Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Thank You For The Music

Are you an audial person or a visual? Do you know your dominant perception channel? When I was a student, psychologists liked to play with the hypothesis that each person has a dominant sense and thus learns better when using it. In brief, the hypothesis states that some people are better in perceiving visual information, others prefer listening over watching, and a large amount of people notice they understand and memorize new information better when it is supported by some specific scents or touches. The idea of the dominant channel of perception was very popular back then, but later, scientists proved it wrong and suggested to involve all possible senses in the learning and teaching process.

I have noticed that I memorize new words and expressions better when listening to songs or sounds of human speech. I still consider myself an audio-oriented learner, though I don't believe in the theory of the dominant sense any more. First, I'm myopic and since my childhood I learned not to rely on my eyes solely. Second, I love music. It is a very important part of my life. Music can easily modify my mood (some songs make me enthusiastic and others almost put me into depression), it inspires me, and once it even pushed me to learn English. My older sister was collecting vinyl records of Western rock musicians, and, when I became a teenager, I started listening to rock music, from the Beatles to Bon Jovi. It is not typical for my generation to love this kind of music. Many of my idols were already dead by the time I became their fan; nevertheless, I started hunting for lyrics (it was a pre-Google epoch), and translating everything I could find. When I was 12, I spent the whole summer vacation translating the Beatles' songs. This is how I made the major breakthrough in my second language acquisition.

My husband, who is a native Russian speaker, is fluent in English too. His success story is absolutely identical to mine. Our tastes differed slightly – he mostly listened to hard rock and heavy metal when he was a teenager, but everything else is alike: love of rock music, burning curiosity, hunger for learning more about the subject of your dreams. I know a few more people whose way to fluency in a second language arose through their passion to music.

When I started teaching Russian, the question whether my personal learning experience is reproducible arose immediately. It happens that my most successful students, the ones who have reached a high level of proficiency in Russian, have a passion for music. Their tastes are different, for example, one likes female pop singers, and another prefers brutal Russian rock bands. Yet, those students have been learning Russian with songs. They don't force themselves into studies, they enjoy music. While listening to their favorite songs, they expand their vocabulary, train their ear, and improve their pronunciation.

Recently, I've incorporated what I've learned from my language acquisition experience into my teaching technique. I've made audio materials like songs the basis of the learning process. First, I make sure that a student prefers audio materials over visual ones. Yes, I know that the hypothesis of the dominant sense may be questionable, but it worked for me. Then I explore the student's music tastes, and pick something for him or her that would match them. The first results of systematically applying this approach exceeded my most daring expectations. Not only does music help students to learn more words and phrases, it helps them to overcome a language barrier.

Have you ever had the similar experience of acquiring a new language with the help of music? Please share your experience with me!

Photo by Lars Lehmann