Audio Awareness in Learning Language

Today’s guest blogger is Jeanne Nelson of Sing in English. Jeanne and her husband, Hector live in Mexico and write and record music for English Language Learners. They produce a TV program, “My School con Anna y Rocco”, seen on Mexican educational TV 

Jeanne Nelso & Hector Marin

Do you speak a foreign language? Do you speak it fluently? Not many Americans do. Why is another language so difficult to learn? Are we too lazy? It seems almost anyone we run into from another part of the world speaks some English.  Or maybe we haven’t figured out effective ways to teach foreign languages.

I can’t talk about all schools but I can tell you about my own experience. I studied French a long time ago. I remember liking it in the beginning but I don’t think I applied myself.  After awhile I was lost. I certainly didn’t realize that I needed to develop an audio awareness of what I was learning. Or in other words to be able to close my eyes, not see the words, and yet understand by ear even beginning French. At that time my school was just about to install a language lab with ear phones to help one concentrate on listening to languages. Maybe that would have helped me.  And I certainly also remember struggling over lists of verb conjugations that I tried to memorize.  That was difficult and boring, not a very good way for me to learn. Needless to say, I never did learn French.

Now I find myself living and working in Mexico and yes, I have been here for many years. But guess what? I’ve learned a language through living the experience! I’ve learned Spanish without much effort and I learned rather quickly, having fun and enjoying it!  What a difference!

Now my partner and husband Hector and I create ESL material for children. I’m going to share with you some of the things I’ve learned along the way:

To really dominate a language the audio is essential, probably more important than reading and writing because that part will automatically follow.

The younger you start, the better. When one is young languages come more naturally. And yes, little kids aren’t reading and writing yet. It’s all by ear.

Instead of teaching vocabulary words that you just repeat, combine with a verb. Verbs are harder to learn so start using verbs.  For example instead of saying the word “sun” you can teach “I see the sun.”  Or “book”, “I have a book.” etc. (“Sol, veo el sol”. “Libro,  yo tengo un libro”. etc.) And I suggest you start teaching verbs in the first person, “I”, all the rest will follow.  It really is quite amazing if you know enough verbs and the basics of a language, you can make yourself understood.

It’s easy to learn short phrases. For example: “I don’t know.”- “Yo no se”.- “Je ne sais pas”. See, I even remembered that in French!

Use repetition. If you repeat often enough, it will be remembered.

Teach useful words. Begin forming a base for your students of English, or whatever language you’re teaching, that will be useful for life. And choose useful verbs. For example, I don’t think one needs to learn the verb “fetch”. “Bring” or “get” are much more common and useful. “Mother Goose” rhymes and songs are fun for English speaking kids but not very relevant for others. And stay away from cutesy words, for example “itsy bitsy” or “teeny weeny”, etc.  Silly songs don’t translate well either. And I say stay away from slang.

Yes, songs are great! We all know that songs are excellent for teaching because songs are fun!  If your students are learning by listening to songs be careful that the pronunciation is very clear. Children’s recorded voices are usually difficult to understand. And don’t use songs that race along.  One needs to hear every word clearly. You know how you hear a strange language spoken somewhere and it’s so fast it just sounds like gibberish?  That is how English sounds too when it’s not your first language.

Precisely because teachers here in Mexico asked us for songs in English with all these qualities, Hector and I started writing our own songs specifically for ESL, and created “Sing in English”. Through our songs, we’ve tried to develop a useful base of English.  Our songs are fun, sung with clear pronunciation so you can distinguish every word.  And we don’t sell to just Spanish speaking countries, we know from our sales that our songs are sung by children in countries all around the world.

Now Songs For Teaching has our series of 3 CD’s titled ABC’s for Beginners which teaches all the letters and phonetic sounds. I’m sure you’ll find all these new songs are a lot of fun to teach and sing! And they are great fun for English speaking kids too! We offer lots of “Holiday Songs” and because it is December I have to mention our “Christmas Songs”, a beautiful original production, perhaps my favorite!  I also have to tell you, because we are quite proud, of our new TV program, “My School con Anna y Rocco”, seen on Mexican educational TV every Saturday and Sunday.

I love teaching, I enjoy working with students of all ages. I try to make learning easy! And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll still learn French!