Abstract Although the role of songs in the primary EFL classroom has attracted the interest of a number of researchers (Newham 1995; McMullen and Saffran 2004; Millington 2011), given the frequency with which songs are being used in English language teaching classrooms, it might have been expected that Cyprus would wish to play a role in extending research findings and applying them to its own educational setting. Yet the lack of research with young learners is particularly acute in the Cypriot Primary School EFL context where pupils have been working for the last 15 years with very outdated textbooks. Evidence of the effectiveness of using songs to learn English has come mainly from studies in other countries mainly with older pupils in middle and high schools, (Adkins 1997; Millington 2011; Fonseca-Mora et al. 2011). My research, therefore, aims to address this gap by attempting to find out whether songs could play an important role in learning a foreign language with Cypriot learners of 9-12, an age range that has not so far been addressed in the literature. In my study, I examine the potential of songs as a valuable pedagogical tool to help young pupils learn English. More specifically, I investigate the role of songs (1) in arousing positive emotions in the primary language classroom and (2) in determining whether and to what extent positive emotions can help to reinforce the grammatical structures being taught and aid vocabulary acquisition. Using an ethnographic case study framework, my study attempted, through the use of quantitative and qualitative methods, to assess the effectiveness of working with songs in the EFL classroom. The findings of this research revealed that the majority of pupils taking part in the study following the normal EFL curriculum which involved two 40-minute EFL lessons a week, showed considerable improvement in language learning after the use of songs. This suggested that the framework of EFL competence in Cyprus might also benefit from the implementation of songs into the current English language curriculum.


– Introduction Research has shown that there is a link between music and language since both are founded on generative hierarchies which ‘start from a surface structure consisting of patterns of notes or words that make melodies or sentences’ (Jourdain 1997:277) leading to more effective learning outcomes by ‘incorporating both hemispheres of the brain throughout the corpus collosum, which strengthens the transmission of messages’ (Fonseca-Mora et al. 2011:105). Lo and Li (1998) offer similar arguments, maintaining that songs provide a break from classroom routine, supplementing in this way a textbook or even serving as the text itself, and that learning through songs develops a classroom atmosphere in which the four skills can be enhanced. Young emphasises the need to ‘create a low anxiety atmosphere in the language class by using challenging classroom materials and effective pedagogical approaches to develop learners’ language skills’ (Young 1999:7). The power of the emotions is underlined by Le Doux who ‘goes so far as to say that, minds without emotions are not really minds at all’ (Le Doux cited in Arnold and Brown 1999:25). In terms of negative emotions, such as foreign language (FL) anxiety, this may be of particular relevance. Many researchers (Horwitz et al. 1986; MacIntyre 1995; Young 1992) have commented on the power of anxiety to ‘negatively affect learning or performance’ (Young 1992:159). It may be then that the use of songs, given their association with positive affect, as demonstrated by researchers such as Lozanov (mentioned later in this thesis), may be instrumental in reducing anxiety and negative feelings, ‘fostering a relaxed but motivating and productive classroom atmosphere’ (Arnold and Fonseca 2004:126). Maria Diakou, X7632338 12 Songs, music and rhythm have been used by teachers over the years in order to aid language acquisition since according to researchers they ‘have been defined as powerful aids to language learning, memory and recall’ (Fonseca-Mora et al. 2011:101). Since they seem to have the ability in general to affect our emotions, and given the fact that most pupils love listening to songs in their free time, it seemed logical to adopt a teaching approach which used ‘continuous and efficient use of music and song inside the classroom as well’ (Batista 2008:156). This study, therefore, aimed to add to existing knowledge produced by other researchers by establishing whether songs are able to create a motivating learning environment for primary English learners as effectively as they do for older learners. It also investigated whether a more productive classroom atmosphere could lead to successful learning, in particular the development of grammar and vocabulary acquisition adding to the existing relevant research (Krashen 1985; Murphey 1990; Fonseca-Mora 2000; Fonseca-Mora et al. 2011; Moreno et al. 2009). In general, it was an attempt to extend knowledge in relation to a general educational problem facing teachers today: How do we keep students motivated in order for them to learn effectively, build on what they have learned and extend both grammar and vocabulary? More specifically, can the use of songs in general, provide material which could minimize negative emotions and reinforce learning both grammar and vocabulary, capturing children’s attention by ‘diversifying our classroom activities and supplementing the textbook with material that we feel is appropriate and interesting for our particular context’ (Arnold 1999b:274)? Through this research I have tried to find out if songs as part of classroom activities can motivate primary pupils to successfully learn English grammar and vocabulary, and also become useful tools to help teachers enhance their language teaching methodology.


Background to the thesis The ultimate goal in this research was to contribute to the development and improvement of my country’s education system, with regard to the teaching of EFL in Primary Education. My study aimed to demonstrate how pupils can benefit from the motivational properties of songs which have been shown to ‘increase sensibility, aid memory, improve concentration, help develop reading and writing abilities, favour physical development and give rise to enjoyment when learning’ (Fonseca-Mora et al. 2011:104). Maria Diakou, X7632338 14 Education is compulsory for children between 6 and 15 years of age. The language of literacy in all state schools in Cyprus is Greek, but in all state schools English as a Foreign Language (EFL) is taught, with lessons taking place twice a week in two 45-minute slots. When I started this research, EFL classes were restricted to pupils from the fourth to sixth grade of state primary schools. However, since 2011, English has been part of the curriculum from the first grade (pupils aged six). Nevertheless, despite the significant presence of English in the weekly schedule of public education, the majority of Greek Cypriot school children also take private classes in English, since the state schools are not in a position to provide them with the opportunity to gain GCE certificates that they can later present for admission to UK universities when they begin their tertiary education. The textbooks produced by the Cypriot Ministry of Education and Culture which are currently used in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades, were adopted as teaching textbooks in state primary education in 1986 and have remained in use since then with no revisions or updates. They have a text-centred orientation, with each text followed by drills on grammar, vocabulary and spelling exercises, as well as writing prompts. The new curriculum (Autumn 2011), encourages language education to move away from the traditional grammar-centric approaches towards more communicative teaching approaches. It focuses on the communicative approach to teaching and learning language, in line with pupils’ diverse learning needs and characteristics. The new curriculum aims to help pupils from a very young age to gain an adequate perception and comprehension of the English language in order to communicate effectively in the target language and develop a positive attitude towards people from other language communities. In addition to the official language of Cyprus which is Greek, English is also used in various realms of public life in Cyprus, such as courts of law, various civic services and Maria Diakou, X7632338 15 moreover in many fields of private enterprise. For this reason, it has been promoted as an indispensable second foreign language. It is not surprising, therefore, that students are extremely motivated to study the subject as systematically as other main subjects in the curriculum, such as Mathematics and Modern Greek, and are often sent by their parents to private institutes for extra hours of private tuition in English in the afternoon. As a result, one of the main concerns of the Ministry of Education in Cyprus is to find ways to keep children motivated in their foreign language classes at state primary schools, since the afternoon private English lessons1 , which most of the pupils attend (Figure 1.1), are reducing their motivation at school. It is hoped, therefore, that the research findings will be relevant to issues of concern or interest within the Ministry of Education, and will encourage foreign language teachers to adopt a method that will ‘pay off in terms of low anxiety, high motivation, and ultimately in the ability to convey information and communicate ideas and feelings’ (Young 1991:426).


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