Why I'm Keeping a Spanish Song Journal: Using Music for Meaningful Language Learning
Music is undeniably a wonderful and effective tool for language learning at all ages. The repetitive patterns and memorable phrases can help with pronunciation and understanding the sounds of a language. Music is also a great way to connect with culture.
These are just a few of the reasons why Beautiful Mundo incorporates so much music into the weekly lesson plans. There is no denying it can get a little overwhelming when one is trying to learn so many songs week after week though. Committing these songs to our memory has many benefits, but it certainly doesn't need to happen overnight. Nor should we expect it to be that way! What really matters is that our children see us engaging positively with the music.
To be clear, I don't believe it's necessary to learn every single recommended song by heart. It's perfectly okay to play through a playlist and only sing little parts of songs here and there. In fact, it's natural for us to enjoy music this way! I often fill in the gaps by simply humming along or spinning around with the kids in my arms.
However we are able, when our kids see us engaging with the music that's playing we send the message that we both enjoy what we are hearing and find it fun to participate. We set the tone that this is both exciting and worthy of our time and energy.
One weekday afternoon I had the Beautiful Mundo for Kids V1 playlist going as background music in our playroom. Suddenly, my daughter shouted, "Mamá, it's your favorite song!" Surprised, I tuned in a little more closely and realized "Cinco pollitos" by José Luis-Orozco was playing through the speaker. I would never have considered this little rhyme my "favorite song," but after I thought about it I realized that my daughter had translated my enthusiasm when I taught it to her a couple weeks before directly into how much she believed I valued and loved it. This little interaction brought such an important thought to light for me. Learning these songs in Spanish together is creating lasting impressions on their little hearts. It's what I had set out to achieve from the beginning of this language learning journey.
The more I can internalize and commit the songs we are learning in Spanish to my long term memory, the easier it will be for me to incorporate language learning into our daily lives. When I scoop my two-year-old up into my arms and want to share a moment with him by singing a little song, my brain can readily pull "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" or "Rock-A-Bye Baby" from my memory. Here's the thing though: I really, really want to be able to do this with lullabies and rhymes in Spanish too!
Keeping a Song Journal
Writing down the song lyrics by hand in a journal gives me the opportunity to slow down and develop a more intimate relationship with the words in a particular song. It is a chance for me to practice spelling and notice the differences in how I might have pronounced the words compared to how I am hearing them sung in the songs. Simply by writing the songs down, I find I am able to remember them better, and therefore allows me to be a better leader for my children in our shared Spanish language journey.
It is a time consuming practice to be sure and may not be beneficial for everyone. For me, the extra time it takes me represents my belief that I can only teach as much as I learn.
Not to mention, my kids have been loving flipping through our little song book and reminiscing on the songs we have been learning. This is a collaborative learning effort for us after all, and I think they have been enjoying seeing our progress in a more tangible way.
Making Note Cards to Learn Songs at Bedtime
Another strategy I found beneficial for song learning came from my desire to sing lullabies in Spanish to my children at bedtime. It's the end of the day and I'm usually tired so we rely heavily on our routine to get us through to the final goodnight hug and kiss. All of my kids still each demand a song at bedtime, even my seven-year-old, and it's remained a staple in our routine. It dawned on me that this would be a great opportunity for Spanish language exposure.
The first song I incorporated into our routine was José Luis-Orozco's version of "Duérmete mi niño." I wrote the hand-wrote the lyrics down on a little card and put it on a shelf in their room just out of reach. While I was still memorizing the words, I took down the little card and took turns sitting on each of their beds with a little flashlight they got to shine for me to illuminate the words. They LOVED it. I also memorized that song very quickly having to sing it four times over every night! I think the flashlight element made "Duérmete" the only song they dreamed of requesting at night for weeks.
Inevitably, I got tired of singing this one song over and over even as I delighted in the joy they were showing me each time I sang this sweet song. Slowly, I began adding new cards to the stack on their shelf, one at a time. Now we have enough options that I'm usually not stuck singing a song more than twice in a row in one night, and I don't need to grab the lyric cards so often anymore. It has become a cherished part of our bedtime routine and they rarely request songs in English anymore. The songs in Spanish sort of naturally became the expectation for us. (Also, they knew there had never been an opportunity to hold the flashlight for any of the English songs I sing to them... mom didn't need to learn those lyrics!)
Making the Leap from Short-term to Long-term Memory
What exactly determines what we remember and what we forget? I recently came across a discussion about this in The Shallows, an eye-opening book by Nicholas Carr about the effects of the Internet on our brains. "The key to memory consolidation," he states, "is attentiveness. The sharper the attention, the sharper the memory."
When I was in college, I quite literally recorded ALL of the information from my classes into notebooks: every lecture, every video I was assigned to watch, every passage and book I was told to read, and even the pages of my textbooks. Everything I was exposed to was carefully transcribed and recorded. Something about writing it down gave me more confidence in my ability to recall it.
Writing notes was my way of processing all of the information I was receiving and my obsessiveness probably represented my desire to hold on to as much of it as possible. I couldn't have explained it at the time, but what I was trying to do was commit as much of what I was learning in college as possible to my long term memory by intensely focusing my attention.
We all have different ways and methods of internalizing information and being a compulsive note-taker certainly isn't the only way of achieving this higher level of attentiveness. I readily admit this might not be the most effective method of internalizing information either. The key here though is our attention. Whatever helps us focus our attention on something, will in turn help us sharpen our ability to recall it.
"For memory to persist the incoming information must be thoroughly and deeply processed. This is accomplished by attending to the information and associating it meaningfully and systematically with knowledge already well established in memory."
-Eric R. Kandel, author of In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind
It has been scientifically determined that reading words on paper allows our brains to participate in a deeper form of thought. It essentially allows the working memory in our brains the room it needs to avoid overstimulation because the simple black text on a
white page offers little in the way of stimuli. Reading a book allows us to enter into a state we might refer to as "deep reading" in which our brains achieve a deeper state of contemplation and can make internal connections to the information we are taking in and processing.
Carr importantly explains,"If we're unable to attend to the information in our working memory, the information lasts only as long as the neurons that hold it maintain their electric charge- a few seconds at best. Then it's gone, leaving little or no trace in the mind."
When applied to the idea of writing out song lyrics by hand, it would seem logical to conclude that this type of practice allows us to engage in a deeper form of thought, therefore increasing the likelihood that these lyrics will transfer into our long term memory.
There's no guarantee, but it's worth a shot!