Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

Background Music and Avoiding the Awkward “Silence” in MFL Activities


Teenagers - Whispering a SecretLike most MFL teachers I like to use music in class. I source and find a “song of week” from the iTunes Japan chart every 10 days or so. As I’ve written about before – I use the music (legally purchased!) in many ways – and have discovered even more via the summary of the #langchat discussion on music last year.One of the most unlikely uses is something that I stumbled upon. Or rather – noticed while I was busy trying to get other things done.

Have you ever set up an activity, a great chance to practice or use a concept orally and then had the dull ‘thud’ of silence. “Let’s get on with it” you think. “Why is everyone sort of muttering? Don’t they get it? Why aren’t they using it?” After careful observing, and some asking, I realized that, yes, my students were getting it – they were just a bit hesitant using a new concept. Maybe they wanted a second chance to clarify with their partner? For whatever reason it takes them a little bit to settle in and get comfortable with what they are doing.

And they needed a chance to do that. Enter the role of the ‘song of the week’. I have it on a loop in the iTunes of my computer. It plays at the start of class but suddenly I started to play it as they students were beginning their activity. And something interesting happened. Under the cover of the music (not loudly played but audible) my students had a chance to take a breath, check in with their partner, collect their thoughts and begin. The music – the lack of ‘silence’ in the room – actually seemed to help them get underway. Several of my students have commented on the use of the music this way – and they say it’s easier to get into talking when it isn’t so quiet. They stop being worried or embarrassed that others can hear them and get into the activity more easily.

You know that sound that tells you that “it” – whatever it is – is working? I love that sound. It’s hard to force. But for me the ‘bridge’ that the background music creates is useful in getting my students to dig in and connect orally. It’s a use for the song of the week I never would have thought of – but am grateful for what it brings!


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