Songs should be an important part of your home even if you’re not learning a second language. It is a powerful way to associate meaning and emotions with words and to build vocabulary. This becomes even more potent when accompanied by sign language.
Songs work on multiple types of memory, making them much easier to recall than spoken sentences. When we remember a song we remember the voice, the melody, the instruments and how we moved when we heard it. This gives our brain multiple ways to recall the information making songs a powerful tool for language learning. Think of the language as a destination and the different elements of the song are different roads to it. More information on songs/memory here and on songs/language here.
Tips for using songs in a Bilingual Home
- Be careful with your pronunciation, just because its a song doesn’t mean you can be sloppy! In English we frequently sing words like ‘wanna’ or ‘gotta’ when we mean ‘want to’ or ‘got to’, this can be problematic in a foreign language. Sing your songs slowly and repeat them 3/4 times each.
- Always keep the context of the vocabulary. I’ve seen whole classes sing the ‘Days of the Week’ song but still be utterly clueless as to which word meant Wednesday.
- If possible find songs with a culturally appropriate melody and theme. Singing Old MacDonald in Spanish is a good start but wouldn’t it be better if you had an authentic song?
Tips for using signs in a bilingual home
- Keep the signs the same across both languages, this is a good way to ‘translate’ the word without having to resort to your first language. Use the sign in regular conversation or when you come across it in books etc
- Choose a limited number of signs, pick a few keywords and use a sign for them, keep it to 3 or 4 per song.
- Try to sign frequently, in both languages. When you have a chance to say the word in normal conversation use the sign as you do, repeat the word and sign in the second language and then move on with your chat.
Where to find music?
One of my favourite places to find songs is Mama Lisa’s World. While it is not the coolest looking site on the internet it is a virtual encyclopaedia of children’s music, wading through YouTube in a foreign language can be a real headache (literally and figuratively). Mama Lisa has gathered songs from EVERYWHERE! They all have an English translation and most come with audio and sheet music which is handy.