Finding Harmony with Song Lyrics in Language Learning

We’ve all brought music into the classroom in some form. We also know that song lyrics are readily available online. Are there any dangers of using them? I think online lyrics are a wonderful resource, but they must be used with an understanding of the confusion they can create for language learners.

  1. Song lyrics online often have spelling and grammar mistakes. Forewarn students of this when referring them to certain sites. They might copy and paste lyrics into a temporary word document and allow the Spell and Grammar check to help them identify questionable words or phrases. If you bring lyrics into the classroom, you could test students’ proofreading skills. Identify the mistakes in the lyrics beforehand, and tell your students how many errors you’d like them to find and correct.
  2. Song lyrics in general make use of non-standard language. What stricter language teachers may call mistakes, others would call  patterns that are non-standard but acceptable in everyday speech. Song lyrics are riddled with gonna, hafta, dontcha, cos (’cause) and the like. Remind students that lyrics are meant to be sung, not read, so the written text sometimes reflects changes in speech to make it relaxed and connected when sung. You might underline instances of reduced speech and ask students to write the full words in the margins.
  3. Song lyrics “play” with language. In other words, songs are an art form, much like poetry, so the writers freely use their artistic license to play around with syntax and alter vocabulary. There might be inversion of some sort to allow a line to end on a certain word that’s easier to rhyme with. There could also be a made-up phrasal verb or altered idiom. Again, it’s something to make students aware of.
  4. Song lyrics online are not always accurate. You might use this to your advantage. In fact, you can create a copy of the lyrics to a song and deliberately change some of the words to ones that students would easily confuse with the original words. Play the song and challenge students to make their copy more accurate. For example, in Walk on By you might use these altered lines:
  • If you meet me walking down the street and I cry each time we speak
  • ‘Cause each time I see you I break up and cry
  • Foolish pride that’s all I will get
  • So let me hide the fears and sadness

Got any special ways for using song lyrics? Feel free to share your ideas.

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