Karaoke, anyone?

Every Friday I let out a bit of stress with a group of students as we belt out a few tunes in English in our weekly karaoke club. Karaoke is not just great fun, it can also be used an effective and motivational tool for students to build their language knowledge and skills.

I must admit this is not an activity that will interest all. It certainly works well in my current context teaching undergraduate ESL students in Japan. It works well because karaoke is a popular pastime in Japan, and the thought of singing in front of friends and peers is not as terrifying to as many here as perhaps among my students of Japanese in Australia. It also works well because English music is strongly embedded in popular culture in Japan, and many students listen to English music regularly.

There is a solid body of evidence to show that songs and singing can be effective tools in building a range of second language learning skills. This includes short term learning and memory¹,  pronunciation²5, and vocabulary acquisition³. While the findings of these studies help to build a case for karaoke as a valid component of students language learning, these studies focussed on made-for-classroom linguistic materials presented as songs or chants.

Karaoke is the act of singing the lyrics of songs that were produced for entertainment.  Therefore, we need to consider the limitations of using popular music as a language learning tool. Possibly the main concern is that songs generally use a large range of  grammatical structures that may or may not be relevant, accurate, or suited to the students’ current language level or the current topic of study. They may also present lyrics at a high speed, or use words that are inappropriate, out-dated or not particularly useful.

In searching the literature I was able to locate two studies that looked specifically at the use of karaoke in language classrooms. In one study4 of students studying English in a university in Taiwan, karaoke worked as an effective tool in motivating students to use the target language, as students chose their own songs, studied them, and taught them to other members of the class. Another study5 reported on the use of karaoke in a class of adults learning English in Colombia, which incorporated a range activities to complement the singing, which included talking about parts of the song in groups, and discussing the value of the exercise afterward. This study also found that karaoke provided increased motivation to learn.

Karaoke takes the popular but passive act of listening to music, and turns it into an active pursuit which requires careful listening, reading of words, and reproduction of sounds. Students can be engaged in a range of tasks to help  build their language knowledge and skills, such as lyric gap activities, justifying song choices, giving opinions, and focused study of key phrases to name a few.

Now that we have accepted the limitations and discussed the advantages of karaoke, it’s time to get singing! Karaoke can be incorporated into your language class, or used as an extra-curricular activity. You Tube provides a wealth of free resources, with karaoke versions of songs ‘in the style of’ many artists past and present readily available. A microphone is all that is needed, but if you are dedicated like us, we also have a cheap disco ball that helps set the mood! In our weekly club, students not holding the mike are encouraged to sing along to the words, and no-one is made to sing if they don’t want to. It sometimes take a week or two for our newcomers to summon up the courage to sing, but they always do.

The photo at the top of this blog is me belting out some Cardigans in one of our Friday karaoke sessions. I do realise it makes me look a bit desperate! 😛



*Do you have a karaoke club in your school or university?
*Do you use popular music in your classroom?
*What activities and resources have been effective in complementing popular music in the classroom?
*What songs would you recommend for learners of your language?

Add to the discussion in the comments below,
or in our Facebook comments.


Studies referred to in this post

1Ludke, K. M., Ferreira, F. & Overy, K. (2014). Singing can facilitate foreign language learning. Memory & Cognition, 41(1), 41-51.

2CheVallee, N. Henrich, N., ^ Cornaz, S. (2012). L’apport d’exercices en voix chantée pour la correction phonétique en langue étrangère : le cas du français langue étrangère appliqué à des apprenants italiens d’âge adulte Using singing exercises as a tool for improving phonetic correction in foreign language teaching and learning: the case of French as a foreign language for native adult speakers of Italian. Recherche et Pratiques Pédagogiques en Langues de Spécialité, 2, 103-119.

3Mori, N. (2011). Effects of singing on the vocabulary acquisition of university Japanese foreign language students. PhD Thesis (University of Kansas).

4Chen-Yin, L. (2011). Attitudes toward multimedia (karaoke) and popular culture when learning Egnlish as a foreign language in Taiwan. PhD Thesis (University of Northern Colorado).

Roberto Rengifo, A. (2009). Improving pronunciation through the use of karaoke in adult English class. Issues in Teachers’ Professional development, 11(1), 91-105.


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