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English for Specific Purposes World (ESP World)

English for Specific Purposes World

ISSN 1682-3257

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Music in the ESP Classroom

Galina Kavaliauskiene

Law University of Lithuania


Have you ever wondered what effect music has on human beings? It is almost impossible to avoid listening to music whether you choose to or not. Music fills shopping centers all over the world, escapes from peoples houses and cars, and it is all we hear on 90% of worlds radio and TV stations.

Research has shown that music can effect us whether we like what we hear or not. Some types of music make help us to relax whereas others may provoke violent reactions.

Medical staff in various medical centers have been using music for healing purposes for sometime. Music brings peace to patients bodies and their minds. Gentle harp music has been more effective than tranquilizers or sleeping pills such music is known to have been played to patients before the major operations. Moreover, according to some psychiatrists, music can alter states of mind it either heals or can have the opposite effect.

All music is thought to be divided into three types: low-energy music, high-energy music, and prayerful music. Low-energy music makes a person feel bad. Rock music is thought to belong to this category: in many cases it makes people feel hatred instead of love. Such music acts like a drug - a body gets addicted to the beat, and a need for louder beat develops. High-energy music makes a person feel better because it helps to normalize a heart beat. Bach as well as some other classical music is exceptionally high-energy music. Prayerful music has the most healing effect of all. Organ music which is played during church services brings peace to peoples minds.

Majority of ESP learners admit they listen to different kinds of music while doing their homework. As musical tastes of people are rather subjective, some prefer to have a soft background music on while others are just satisfied by what is broadcast by local radio or TV stations.

According to the Multiple Intelligence (MI) theory, there are eight intelligences that people possess, although not all of them are equally developed. One of the intelligences is known as a musical one. It involves being able to sense melody, rhythm, and pitch, and includes the ability to recognize songs and other musical compositions, to reproduce them with a different degree of perfection as well as improvise in simple melodies.

In our earlier work on application ofMI theory to teaching English (Brazis, Kavaliauskiene, 2000), we researched the learners intelligences by administering an appropriate inventory. The learners scored the highest in musical and bodily-kinesthetic intelligences. Thus, students preference for ways ofprocessing information has to be employed to learners advantage in learning languages. Background music played during pair work in the ESP classroomor testing time reduces learners anxiety, helps them relax, increases their self-esteem, i.e. proves psychologically beneficial.

In this article I would like to advocate potentially useful and enjoyable activities which include songs and are not perceived by learners as part of formal lessons. Songs can be viewed as language play, which has an important role in enabling L2 learners to rehearse and internalize new forms in a safe manner (Cook, 2000).

Pair Running Dictation

  • GOALS: listening comprehension, writing, spelling, learners interaction & team-work, enhancing motivation, using musical intelligence to language acquisition
  • LEVEL: any
  • LANGUAGE FOCUS: pronunciation, enunciation, vocabulary, grammar structures, etc.
  • PREPARATION: phonemic or Roman script
  • DELIVERY: pair / group work in class
  • TIME: from 15 min to an hour (depends on songs scope)

Write out the words of the song in phonemic script (good for highlighting features of connected speech).

Stick copies of the song on the wall.

Students work in pairs: one runs up and tries to remember one or two lines of the song, which s/he dictates to a partner coming back.

Students swap roles halfway through: reader & dictator becomes writer and vice versa.

Having finished the dictation, different pairs compare their versions.

Next, students listen to the song at least twice and check their writing.

The final stage involves:

-         comparing students written script with the song script provided by a teacher,

-         discussion of encountered difficulties, vocabulary & target structures, and finally

-         learners self-assessment.

This activity is lively and enjoyable. It could also be a competition between pairs or larger groups. I have used such songs as A Private Detective and A Gold Digger (Swan, Walter, 1993) in order to vary ways of teaching description of people.

EASIER VARIATION: words are written in Roman script.

Group Dictation

  • GOALS: listening, writing, spelling, vocabulary, learners interaction & team-work,using musical intelligence to language acquisition
  • LEVEL: any
  • LANGUAGE FOCUS: pronunciation, enunciation, vocabulary, grammar structures, etc.
  • PREPARATION: song script (for checking completed work)
  • DELIVERY: pair / group work in class
  • TIME: up to an hour

Give a general listening task and play the latest English pop-top song.

Elicit answers to the given task.

Divide students in groups of four (two pairs in a group)

Ask each pair to write down odd, and another pair even lines of the verse.

Let learners listen to the recording at least five times without stopping after each verse.

Give students some thinking time after each complete listening to compare their notes.

Checking stage involves step-by-step comparison: students read out the line they have written, then listen to this line on the tape, and argue their points.

The follow-up discussion aims to highlight encountered problems and self-assessment.

Grammar Revision Through Songs

  • GOALS: listening comprehension, writing, spelling, learners interaction & team-work, self- and peer-assessment
  • LEVEL: any
  • LANGUAGE FOCUS: wanted to revise grammar structures
  • PREPARATION: handouts with missing words
  • DELIVERY: pair / group work in class
  • TIME: from 20 to 30 minutes

Setout the listening procedure either for gist or specific information (up to you).

Learners (in pairs) confer and report to the class theirverdict.

Give each pair a song script with some words deleted.

Let students listen to the song and fill in the missing words.

Ask learners to compare their answers.

Class checking involves listening to each line and eliciting the right word.

Activity is followed up by learners self-assessment and discussion of encountered problems.

Quite often learners ask to play a song again - they sing it in class in order to memorize lyrics.


I have used the song Brighton in the Rain (lyrics by Jonathan Dykes, music by Robert Campbell, from The New Cambridge English Course, Upper-Intermediate, by M Swain & C Walter, 1993) to revise the Present Perfect. The Past Participle forms in the verse have been deleted as it is shown below:

Ive never 1 _____ to Athens, Ive never 2 ______ to Rome,

Ive always 3 _____ the Pyramids in picture books at home.

Ive never 4 _____ across the sea or 5______ inside a plane,

Ive always 6 _____ my holiday in Brighton in the rain.

Missing words:


This activity is similar to some extent to a cloze activity related to focused listening with songs and described in detail in (Yoo, 2002).

Rhyme & Phonemic Symbols

  • GOALS: listening, vocabulary, spelling, pronunciation
  • LEVEL: elementary & upwards
  • LANGUAGE FOCUS: pronunciation & enunciation
  • PREPARATION: handouts with missing words
  • DELIVERY: pair / group work in class
  • TIME: up to 30 minutes

Give a general listening task (e.g., guess the title of the song, or listen for gist).

Take the last word from each line of a song with rhymes.

Let students pairs predict what words are missing.

After listening, get students to sort the missing words into groups under appropriate phonemic symbols, e.g.




In a final stage,

-         learners compare their groupings (the whole class activity),

-         discuss problems they encountered

-         self-assess their performance.

VARIATION: includes personalization and fostering creativity.

Ask students to write another verse for the song, using similarrhythm, or target structures.

Discussion and Conclusions

There are numerous variations of the described activities, and teachers are advised to choose what best suits their learners.

Some ready-made activities using songs can be found in almost any English textbook (e.g., elementary Matters provides a classic What a Wonderful World by L. Armstrong, or Singing in the Rain, while an upper-intermediate The New Cambridge English Course includes a number of songs, e.g. Private Detective, Gold Digger, Thirty degrees, Ill survive, What Did You Learn in School Today?, etc.).

However, textbooks do not always suggest tasks or exercises to suit students needs, so it is up to the teacher to decide how to improve the listening activity, i.e. think out pre-listening, while-listening and post-listening tasks. As an alternative to textbooks songs, teachers can record top-pop songs that are often broadcast by popular radio stations. Although this will require some extra work on the teachers part, e.g. transcribing the text, thinking out the activities, etc., it will pay off in class when students hear familiar music, enjoy listening to and singing it and learna thing or two in enjoyable manner.

I would like to summarize some advantages and disadvantages of using songs in the classroom:

language practice defective English
pronunciation seems not serious to some learners
enunciation different tastes in music
increases motivation  
enjoyable activity  
humanistic approach  
usage of musical intelligence  
emotional aspect of language learning  

springboard to discussion, role-play, personalization, etc


Given and practiced the idea, learners are extremely enthusiastic about preparing their own activities using songs, which is a step in fostering their autonomy in learning.


  • Brazis, R and Kavaliauskiene, G Application of Multiple Intelligences Theory to Teaching English, in Network, A Journal for English language Teacher Education, Vol. 3, No 2, April 2000, pp. 47-51.
  • Cook, G. 2000.Language Play, Language Learning. Oxford University Press.
  • Yoo, I W Focused Listening with Songs, The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VIII, No 7, July 2002,
  • Swan, M and Walter C. 1993. The New Cambridge English Course, Upper-Intermediate, CUP.
Music in the ESP Classroom

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