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Using songs to learn English 1

Updated: Jun 19, 2021

All children love singing

Younger and Pre-School Children

Using songs has been an integral ingredient in my approach to teaching. In future posts I'll discuss using songs with older children, teenagers and adulates. Here, I'll talk about using songs with younger and pre-school children.

7-year old Malaysian girls sing and clap BINGO

For young learners the primary reason for using songs is motivation. Children respond more enthusiastically when they are enjoying themselves and songs - sometimes with actions and role play - are a great way to break up the routine of lessons, adding an element of fun and building up confidence, while learning, Above is a photo of 7-year old Malaysian Iban girls in Sarawak, Borneo, singing about a farmer who had a dog called 'BINGO", each verse they clap their hands to successively replace the letters of the word 'Bingo'. A s I do here:

Below, Borneo again, a different school, this time the children are performing the song on stage. Bingo the dog is not very 'house trained' as you'll see when he cocks up his leg against a plant! The parents loved it!

The children are developing confidence, improving their pronunciation, getting to know the vocabulary and meaning - and importantly having fun while learning.

My collection of 'Songs for Younger children) includes BINGO and other songs at a similar, simple level of English.

Album Cover

Click on the image to listen.

Of course, all the songs can be sung alone after some guidance, children can also perform them with friends.

Five Little Ducks is simple and fun for children to perform as an activity when they are together. Below 6 year old children are performing it on stage.

Learning colours becomes fun using the lovely Sing a Rainbow song.

We Can Sing A Rainbow

Red and Yellow and Pink and Green

Purple and Orange and Blue

I Can Sing a Rainbow

Sing a Rainbow

Sing a Rainbow too

Listen with your Eyes

Listen with your Heart

And sing everything you see

I can Sing a Rainbow

Sing a Rainbow

Sing along wth me.

Nursery Rhymes

An old English Nursery Rhyme
Little Bo Peep

For very young children - pre-school and even early years of school - nursery rhymes are useful. They are repetitive, have rhythm and can be used to teach basic vocabulary. If you are a parent and speak some English, they are a great way to introduce the language to your children at an early age.

For example, the ABC song is a simple, effective fun way to teach the English alphabet.

ABC Song

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y and Z Now I know my ABCs Next time won’t you sing with me

For counting, we have 1, 2, Buckle my Shoe:

1, 2, Buckle My Shoe

One, two, buckle my shoe Three, four, shut the door Five, six, pick up sticks Seven, eight, lay them straight Nine, ten, begin again.

The Grand Old Duke of York offers the prepositions, 'up' and 'down'. Do actions with your children - raise hand for up, lower hands for down. Or if you're feeling energetic, march up and down the stairs!

The Grand Old Duke of York

Oh, the grand old Duke of York, He had ten thousand men, He marched them up to the top of the hill And He marched them down again. And when they were up they were up. And when they were down they were down. And when they were only half way up, They were neither up nor down.

And of course, we have 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' I think of all my experience teaching very young children and working with non-native English teachers, 'Twinkle' has been the most sung song. The simplicity and melody have universal appeal.

One of the teachers I worked, with in Borneo, Wan Izan Noordiah, was not actually and English teacher, but very creative and we worked together producing a children's show. Eventually, she went back to mainland Malaysia. where she had little opportunity to speak English. Then one day she went into a shop and a little girl sing 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star'. Wan Izan sang along - to the shopkeeper's surprise who said (in Malay, "how come you know that song?. "it's famous, everyone knows it" she replied. ."Anyway,I worked with an Englishman, Mr Steve".

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Twinkle, twinkle, little star How I wonder what you are! Up above the world so high, Like a diamond in the sky. Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are

When the blazing sun is gone, When He nothing shines upon, When you shower your little light, Twinkle, twinkle, all the night. Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are

Don't expect Nursery Rhymes to make a lot of sense. Most of them are nonsensical! Many of them have their roots deep in history and their real meaning is hidden, often an allegory for the events, political, religious and current at the time.

For example. 'Ring-a Ring-o- Rosies' is said to refer to the Great Plague of London in 1665. The Mary in 'Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary', far from being an innocent young girl is thought to refer to the infamous Bloody Queen Mary who was fond of having her religious opponents burned at the stake. Similarly, 'Three Blind Mice' is thought to be about three dissidents who she had executed. (I actually have not included it because, as a child, I never like the thought of three poor blind mice having their tails cut off! I suppose I was a sensitive child!

Some have a violent tone e.g . in 'Oranges and Lemons' - 'Here comes a chopper to chop off your head'. Fortunately, children seem to find it funny and it's used as an action song. Kids take a lot of things in their stride! I never questioned them as a child, although I didn't really understand some of the archaic language. I remember singing or reciting 'Jack and Jill' who went up the hill to fetch a 'pail' of water. I recall asking my grandad what a 'pail' was. It's a bucket. The word 'pail' fell out use a long, long time ago - but because of the nursery rhyme I found it being used in Malaysian textbooks when I was mentoring teachers in Malaysian Borneo.

Here are some links to websites which attempt to explain the meaning behind some nursery rhymes. I find the history fascinating.

In future posts about using songs to learn English, I'll discuss songs for older children, teenagers and adults.

All songs here and more are available for free download.

Finally, it's never too early to start singing with children.

I'll leave you with a beautiful gentle lull-a-bye!

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