Using an experimental approach, this study examined the relative effectiveness of varying the use of songs (lyrics and music) on vocabulary acquisition, language usage, and meaning for adult ESL students in the People's Republic of China. While the use of songs is generally enthusiastically endorsed by ESL teachers, few empirical studies have formally assessed music's actual effectiveness on language learning. Results of this study showed that varying the degree of use of songs produced differential English language achievement. Specifically, the subjects who were exposed to the most music obtained higher achievement and attitude posttest scores immediately following treatment, as well as on the delayed post-test three weeks following treatment. Given the equivocal results found in previous research, and the fact that previous studies did not examine music's effectiveness for Chinese ESL students, this study makes a contribution by systematically examining the efficacy of song use in the ESL classroom with Chinese students.
Music is used in many diverse ways in language teaching. Teachers of English as a second language (ESL) from around the globe enthusiastically report about their successful use of music and associated song lyrics with ESL students. Huy Le (2007), a Vietnamese ESL teacher, observed that music is highly valued by both students of English and (ESL) teachers in the teaching of speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Other reports by teachers from the United States (Baez, 1993), Taiwan (Katchen, 1988), Canada (Magahay-Johnson, 1984), Japan (Moriya, 1988), Mexico (Domoney and Harris, 1993), and South Africa (Puhl, 1989) support the importance and usefulness of music and music activities in the teaching of ESL learners. Indeed, ESL teachers recognize that music animates their teaching and enlivens their classroom. Since most of the reported enthusiasm for using music in teaching ESL students comes from individual teacher's experiences, classroom anecdotes, and action research, it is also important to carefully examine the results of empirical research studies concerning music's effectiveness in ESL settings.
Brand (2007) concluded that there is theoretical and physiological support for the inclusion of music in the teaching of spoken English. Not only are language and musical processing located in the same area of the brain, but neurologists (Maess & Koelsh, 2001) have discovered that both musical and linguistic syntax are similarly processed. Music and language are, of course, two dramatically different forms of communication. However as Ayotte (2004) observed, both music and language share the "same auditory, perceptive, and cognitive mechanisms that impose a structure on auditory information received by the senses" (p. 10).
There are a plethora of educational literature and web-based materials discussing the use of songs in the ESL classroom (Kramer, 2001). Brand (2007) explained how song lyrics are used in sensitizing Chinese ESL learners to the importance of effective intercultural communication. He notes that the goal of English study is not just limited to being able to speak the language. Rather, English study should also assist the ESL learner in successfully interacting with people from other cultural backgrounds. Particularly in China, ESL students generally only use English in communicating with foreigners. Brand advocated using song lyrics in helping to create a natural speaking environment that more closely adheres to the intercultural communication skills necessary for ESL students to understand English and to be understood by others. Song lyrics are embedded within a culture, its values, symbols, and beliefs. Thus, exposure to song lyrics, according to Brand, not only teaches vocabulary, grammar, rhythmic speech, phrases, and meanings, but a song, as a sort of ambassador of a culture, offers ESL students lessons in grasping the nature and style of a particular culture. …