– Nina Septina
Music is the language of the universe. It links people all over the globe by breaking limits and going beyond boundaries. It’s all around us, it’s in the atmosphere. No one can avoid music communicating through their heart and mind, speaking to their souls. Life has given meanings to songs they sing. Many people can’t live without music; I am one of them.
Music has greatly influenced me throughout my English learning history. Listening to English songs a lot, trying to sing along with them, writing the lyrics myself, composing my own songs, and playing music in a band were some of the things I enjoyed doing while I was a teenager. Though now I have given up playing with the band, those musical experiences have contributed deep-seated changes to my English and shaped the way I teach my students. In class, music has always been good company for me and my students when doing activities. And finally this passion for music unexpectedly became my first ride on my professional development journey and brought me to a role I didn’t previously envisage.
It all began when I taught a group of university students back in 2009. Music bestowed its energy on bringing us closer together in our first meeting. The ice was melted as I played my guitar and asked them to sing along. Nonetheless, later on the next meeting I found out these students had a problem with their English pronunciation and fluency. Their unclear pronunciation made it difficult to grab the meanings of words they were saying. It was hard for them to even to say one single sentence smoothly. Pauses of hesitation were everywhere, making sure the intonation didn’t come out right.
I knew I had to do something. Knowing we had a common interest in music, I tried using its power as a way out of this problem. I reflected on my own musical journey and I believed that by engaging them with a “thing” that tickled their fancy they’d enjoy their learning more! Another consideration was the plausible theory that songs present opportunities to improve pronunciation and accelerate fluency, which are the main cognitive reasons for using chants in language classrooms.
Thus in almost every meeting we had a special session for around 20-30 minutes where we sang English songs together. I started it with an easy pop song and continued giving them more challenging songs with more vocalizations. By varying the drilling techniques, students didn’t get bored. On the contrary, they seemed enthusiastic. Furthermore, they would leave the class humming or singing the song we practiced. Some students also told me that they couldn’t help singing the songs outside the class as those melodies and lyrics got stuck in their heads. I said to myself, wow, they drilled the language themselves, effortlessly! They could remember the lyrics, the chunks, and the intonation patterns fast. The repetitive exercise gave them the chance to memorize both words and pronunciation well.
At the end of the term, I distributed questionnaires to see how students perceived this treatment. The results revealed that students were pleased to be able to sing in class. This, according to them, had revolutionized their usual classroom routines; they also stated that their English had improved, especially in terms of pronunciation and fluency. And furthermore, students demanded to continue this singing treatment in the next term. In addition to this, I also observed their progress reports and was startled when I saw they could really make an improvement in their pronunciation and fluency as shown in the average class scores.
My supervisor encouraged me to put this case into a research paper. This was quite a challenge to me, as I had never done anything like this before. Moreover, hitherto I found writing as the most challenging task for me compared to the other skills. However, I took up the challenge and I made myself believe that this would be as challenging and at the same time intriguing as writing a music piece, and I would enjoy this as much as I musically enjoyed writing verses for my very own song.
Eventually I finished my first research paper and it got accepted for a presentation at the TEFLIN International Conference. At this conference, I met some inspiring people who then escorted me to see the bigger world. A world of wonders in which I could meet many more great people online and offline and build my PLN. This was something I had never imagined before. My musical journey has brought me here, on a pathway where I’ll go, grow and glow with others in iTDi, becoming a better me, personally and professionally. – Nina Septina
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