Proceedings paper



Anna Fomina

Kharkiv State Pedagogical University, Kharkiv 61168, Ukraine

Song employment in foreign language acquisition can significantly enliven the teaching process, create favourable emotional atmosphere in class. The use of songs that enjoy popularity among the audience greatly raises the learners' motivation for the language acquisition. Besides that, specially selected songs lyrics can present a suitable material for teaching particular grammar structures of the language and enriching vocabulary. Folk and popular songs are an important part of any nation's culture, and thus they have a great cultural potential for language learning. That is why recently the employment of songs in foreign language acquisition is getting wider and wider. (See, for example, Murphey, 1992; Griffee, 1992, Silver, 1996). There even appear some courses of teaching foreign languages totally based on songs (e.g. Grenough, 1995).

An important reason for such active song exploitation in foreign language acquisition is the fact that songs have a special property ? they are relatively easy to remember. The problem of song melody influence on text memorization is an object for special study of psychologists, and music psychologists in particular. (See, for example, Krashen, 1985, Ginsborg, 1999 and references there)

In the present work we will consider only one aspect, connected with song utilization in foreign language acquisition, that is the influence of song melody on speech intonation memorization. This consideration is based on the results of the experiments, which were conducted with 46 students of Kharkiv's universities, Ukraine.

Intonation is an important and indispensable part of language. It can significantly change semantic loading of a phrase. Intonation systems of different languages can differ greatly from one another. Thus, a person studying a foreign language has to master not only vocabulary and grammar structures, but also intonation patterns strange for him.

The famous Russian musical critic (a philologist by education) B. V. Asafiev wrote that speech intonations, as a primary element of audio communication and a means of information transfer, is the common root of both language and music art; they are "branches of one sound stream." (Asafiev, 1965).

Nevertheless, in due course European music system moved farther away and got contrasted to speech intonation. E. Ruchyevskaya assumes that the semitone scale and the corresponding notation in music have created a barrier of qualitative distinction of melody from speech intonation. However, this barrier is absent in folk songs, the songs that have preserved the natural connection with the typical speech intonations of various intention and emotional colouring. (Ruchyevskaya, 1973).

The analysis of a number of English and American folk songs, e.g. "Red River Valley", "Shenandoah", "Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies" and others, showed almost full concurrency of the motion of the melody line and the speech intonation of the song lyrics.

Figure 1 presents the tonogramme of the text of the song "Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies", compared with its melody line. A tonogramme is a grid in which dashes and dots represent stressed and unstressed syllables. The speech intonation falling and rising at the end of the phrases are shown by upward and downward curves ( , ) or a dash with a dot, in case the last syllable in a phrase is unstressed .

Of course, if compared with speech intonations, music intonations have a wider range of tones (several octaves) with deeper differentiation and even redundancy. (While speaking we usually use the range of 4 tones of the octave to give the content of the utterance. Emotionally coloured speech can cover 6 tones). However, there seem to be a lot of concurrences in the general motion of music and speech intonations within one and the same phrase; i.e. the tendencies of speech rising and falling intonations reveal themselves in melody modulations.

The similar analysis of modern popular songs, which are often used in the English language courses, showed that this concurrence takes place far from often. See, for example, "Tom's Diner" figure 2. The melody phrase ending with the word "actor" has a falling intonation, whereas, the speech intonation in this phrase should rise before the subordinate clause "who had died while he was drinking". The subordinate clause concludes the affirmative utterance, so its speech intonation falls, though the melody line in this place rises.

So the question arises, what influence the employment of songs either with concurrent or non-concurrent melody and speech intonations can make on the formation of the correct speech intonation when learning foreign languages.

In order to test our assumption that the melody of the song influences correct or incorrect speech intonation memorization we conducted an experiment. It was held in Kharkiv National University, Ukraine, and lasted four months. 24 first-year students of Foreign Languages Department, Kharkiv National University, were offered to use 9 songs with specially designed activities, aimed at practicing particular grammar structures and vocabulary. During the lessons the students listened to each song from three to five times.

In six of the selected songs the melody line didn't differ from the speech intonation of the lyrics. But in three songs the melody deviated from the speech intonations of the lyrics, in particular, the song "Tom's Diner" (fig. 2). At the final stage of the experiment the participants were asked to reproduce some phrases from the lyrics in another context. The students' performance showed that in case of melody and speech intonation deviation, the phrases stuck in their memory with the wrong intonation imposed by the melody.

The students themselves noted that the song melody they had memorized "wronged" their speech intonation.

A year later a similar experiment was conducted in Kharkiv State Pedagogical University with another 22 first-year students of the Department of Foreign Philology. The results were the same. They allow us to conclude that there really exists a certain influence of song melody on speech intonation memorization during a foreign language learning process. We can state that quick melody memorization imposes speech intonation patterns, thus hindering the use of the correct ones.

We believe that this question requires further investigation both by music psychologists and psycholinguists. However, even now we can already suggest that, song material for teaching and developing different language skills should be carefully selected, so that the melody fully coincided with the speech intonation patterns of the lyrics.

We also believe that similar process may be observed in other languages. So, further development of the problem under consideration could help not only the English language teachers but also teachers of other languages.

I would like to acknowledge dr.T.Merkulova for fruitful discussion on the topic.


Asafiev, B.V. 1965. "Speech Intonation." - Moskva-Leningrad." (in Russian)

Ginsborg, J. 1999. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Keele, UK.

Grenough, M. 1995. "Sing it! Learn English through Songs." - McGraw-Hill

Griffee, D.T. 1992. "Songs in Action." ? Prentice Hall, Seigakuin University, Japan.

Krashen, S.D. 1985. "The Input Hypothesis" ? London: Longman.

Murphey, T. 1992. "Music and Songs" ? Oxford University Press.

Ruchyevskaya, E. 1973. "On Methods of Speech Intonation Realization and Expressiveness of its Meaning." ? Poetry and Music. Moscow: Music. (in Russian)

Silver, J. 1996. "English through Songs." ? London: Silver Songs.


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