Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks with Musical.ly

In the digital world, you can’t get too comfortable with the same set of apps for too long because there will always be new ones to check out. If you don’t look around, you may miss out on a cool tool that packs instructional potential.

I’ve known about musical.ly for a while (Android users click here), but it’s not an app that I’ve promoted for language learning…until now. If you’re not familiar with what they call “the world’s largest creative platform,” then watch a short tutorial. There are many how-to videos posted on YouTube, and its seems the majority are created by teens. I thought young Ryleighsmiley321 did a good job with her tutorial How I Make Musical.lys. She’s has a friendly, natural camera presence. She gives tips that puts creators in the “in crowd,” like how to incorporate hand motions and move the camera at different angles.

So what is it? Musical.ly is most popular for letting users lip sync songs or short conversations. See a compilation of funny musical.lys. Creators can upload original videos for others to make use of. Language learners can follow popular creators or search in genres including music, comedy, and talent (like magic). A song can be trimmed to a few lines. A dialog may be as short as 2-4 lines. The process of making a musical.ly forces you to say the lines multiple times and act out the words to make them your own. Sound familiar? We teachers have led a lot of listen-repeat exercises and taught our students about the shadowing technique. Musical.ly promotes this kind of practice…in a really fun, dynamic way.

The tricky part for non-native speakers is to know the exact words to say. Full captions aren’t available. If students choose a song, they should be able to find the lyrics online. If it’s an original monologue or conversation, you may need to provide the script. Here’s humorous musical.ly about a group project that’s about 15 seconds long by Kyle Exum: click to view. Imagine having a whole class of students doing the same clip. They would individually and collectively learn the script to the point where their acting became believable.

Once you select a musical.ly to work with, you can record and pause as needed and you can also select the speed at which to speak. As Ryleigh demonstrates in her tutorial, you can record in a slow speed and playback will appear normal. This is perfect for a language learner who’s not ready to speak at the same rate as a native speaker.

We can encourage ELLs to record for fun, but they could also record and share. Sharing among classmates encourages support and feedback. Sharing doesn’t have to be done publicly. The only reason I allowed my own daughter to use musical.ly was because of the privacy features. She has a whole library of private musical.lys (and I admit I find them amusing). Good features on this app:

  • You can have a private account and keep your videos private.
  • You can have a public account and choose to keep certain videos private.
  • You can share videos through email, texting, and social media. Share as much or as little as you want.

Tips for teachers considering musical.ly:

  1. Allow students the chance to gain comfort with the platform. Begin by watching different people performing the same clip. Encourage comments. There are many who have poked fun at having beauty on one’s face: click to watch a musical.ly by Official Slayer. (“Chloe, what is on your face?” “Um, beauty.”) After watching others, students may have more courage to try it themselves.
  2. Consider pairing students up for collaboration. Here are musical.lys for one or two actors:
    Teacher-student exchange (Holly H)
    Couple Drama (nathantriska)
  3. Recommend musical.lys with very small amounts of text.
    Useless Guitar Lesson (Lincoln Hoppe)
    Miss America (Drea Knowsbest)
  4. Remind students that they can record and edit. They can also record at a slow speed.
  5. Have students submit links to you so that you can play everything from one device.

Have you had ELLs create musical.lys? Got any to recommend?

Photo credit: Bag, Leather, Goods, Accessories by Mieke59. Retrieved from the Public Domain at https://pixabay.com/en/dog-pets-bordeaux-dog-animal-2082484/.

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