral ability and that this educational tool beneficially could replace traditional methods of teaching pronunciation.
On the other hand, in the article “The Effects of Singing in English on the Speech Fluency of Turkish Teenagers Learning English as a Foreign Language,” Gürsoy and Karakas (2018) imply that singing does not necessarily affect speech fluency positively. They performed their study on 10 Turkish high school students who received two songs every week for a period of five weeks. Further, the researchers analyzed speech samples from the learners, investigating speech fluency before and after the song-based teaching period. In their findings, there is no clear connection between singing and improvement in speech fluency in the Turkish EFL classroom. However, the authors state possible reasons for the unexpected result: First, the conditions for the study were not completely controlled, and second, the authors could not ensure that the participants had followed the instructions thoroughly. Speaking anxiety is also mentioned as a possible misleading factor, as well as unsuitable songs in regard to the participants’ age and level of English.
Nevertheless, Gürsoy and Karakas (2018) do not discern any correlations between songs in the EFL classroom and improved speech fluency.
4.2 Effects of Songs in the ESL Classroom
Generally, most of the research found in this study agree on songs being a useful educational tool, but for somewhat different reasons. In this paper, the key aspects of research related to songs in the classroom are incidental vocabulary acquisition and retention; in addition, other potential benefits of songs in the classroom were investigated. Three additional beneficial areas have been discovered: attitudes, classroom environment, and oral production.
4.2.1 Incidental Vocabulary Acquisition and Retention of Words
Li and Brand (2009), Akbary et al. (2018), and Shakerian et al. (2016) commonly agree on a positive correlation between songs in the ESL classroom and improvement regarding incidental vocabulary acquisition. However, Li and Brand (2009) do not present evidence of vocabulary acquisition improvement specifically; it is one of three parts in their measurement of improved achievement— the other two parts being language usage and meaning. Nevertheless, their results show increased performance among the students regarding all these areas. Based on these studies, it is implied that including songs in the ESL classroom is a helpful tool to promote incidental vocabulary acquisition. Furthermore, the study performed by Akbary et al. (2018) has a different approach compared to Li and Brand (2009) and Shakerian et al. (2016). They did not investigate learners’ response to songs; instead, they examined the lyrics independently and looked at what capacity they could offer depending on music genre. In particular, they observed the occurrence of phrasal verbs in Hip-Hop, Metal, Pop, and Rock music. In this respect, the variety in Hip-Hop lyrics offer the most useful basis (p.348). Similar to Li and Brand (2009) and Shakerian et al. (2016), they find songs in the classroom to be a useful educational tool, but with a specific focus on the acquisition of phrasal verbs. Tomczak and Lew (2019) also have a specific focus in their article, but on the acquisition of multi-word units. Similar to aforementioned studies, Tomczak and Lew (2019) agree on song’s positive effects on learning. Through the findings of these studies, it is evident that the language used in songs can provide valuable learning opportunities regarding exposure to varied and useful vocabulary. Even though the authors have had different aims with their investigations and experiments, they have found good use of song lyrics for their different purposes.
Beyond acquiring vocabulary, some researchers also investigated whether the vocabulary knowledge maintains after a period of time. They examined the so-called vocabulary retention. Pavia et al. (2019) investigated the effects of songs on three types of vocabulary knowledge— spoken-form recognition, form meaning connection, and collocation recognition—both immediately after the experimental period, and through a posttest after four weeks, for the retention of vocabulary to be central. Shakerian et al. (2016) also arranged a vocabulary post-test after one month for the learners to measure the retention of their incidental vocabulary acquisition. Both groups of researchers agree on songs’ positive effects on the retention of vocabulary. Additionally, in line with Li and Brand (2009) and Shakerian et al. (2016), Pavia et al. (2019) argue for a positive relationship between listening to songs and incidental vocabulary acquisition in general. However, they further emphasize the value of listening to the songs several times to stimulate the incidental vocabulary learning even more (p.761-762). Tomczak and Lew’s (2019) results also show an improved retention of the multi-word units for the song group in their study. This is further confirmed by Lestari and Hardiyanti (2020) who insist that songs affect both vocabulary acquisition and retention in a positive way, although they further emphasize an increased improvement when using slow beat songs in particular (p.99).
Hence, incidental vocabulary acquisition through songs seems to have a long-term effect for ESL learners. However, some techniques may improve the vocabulary acquisition and retention even more, such as listening to the same song repeatedly (Pavia et al., 2019, p.761) or listening to slow-beat songs in particular, to facilitate the intake of new words (Tomczak & Lew, 2019, p.99). Nevertheless, the improvement is extensive according to all mentioned studies.
4.2.2 Attitudes, Classroom Environment, and Oral Production
Regarding other benefits of songs in the classroom, Li and Brand (2009) and Shakerian et al. (2016) examined the use of songs and its effects on attitudes in the classroom. Li and Brand (2009) claim that song-based instructions lead to increased motivation among the students (p.80). Shakerian et al. (2009) additionally present results that show more positive student attitudes and confidence in language usage because of song-based teaching (p.125-126). Positive attitudes towards songs in the classroom is further confirmed by Al-afeshat and Banibdelrahman’s (2020) findings, where attitudes from both students and teachers were investigated. They also agree on an increased motivation among the students (p.854).
Moreover, Al-efeshat and Banibdelrahman (2020) emphasize the positive effects on the classroom environment that derive from using songs as an educational tool. More exactly, they argue that this method leads to increased joy in the classroom, provided that the songs proceed from the learners’ interests and level of language (p.854). Lestari and Hardiyanti (2020) also underline a more joyful classroom when using songs as a part of the teaching (p.100). In the attitude questionnaires, provided by Shakerian et al. (2016), the results also indicate a decrease in stress and anxiety in the classroom, according to the learners’ experiences (p.125).
Lastly, some researchers also investigated whether the use of songs affect the oral production of ESL learners. In this respect, Ashtiani and Zafarghandi (2015) argue for a remarkable improvement regarding speech production as a result of song-based ESL teaching. In their study, the group that received musical instructions performed significantly better on the posttest, compared to the non-musical group (p.218). The test included tasks for reading aloud and speaking, observing the pronunciation of the learners. On the other hand, Gürsoy and Karakas (2018) did not observe any improvement in speech fluency for their participants after a period of song-centered teaching. Although the authors found possible explanations to their unexpected result, no conclusions about songs in the ESL classroom and improved speech fluency could be drawn from their study. Based on these findings, there seems to be a significant relationship between songs in the ESL classroom and a more positive atmosphere. In particular, the students’ and teachers’ attitudes appear to improve with song-based teaching, in addition to the motivation of the students and the overall joy in the classroom. Additionally, it is evident that the use of songs consequently leads to decreased stress and anxiety among the students. However, the studies also point out that the use of songs must proceed from the learners’ level of language and interests, in order to promote development. However, the effect of songs on oral production is debatable. Results show both remarkable improvement in speech fluency and no registered improvement at all.
Even though some disagreement is present regarding the effects of songs on speech fluency, most researchers embrace the song-based teaching for many other reasons. In this section of the paper, these results will be discussed in relation to a Swedish educational context and to the major theoretical aspects mentioned in the introduction.
To begin with, the researchers were unified regarding the positive effects of songs on incidental vocabulary acquisition and retention. Fonsesca-Mora (2016) argued for music to improve the memory of the learners in addition to aiding structures, pronunciation, and vocabulary acquisition. Regarding memory, its improvement could be compared to the evidence of increased retention of vocabulary—which was proved by Pavia et al. (2019), Shakerian et al. (2016), Lestari and Hardiyanti (2020), and Tomczak and Lew (2019). All of these researchers performed delayed vocabulary tests which indicated that learners who had received songs in their teaching also remembered their new words better. However, regarding vocabulary acquisition, the focus of this paper was to examine incidental vocabulary acquisition in particular, which the researchers (Li & Brand, 2009; Akbary et al., 2018; Tomczak & Lew, 2019; Lestari & Hardiyanti) showed to improve with the help of songs. It is, as mentioned earlier, also required by the syllabus for English (Skolverket, 2011a) that different kinds of texts and contexts are used for listening and reading (p.1). The investigations made by Akbary et al. (2018) and Tomczak and Lew (2019) are therefore valuable since they demonstrate the great variety of vocabulary present in different song genres. Thus, songs include a varied vocabulary which can be developing for learners without intentional learning. Furthermore, Toscano-Fuentes (2016) claimed that the pedagogical use of songs would aid the development of listening, speaking, reading, and writing, which are cornerstones in the Swedish syllabus for English (Skolverket, 2011a). However, since the reviewed studies’ results only show a connection between songs and improved incidental vocabulary learning, it cannot be ensured that it further leads to improvement in listening, reading, and writing for the students. However, the literature review in this paper has indicated that songs could be a strong support in improving these skills because of the improved vocabulary acquisition and retention of words. Alderson (2006) further agreed that an increased vocabulary additionally increased the results on other language tests beyond vocabulary, which is another indicator that songs could be a contributing factor in improving reading, writing, and listening skills.
Moreover, the research has presented evidence for a more positive classroom environment (Al-efeshat & Baniabdelrahman, 2020; Lestari & Hardiyanti, 2020; Li and Brand, 2009; Shakerian et al., 2016), and Skolverket (2019) presented evidence about a high percentage of students who did not enjoy going to school. Further, they showed that both students and teachers experienced a high degree of stress in grade 7-9 and upper secondary school in Sweden. If songs contribute to a more pleasant classroom environment, it might further increase the willingness to attend lessons, and over time—joy to attend school. Further, Shakerian et al. (2016) revealed that the use of songs in their study led to decreased stress and anxiety among the students, which is valuable to create an enjoyable classroom atmosphere. Finally, according to Al-efeshat and Baniabdelrahman (2020), teachers also enjoyed the use of songs in their teaching, which could improve the working environment for the educators as well as the learners.
Furthermore, both Koelsh (2013) and Fonsesca-Mora (2016) presented several advantages regarding the relationship between music and language. Although the advantages mentioned by Fonsesca-Mora (2016) did not include songs specifically, many of them could be found in the results of the studies used in this paper. For example, Fonsesca-Mora (2016) emphasized the effects of music on group cohesion and health. This could be related to the results of more positive attitudes among students by Li and Brand (2009), Shakerian et al. (2016), Lestari and Hardiyanti (2020), and efeshat and Baniabdelrahman (2020). Additionally, Shakerian et al. (2016) and Al-efeshat and Baniabdelrahman (2020) presented evidence that song-based teaching decreases the learners’ stress and anxiety in the classroom, which could be an indicator of increased health. Furthermore, Lestari and Hardiyanti (2020) showed how the use of songs led to increased joy in the classroom, which also was confirmed by Al-efeshat and Baniabdelrahman (2020). Consequently, the research shows that by adding music to the texts that are provided in the ESL classroom (in other words, using songs), the students’ wellbeing will increase. This finding is in line with the Swedish National Curriculum (Skolverket, 2011b), which requires that a positive learning environment should be created in the classroom to strengthen the learners’ self-confidence and their vision of the future (p.5).
As previously mentioned, the syllabus for English (Skolverket, 2011a) further emphasizes all-round communicative skills to promote ability, desire to learn, and confidence among the students when using English in different contexts. The researchers disagreed regarding the effects of songs on oral production, which is an important factor of communicative skills. Ashtiani and Zafarghandi (2015) did however argue for a clear relationship between using songs and improving
pronunciation, whereas Gürsoy and Karakas (2018) presented several factors that could be misleading in their study that denied correlations between the use of songs and improved oral ability. However, supposing that an increased vocabulary and retention of words, in addition to an improved attitude and classroom environment, also counts as all-round communicative skills, one could draw a line between songs and the increased ability, desire to learn, and confidence in the ESL classroom. Furthermore, the impact of songs on the learners’ motivation, which was emphasized by Toscano-Fuentes (2016) and Fonsesca-Mora (2016), was highlighted by Li and Brand (2009) and Al-efeshat and Baniabdelrahman (2020). This is also in line with the Swedish National Curriculum (Skolverket, 2011b), which stresses the importance of positive student attitudes and self-confidence among the learners (p.5).
As stated earlier, the implicit approach is a part of cognitive learning theories since it is driven by the understanding that new words are acquired unconsciously. However, this is said to occur without any influence of teaching (McCarthy et al., 2008), which would make the teachers’ role relatively meaningless. In contrast, most studies in this paper showed that deliberate choices from the teachers were needed to optimize the effects of the songs. For example, Lestari and Hardiyanti (2020) presented evidence of slow-beat songs to outperform other types of songs, and Al-efeshat and Baniabdelrahman (2020) emphasized the need of basing the content on the learners’ interests and language levels. Thus, the teachers need to make intentional choices for how they use the songs in their teaching, and for what purpose, for development to take place. However, as Ahmad (2012) stated, the learning should still be implicit for the learners for it to count as incidental learning, but the teachers must be aware of how they implement the songs in their lesson planning. Furthermore, the significance of contexts around the songs are more in alignment with interactionist and sociocultural theories, but none of the researchers in this paper emphasized this type of collaborative teaching method (O’Keeffe, 2012). The main focus for the researchers has been to investigate songs and their effects on teaching, not so much on the surrounding context.
Finally, Fonsesca-Mora (2016) also emphasized that the music itself does not improve anything without the teachers’ deliberate choices in how the music is used in the classroom. This is agreed upon by Al-efeshat and Baniabdelrahman (2020), who stressed the importance for teachers to base songs, and content in general, on the learners’ interests and levels of language for development to take place (p.854). Additionally, the Swedish National Curriculum (Skolverket, 2011b) clearly states that teachers should “take as the starting point each individual student’s needs, circumstances, experiences and thinking” (p.9), which is a clear indicator of how important it is to examine each
individual group of learners to plan a rewarding content. The Swedish National Curriculum (Skolverket, 2011b) further requires that the students should be given the opportunity to influence their education (p.11). Thus, for learning to take place, one could argue that the lesson plan needs to be deliberately constructed according to which one of the four skills (listening, speaking, reading & writing) the teacher aims to develop. Regarding the listening skill, the improvement seems obvious due to the extent of listening and repeated exposure to English language and words. However, the disagreement between Ashtiani and Zafarghandi (2015) and Gürsoy and Karakas (2018) might imply that also speaking could be improved as a result of song-based teaching if suitable tasks are provided. Furthermore, since the participants of Lestari and Hardiyanti’s (2020) study valued an active listening and made their own notetaking to increase learning, one might discover that reading and writing would improve more if the lyrics and specific words were provided when listening to the songs. For example, the students could be asked to create own texts with the words from the songs, or they could analyze and interpret lyrics in relation to their own experiences, thoughts, and feelings. If the students further would discuss these interpretations with each other, also the oral production would be challenged since they would need to speak from own experience and therefore internalize their vocabulary to express themselves.
The importance of vocabulary in second language acquisition is in many ways implied by researchers within the area. However, the learning procedure can take many shapes. In this paper, the aim was to examine existing research about incidental vocabulary acquisition using songs; in addition, to support the use of songs in language learning, other possible benefits of learning through songs in the ESL classroom were investigated. Based on the findings in this paper, several conclusions can be drawn. First, songs are presented as a helpful educational tool to promote incidental vocabulary learning and retention in the ESL classroom. Second, the use of songs seems to improve the attitudes among both learners and teachers by increasing motivation and joy. Third, the enhanced classroom atmosphere decreases the level of anxiety and stress among learners. Regarding the Swedish context, this paper has provided strong support for using songs to improve the skills required in the syllabus for English; further, the increased classroom environment could be a contributing factor for Swedish students’ willingness to attend school. Nevertheless, the teachers’ role is vital for the songs to be implemented in a way that leads to development for each individual group of learners; additionally, a deliberate implementation of songs in the lesson plans might provide a solid basis for an improvement of listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills. However, the limitations of this study must also be taken into consideration. For instance, none of the reviewed articles were conducted in Sweden, which naturally complicates the comparison to the Swedish ESL classroom and indicates a research gap. Even though the studies only included intermediate or advanced learners of English, the transferability to a Swedish upper secondary context could be affected by other factors such as a different culture or educational system. Finally, based on the findings and conclusions of this paper, additional research is needed about the use of songs in an ESL classroom in Sweden. Studies performed in a Swedish upper secondary classroom would offer more exact and reliable results about the benefits of using songs in a Swedish context. Moreover, experiments of specific tasks and lesson plans in relation to the use of songs would be interesting to investigate in order to examine to what extent the four skills can be improved and how well they are connected to the increased vocabulary acquisition.
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