Study finds English songs are effective for learning vocabulary

Busan: A team of researchers conducted a quantitative meta-analysis to examine the effect that teaching with English songs has on L2 vocabulary learning in second and foreign language classrooms.

The study has been published in the ‘Language, Culture and Curriculum Journal’.

For this study, Dr Dennis Murphy Odo, an Associate Professor at Pusan National University, extracted data from 27 well-designed research investigations–comprising 28 studies and 1,864 participants–published between 1990 and 2020. Upon defining the study characteristics and effect sizes, he analyzed the data using a random-effects model.

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The findings were highly encouraging, revealing that learners who received instruction through English songs outperformed other learners by learning more L2 English vocabulary. Interestingly, songs from the pop music genre were found to be more effective at promoting L2 vocabulary than textbook songs. The appeal of pop songs might be attributed to their quality of music and their relatability to the audience.

Dr Murphy Odo also observed that students benefit most upon listening to English songs for neither too long nor too short of a duration of instruction (in the study, this is defined as being between 199 and 600 minutes).

“English teachers can now feel more confident about using songs as a complementary instructional strategy to improve their students’ English L2 vocabulary learning,” explained Dr Odo, while discussing how the findings can help students and teachers in the long run.

Dr Murphy Odo’s findings also showed that speakers of Sino-Tibetan languages (e.g., Mandarin Chinese) struggled the most to understand English songs, which may be due to the considerable linguistic difference between Sino-Tibetan languages and English.

Moreover, songs were found to be more effective for adult learners than for children, which can be attributed to adults’ higher ability to comprehend songs and greater overall background knowledge.

“These results will encourage teachers to use songs not just as a fun activity to fill time in their lessons, but also as a helpful way to reinforce learners’ knowledge of new vocabulary in English. This work can give language teachers and learners confidence that using songs in the second or foreign language learning classroom will help them to learn English vocabulary more effectively,” commented Dr Murphy Odo, summarizing the long-term implications of his work.

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