Saturday, March 21, 2009

Music and Language Learning

After visiting AJATT last week, I've spent a lot of time on the Uzbek content I most enjoy - the music. You know how it goes... you get a song stuck in your head and you can't get it out. That means if you know what the song says, ta-da, language retention!

You can read a little bit about how it works over at Street-Smart Language Learning. Vincent quotes the NYT:
“The brain has a strong propensity to organize information and perception in patterns, and music plays into that inclination,” said Michael Thaut, a professor of music and neuroscience at Colorado State University.
What about deliberately learning with language then? Well, most English speakers have some experience with this: the ABC song. However, there are other products out there - Rapanese, Earworms and Berlitz Rush Hour come quickly to mind - that are intended to teach basic vocabulary and conversation for foreign languages using music to make it stick. And yet there are songs you want to get out of your head. I always think back to this couplet from the cheesy Rush Hour Italian:
We have a reservation - una prenotazione/
And this is our song, la nostra canzone
And then I hear it in my mind again, and again, and again. I've had somewhat less success with Earworms, though I was using it with Mandarin and regular readers know about my love-hate relationship with that product. One thing to say for Earworms, however, is that it covers a wider variety of languages than most other programs like this. I wish they made one for Uzbek.

With Uzbek, however, the listening comes easy. It was curiosity about the music videos that prompted me to give in and make an effort at studying it even though I have absolutely no practical reason to learn it. The hard part is that while I can not only hum along but even sing along for many phrases, that doesn't mean I have any idea what they mean. Still I find that the more I listen, the more I find myself going, wait a minute, I know that word. So if you're using the music and listening approach, remember, lots and lots and lots of listening. When you were a baby you took a year of listening or so to figure out mama, dada and no! So be sure to find more than five minutes a day to listen to the language you're studying.

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