Sharyn Power-Piercey

Elizabeth Murphy



French Immersion is estimated to be Athe most effective approach available to second language teaching in the school setting” (Genesee, 1994, p 37). Nonetheless, concerns prevail with regard to students= overall oral language proficiency (Bonnar, n.d.; Cummins, 2000; Genesee; Mandin & Desrochers, 2002). During the 1980s, concern was raised over the grammatical inaccuracy of French Immersion students, a phenomenon which Lyster (n.d., as cited in Bonnar) describes as Afossilized interlanguage” (p.  4): 

These intralingual errors are caused by the students= tendency to simplify and overgeneralize the morphological rules of the French language based on what they already know [in English]Y.Since communication as opposed to accuracy was emphasized in the classroom, much of the negative transfer becomes fossilized interlanguage (p.  4).


To address this inaccuracy, some studies (e.g. Boland-Willems, Dupont, Fluette, Lentz, Maurice, & Molgat, 1988; Bonnar, 1988; Cummins, 1988; Lapkin & Carroll, 1988; Mandin & Desrochers, 1991; Marrie & Netten, 1991; Netten, 1991; Netten & Spain, 1989; Tardif, 1994) proposed various recommendations that focus primarily on attending to morphological and syntactical aspects of French, concepts which are developed in the grades one to three curricula (Boland-Willems, et al.). However, Weber and Tardif (1991, as cited in Halsall, 1998) found that French Immersion kindergarten students do not engage in any sort of grammatical analysis, and only memorize words that are significant to them in the kindergarten context. Furthermore, Boland-Willems and colleagues caution that French Immersion kindergarteners do not possess a sufficient linguistic base to begin learning any kind of formal grammar.

Krashen=s (1982) Input Hypothesis  calls for Anatural communicative inputYthat is appropriate for his/her current stage of linguistic competence” (Schütz, p 11). To develop second language oral skills at the kindergarten level, teachers should capitalize on various activities or projects focused on deepening students= knowledge of language (Cummins, 2000, p. 30). The French Immersion kindergarten language arts curriculum guide for Newfoundland and Labrador (La maternelle, 1992), suggests supplementing language modelling with Avisual and concrete support, [as well as] nonverbal aids such as gestures, mime or exaggerated intonation” (p. 46). Although these forms of input are important (Fonseca Mora, 2000; Medina, 2002), Cummins includes Aconventions of different musical and literary forms” (p. 30) among his suggestions for enhanced language development.  Since kindergarten children Aarrive in the classroomYwith many [musical] concepts already formed” (Boardman, 2002, p.11), music could effectively provide Ameaningful activities that allow for considerable interaction with peers” (Alvarez & Berg, 2002, p.127), despite the language barrier of the French language.

The focus of this paper is the use of music in second-language learning at the kindergarten level in the context of the Newfoundland and Labrador French immersion program, presented through a review of research in musical development in the young child and music research in learning and second language acquisition. A sample integrated music/second-language instructional approach will be then presented.


Musical Development in the Young Child

AMusical experiences are inextricably woven into the very fabric of infancy and childhood” (McParland, 2000, p. 1). Studies have shown that Aearly childhood musical experiences in the form of lullabies, musical crib mobiles, and most especially, musical interactions where the baby is an active participant, can aid in the development of the neural networks necessary for later music processing” (Olsho, 1984; Trehub, Bull, and Thorpe, 1984, as cited in Hodges, 2002, p. 3). Furthermore, Athe type of baby talk typically spoken to infants emphasizes pitch, timbre, dynamic inflections, and rhythm patterns in order to convey meaning” (Hodges, p. 6). Psychological and linguistic studies reveal that the interaction between music and language acquisition is activated in an infant as early as four days old (Fonesca Mora, 2000, p.148). AOpportunities, not just to hear music, but to interact in musical games and activities are critical to emotional and psychological development” (Dissanayake, 2000; Gembris & Davidson, 2002, as cited in Hodges, p. 14). Therefore, it is not surprising that Hodges deems the home environment critical to musical development in the earliest years.

Hodges (2002) provides a clear path of musical development throughout a child=s infancy and early childhood. By age five, the child can extract an underlying pulse from surface rhythm, enabling him to keep a steady beat (p. 13). Also, in melodic development, the five-year-old Ais now able to sing an entire song in the same key without modulating, with an increasing awareness of a set of pitches instead of just contour” (Ibid).  These natural developmental advances would suggest that music has a much broader effect that goes beyond the aesthetic merit of music (Persellin, 2001), which Amakes music a powerful vehicle for teachers” (McParland, 2000, p. 3).


Music and Second-Language Learning

Since kindergarten children have little or no linguistic base in the French language (Boland-Willems, et al, 1988), and musical abilities in rhythm and melody have already been developed (Hodges, 2002), using music to enhance second-language learning at the kindergarten level would appear to be beneficial.ASecond-language education is one of the disciplines that has explored the incorporation of music into its curriculum” (Lowe, 1998, p. 4). AThe literature abounds with statements regarding the positive effects of music on first and second language acquisition” (Medina, 1993, p. 5). Several studies have shown that music, and particularly songs, helps second language learners to acquire vocabulary, grammatical structures and idiomatic expressions, to improve spelling and pronunciation, to build comprehension skills, to develop the linguistic skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening, and to expand cultural knowledge (Lems, 2001, p. 1; Little, 1983; (Lowe, 1997, p.17;  Medina, 2002, p. 1). Combining language and music also Aencourages deeper processing of information, dramatically increases reading comprehension and retention, and invigorates the learning process” (McParland, 2000, p. 3).


Music use in the second language classroom is consistent with both of Krashen=s (1982) hypotheses of Comprehensible Input and Affective Filter (Medina, 2000).  The Comprehensible Input Hypothesis claims that language is acquired when students receive challenging comprehensible input that is slightly beyond their present level (Cook, n.d.; ttaber, n.d.). AIf learning is to be meaningful, then what we do in the classroom must be relevant, holistic, and authentic” (Miller, 2002, p.73). Songs are authentic, and share all of the same elements of an oral story, except that the means of conveyance is musical rather than spoken (Medina, 1993). AFurthermore, target vocabulary, grammar, routines and patterns are modeled in context” (Medina, 2002, p. 1). Songs Atend to use high frequency lyrics that have emotional content. This makes them strong candidates for word study or for reinforcing words already learned through [other] means” (Lems, 2001, p. 12), and thus meet the criteria of comprehensible input (Medina, 2002).

The Affective Filter Hypothesis states that language acquisition requires the student to feel confident, relaxed and diverted (Cook, n.d.; ttaber, n.d.):

It is therefore, in the interest of the second language teacher to provide an environment which evokes positive emotions.   Music does precisely that. Whether learners simply listen to instrumental music, vocals in the target language, or sing in unison, it is a pleasurable experience.  FurthermoreY singing songs in unison produces a sense of community and increases student confidence in the second language.  Thus, music, however it is used in the classroom, evokes positive emotions which can lower the Aaffective filter” and bring about language acquisition. (Medina, 2002, p. 6).


Although the students are more relaxed, they are also more attentive than usual when learning songs, and are therefore, more receptive to learning (Medina, 2002). Music can affect us emotionally in many different ways by using tones to produce feelings, rhythm to convey movement, patterns and timbres to express emotion, and harmony and volume to create energy (Cullen, 1998). Carrier (n.d.) offers four other advantages to integrating music with language instruction:  it reassures students they don't have to hear everything to understand the essence; it provides "real" listening tasks; it is highly memorable because we naturally replay songs in our minds and therefore unconsciously practise the structures and vocabulary of the songs; it provides painless rehearsal and reinforcement of structures, pronunciation, and vocabulary  (p.  1&2).

Integration of music and second language learning is also supported by Gardner=s (1993) theory of multiple intelligences (as cited in Medina, 2002, p. 7).  Gardner categorizes eight distinct intelligences that appear to be independent of one another (Ibid.). Both musical and linguistic intelligences fall into the domain of verbal abilities (Ibid) because Amusical and language processing occur in the same area of the brain, and there appear to be parallels in how musical and linguistic syntax are processed (Maess & Koelsch, 2001, as cited in Lems, 2001, p. 2). In fact, it has even been found that different types of music instruction affect different aspects of cognition (Rauscher, 2003).

Music and its subcomponent, rhythm, have been shown to benefit the rote memorization process. AA rhythmic presentation benefits memorization, especially when the verbal information is meaningful” (Glazner, 1976; Shepard & Ascher, 1973; Weener, 1971, as cited in Medina, 1993, p.5). AMusic has also proven beneficial when the objective has been to retain the meaning of the verbal information” (Isem, 1958; Botarri & Evans, 1982, as cited in Medina, p. 5). In a study of nine primary-age dyslexic boys, Overy (2002, as cited in Rauscher, 2003) found that music instruction improved rapid temporal processing skills, phonological skills, and spelling skills. Costa-Giomi (2000, as cited in Rauscher) found that Achildren who begin music instruction very early in life are likely to show the greatest benefits in spatial development” (p. 5):

A meta-analysis of a set of 24 correlational studiesYfound a strong and reliable association between music instruction and reading test scores (Butzlaff, 2000). A more recent study found that ninety 6- to 15-year-old boys with music training had significantly better verbal memory than children without such training (Ho, Cheung, & Chan, 2003, as cited in Rauscher, 2003).


In a study which incorporated jazz music into the curriculum, Astudent confidence soared; student interest increased; and, in some cases, student achievement improved” (Renwick, 2002, p. 3).

Well developed aural skills are crucial to successful second language learning (Dunn, 1977; Failoni, 1993; Gonzalez, 1984; Majhanovich & Robinson, 1979; Rivers, 1981, as cited in Lowe, 1997).  Not to be confused with the simple act of listening, aural comprehension involves listening, evaluating, comprehending and interpreting, all of which are basic to second language development (La maternelle, 1992, p.45).  Therefore, aural comprehension is one of the most essential components of the kindergarten French immersion experience (Ibid.).  Similarly, music is initially acquired through the aural sense (Hodges, 1980, as cited in Lowe, 2000). AMusical thinking is distinguished by audiating” (Gordon, 1987, as cited in Alvarez & Berg, 2002, p.122), which is Ahearing in one=s mind the sound of music that Ywe have heard, as well as music we are predictingY. Audiation is to music what language is to thinking” (Azzara, 2002, p.174). AListening to music involves many skills including perception, comprehension, and analysis of musicY. It isYa fundamental music skill and a requisite for all other music skills” (Persellin, 2001, p. 5). AResearchers and educators suggest that if listening is an essential skill required for both language and music acquisition, incorporation of music learning in the second language classroom should be considered” (Lowe, 1997, p.17).

ANative language acquisition takes place before children can read and without explicit instruction of any kind” (Medina, 1993, p. 2). There is substantial evidence that incidental vocabulary acquisition occurs by listening to oral stories (Cohen, 1968; Elley, 1989; Eller, Papps, & Brown, 1988, as cited in Medina) Abecause familiar vocabulary and syntax contained in the stories provide meaning to less familiar vocabulary” (p. 3).  Studies by Wallon (1975), Snow (1977), Feu and Piñero (1996), and Crystal (1986, as cited in Medina) have shown that the mother tongue is also acquired through listening to the melodic contours, discourse intonation, voice pitch, and rhythm of stressed and unstressed vowels.  In other words, language itself is musical (p. 149).

AIt is currently a common practice to use songs in the classroom to support second language acquisition” (Medina, 1993, p. 1).  However, Aif music is a viable vehicle for second language acquisition to the same extent as other nonmusical means, then songs can no longer be regarded as recreational devices, having little instructional value” (p. 22).  Songs can be used to present language, to develop linguistic aptitudes, and to strengthen reading-readiness skills (Malloch, p.2). ASongs contextually introduce the features of supra-segmentals (how rhythm, stress, and intonation affect the pronunciation of [speech] in context). Through songs, students discover the natural stretching and compacting of the stream ofYspeech” (Lems, 2001, p. 5).

Story songs, which are stories that have been set to music, provide opportunities for both language and musical acquisition (Medina, 2000a, p. 1). Given the extensive list of benefits of integrating music and language, if the content of the oral story and story song are identical, with the exception of the vehicle of delivery, then it follows that acquisition of the vocabulary may be enhanced through the musical version (Medina, 1993). AAlthough meaningful information is memorized with greater success than less meaningful information, retention is even greater when more meaningful verbal information is learned with music” (Medina, p. 7). In a related study, Medina (2000a) found that Asecond language learners who listened to the illustrated sung stories acquired an average of 1.5 words by the end of the treatment, while those who heard the illustrated spoken rendition of the story acquired an average of 1.0 words” (p. 2).  She concluded, AThis points to the positive effects which music may have upon language acquisition. More specifically, it suggests that illustrated story-songs may produce greater vocabulary acquisition than illustrated traditional spoken stories” (p. 3). AFurthermore, because of the positive effects which music has upon second language learners, story songs may motivate and captivate the attention of second language learners in ways that oral stories cannot (Medina, 2002,  p.5).


Music in the French Immersion Kindergarten Language Arts Program


Medina=s (1993) method of story-songs could easily be adapted and implemented into the French immersion kindergarten language arts program.  If the kindergarten teacher does not have the ability to compose an appropriate melody for an entire story, help could be obtained from the school=s music specialist.  However, if the teacher wanted to use this approach independent of the music teacher, key structures from a story could easily be extracted and put to a simple tune, either familiar or original.  In the classic story of ALa petite poule rouge”, for example, which is part of the Newfoundland and Labrador French immersion kindergarten curriculum (La maternalle, 1992), language outcomes include the development of vocabulary of farm animals, use of the structures ‘Qui veut + infinitive + direct object=, and the responses ‘Pas moi!= and ‘Moi=, among others.  It could be assumed that most children already know this story in English, so understanding the meaning of the story line would not likely pose any difficulty.  However, by setting this story and these structures to music, more attention could be given to the rhythm and accent of the language.  Furthermore, this musical dialogue would serve well in a role-playing activity.

First of all, the students should be introduced to the melody. The melody should be simple, perhaps even familiar, and the tempo moderate; otherwise, the children will pay more attention to learning the melody than the lyrics (Medina, 2000a, p. 8). Melodies that use the pentatonic scale (de, re, mi, sol, la) are recommended, as they are easy to sing and pose no difficulty to children (Birkenshaw, 1981, p.5). (This particular melody uses a simple five-note scale of do, re, mi, fa, sol.)

Figure 1 Poule.jpg

Introducing the melody first makes pedagogical sense for still another reason. When humans are simultaneously exposed to several new stimuli, they experience what is referred to as "secondary task overloading." This cognitive overstimulation can prevent students from learning the skills which they are attempting to acquire. Therefore, in order to avoid this effect, it is advisable to first expose students to the melody of the story-song prior to introducing the story-song itself (Medina, 2000a, p. 10).


Once the melody has been adequately internalized, it would be appropriate to study the rhythm of the song. The students can clap the steady beat as they sing the melody. When asked if they clapped on every note, they should soon discover that they did not. The students can then clap the rhythm of the melody by clapping on every note, thus discovering that they clapped more often. To emphasize the difference between beat and rhythm, half of the class can sing the melody clapping the steady beat, while the other half simultaneously claps the rhythm.

When the children are comfortable with both the melody and the rhythm, the key grammatical structures can be extracted from the story: ‘Qui veut + infinitive + direct object=, and the responses ‘Pas moi!= and ‘Moi=. The children clap the steady beat followed by the rhythmic pattern while the teacher sings the words of the first line.


Figure 2. Steady beat and rhythmic pattern of first line.


     │   │                │   ⌈⌉  ⌈⌉

Qui veut semer le blé?      and              Qui  veut semer le blé?



The same process can be used for the other questions in the story that use the same grammatical structure:  ‘Qui veut couper le blé?  Qui veut faire du pain?  Qui veut manger du pain?=  However, upon clapping the rhythm of ‘Qui veut faire du pain?=, the students should discover that there is something different in the rhythm.  This is a prime opportunity to discuss syllabification.  The third word in most of the lines is a two-syllable word (semer, couper, manger), but Afaire” is a monosyllabic word.  Therefore, although the steady beat remains the same, the rhythm pattern changes.


Figure 3Steady beat and rhythmic pattern of third verse.



             ││  │     │                  │  │   ⌈⌉

Qui veut faire du pain?      and              Qui  veut faire du pain?




The remainder of the lyrics can now be set to the rest of the melody through the same process:

It is not sufficient to simply sing the routines and patterns which are found in the song's lyrics. Learners must be


able to "transfer" this knowledge to new and different contexts. This exercise allows learners the opportunity to


generate original utterances using song patterns and routines in different contexts (Medina, 2000b, p. 3).


Therefore, as an extension to this melodic grammatical practice, the teacher can sing other questions in different context, such as ‘Qui veut fermer la porte?  Qui veut laver ses mains?=  The children could not only respond appropriately with ‘Pas moi= or ‘Moi=, they could also try to formulate questions of their own.


Using a well-known tune to ‘sing= daily routines and commands is also a means of integrating music into second language learning (Fonseca Mora, 2000).  For example, a clean-up command could easily be adapted to the tune of ATwinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”


Figure 4.  Clean-up song, to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” by S. Power-Piercy.


            C’est le temps de nettoyer; On a fini de jouer.

            Ramassez tous les déchets, et rangez tous les jouets.

            C’est le temps de nettoyer.  Qui est prêt à travailler? 



This simple song provides a myriad of grammatical lessons with the following structures: C=est le temps de + verb;  avoir finir de + verb;  imperative form; qui est prêt à + verb.  AThe more rhythmic and intonated the utterences we teach are, the more holistic the learning will be” (Fonseca Mora, 2000, p.151).



Changing the lyrics to previously learned songs could also impact on language learning. Edith Butler=s ALuc va à l=école” is a recommended song in the kindergarten curriculum (La maternelle, p.161). Its opening line, ALuc va à l=école avec son chien Fido,” has the exact same rhythm as the command a teacher could possibly use at dismissal time: AFerme ton sac d=école, et cherche ton manteau.”


Figure 5.  Rhythmic pattern for “Luc va à l’école” and suggested variation.


 ⌈⌉ ⌈⌉⌈⌉ ⌈⌉     ⌈⌉     X

Luc va à l’é-co-le a-vec son chien Fi-do.



    ⌈⌉   ⌈⌉  │⌈⌉  ⌈⌉    ⌈⌉    │      X

Ferme ton sac d’é-co-le, et cher-che ton man-teau.


The repetitiveness of singing this command each day reinforces the structure of the command and the rhythm of the utterence, and its musicality instinctively encourages children to join in and sing as well.



The evidence is conclusive to support the claim that Athe combination of music and a pedagogically-sound technique produce greater second language acquisition than is possible when using music alone” (Medina, 2000b, p. 1). ANot only can children benefit from additional exposure to the second language; songs can provide the classroom teacher with an alternative means of promoting second language acquisition apart from nonmusical means such as oral stories” (Medina, 1993, p. 22). Given the widespread availability of musical resources today, highly developed musicianship skills are not necessarily a prerequisite to this approach.  Innovativeness, a desired quality in any effective teacher, is all that is required to teach a second language through music.


Considering the concerns over the quality of oral proficiency in French immersion students, oral development should begin as early as possible. Since research has found several commonalities between musical and linguistic development (Lowe, 1998), and when one considers the educational implications of Gardner=s (1993) theory on multiple intelligences (as cited in Medina, 2002), and Krashen=s (1982) hypotheses of Comprehensible Input and Affective Filter (as cited in Medina, 2000), it follows that music Ais a viable vehicle for second language acquisition” (Medina 1993, p. 18).  Furthermore, given the limited linguistic abilities for French immersion kindergarteners to begin learning any kind of formal grammar (Boland-Willems, et al., 1988, p. 41), music should be embraced as an integral part of the French immersion kindergarten language arts program.



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