Maha Azzazi
IELP Instructor, The University of Findlay

Editor’s note: Articles appearing in The Cardinal are not peer reviewed and only edited for grammar, spelling, and message.

Connecting sociocultural and cognitive approaches in teaching L2 literacy can be done by implementing songs as a pedagogical tool in the L2 lesson structure. This connection will ultimately benefit the L2 learning development (Davis, 2011). Using songs and music in an L2 classroom, as Shin (2017) and Davis (2011) state, is one of the best ways to incorporate language learning pedagogy that increases motivation, scaffolding, and meaning by culturally connecting the learning environment (Samar & Dehqan 2012). In addition, practicing responsive language techniques can benefit vocabulary recall and the development of the L2 sentence structure, grammar and improve the metacognitive process for L2 learners (Giouroukakis & Honigsfeld, 2010; Abbot, 2011; Werner, 2011; Davis, 2011; Stygles 2013; Shin 2017). Werner (2018) correlated the connection between learning from physical experience and the brain’s cognitive processing of information. This relationship is also embodied in language learning, where students can relate meaning to the teachers’ physical gestures and have better memorization in connecting such gestures (Werner, 2018). Similarly, it will be beneficial if songs accompany L2 teaching with hands-on activities and body movements, especially when teaching young L2 learners (Shin, 2017). Davis (2011) also emphasizes the role of gestures when teaching language through songs. As he highlighted in his study, combining songs and teaching with total physical responses (TPR) helps to enhance learning and vocabulary recall in L2 learners. Students could connect certain gestures to the meaning of words, and making this connection helped them associate words and sentence structure with movement to the song (Davis, 2011; Shin, 2017).

Automaticity and development of sentence structure. A description of singing and repeating a song can relate to what Parr and Krashen (1986) describe as an “involuntary rehearsal” of the language in the brain as part of the language learning experience. Therefore, not only can vocabulary be recalled and developed by using songs but also the repetition and the unintentional retrieval of the songs or what is called “Earworm” by Liikkanen (2011) that leads to the unintentional memorization of chunks of sentence structure or even whole sentences. That can be done through song-listening activities, as Abbott (2011) suggests. As Shin (2016) states, songs can be incorporated as listening comprehension activities, such as listening and answering questions, direct listening speaking activities, or simply filling the gaps. However, all these activities can build listening skills in L2 learners and their ability to automatically recall chunks of the language they repeatedly practiced and learned in a fun and interactive way. Whereas Wolverton (1991) states in his study that using music in ESL classrooms help students acquire syntax, the “chunks of meanings,” and idioms. Furthermore, Werner (2018) found that when students were tested to recall phrases in a language, those who practiced listening and singing activities outperformed the students who did not.

Increase motivation and confidence of L2 learners. Schema activation, vocabulary recall, grammar construction, and the automaticity of L2 sentence structure outcomes will not be obtained unless learners are motivated to learn and are confident to use L2 in exchange of the negotiation of meaning. Language teachers incorporate songs in language classrooms to energize, engage, and motivate L2 students (Abbott, 2011). This engagement through music, Abbott (2011) stresses, can enhance and stimulate the memory of L2 learners since they have a memorable and fun learning experience. However, Werner (2018) suggests not to force students who are not motivated enough to participate and to use the same song’s activities in different ways that might get the students to participate. These ways can, over time, develop a classroom environment that encourages students to try new techniques and build their confidence to use the language and be unafraid to make errors (Davis, 2017). Giouroukakis and Honigsfeld (2010) find that culturally and linguistically responsive pedagogy, such as songs and role-playing, helped encourage and motivate students by raising their achievement on high-stakes tests. Moreover, as Shin (2016) and Davis (2017) describe, children enjoy songs and often dance and sing to music, and this is why many L2 teachers try to apply these methods in their lessons for young learners. Lems (2005) also stresses that music and songs inspire adults in general and adult learners specifically; therefore, it connects to them, especially when songs from their culture or point of interest are introduced in the classroom. Such techniques make the learners feel that their culture and traditions are recognized and valued by their new environments (Lems, 2005). Nevertheless, Davis (2017) highlights the important role songs play in lowering the affective filter in L2 classroom by increasing learners’ motivation and demolishing their anxiety, allowing, as a result, successful language acquisition. 


Evidence of successful outcomes of literacy development because of applying songs as a pedagogical tool in language learning classrooms was presented in this research. Thus, music can be a universal language that communicates, motivates, and inspires all learners. Yet, it takes passionate and confident educators enthusiastic about implementing songs in L2 classrooms. Confidence also plays an essential role when teachers deliver lessons that employ songs. This confidence comes with training on how to choose songs to match the learners’ cultural background, prior knowledge, age, level of L2 proficiency, and interests. Subsequently, this paper is a call to motivate educators and make them aware of the benefits of using songs in L2 classrooms. However, calls for teacher training on how to incorporate songs effectively in L2 teaching methods is a good opportunity for future research. 


Abbott, M. (2011). Using Music to Promote L2 Learning Among Adult Learners. Retrieved from

Al-Hammadi, F. S. (2012). The role of recognition memory in L2 development. Journal of King Saud University – Languages and Translation, 24(2), 83–93. doi:10.1016/j.jksult.2012.05.003

Azeez, J. H. (2019). Reading comprehension in a sociocultural context: A case study of Iraqi EFL learners. International Journal of Research Studies in Education, 8(2). doi:10.5861/ijrse.2019.3021

Davis, G. M. (2017). Songs in the young learner classroom: A critical review of evidence. ELT Journal. doi:10.1093/elt/ccw097

Dylan, B. (2010, July 31). If Not For You. Retrieved from

Gee, J. P (1996). Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourse (2nd ed). Bristol, PA: Taylor and Francis, Inc

Giouroukakis, V., & Honigsfeld, A. (2010). High-stakes testing and English language

learners: Using culturally and linguistically responsive literacy practices in the high school English classroom. TESOL Journal, 1(4), 470–499. doi:10.5054/tj.2010.240193

Lems, K. (2005). Music works: Music for adult English language learners. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2005(107), 13–21. doi:10.1002/ace.185

Liikkanen, L. A. (2011). Musical activities predispose to involuntary musical imagery. Psychology of Music, 40(2), 236–256. doi:10.1177/0305735611406578

Mace, J. H. (2014). Involuntary autobiographical memory chains: Implications for autobiographical memory organization. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 5. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2014.00183

Olson, C. B., & Land, R. (2007, January 31). A Cognitive Strategies Approach to Reading and Writing Instruction for English Language Learners in Secondary School. Retrieved from

Parr, P. C., & Krashen, S. D. (1986). Involuntary rehearsal of second languages in beginning and advanced performers. System, 14(3), 275–278. doi:10.1016/0346-251x(86)90022-9

Perry, R. (2010). The Rolling Stones – Sweet Black Angel (Black Angel) – With Lyrics. Retrieved from

Samar, R. G., & Dehqan, M. (2012). Sociocultural theory and reading comprehension: The scaffolding of readers in an EFL context. International Journal of Research Studies in Language Learning, 2(3). doi:10.5861/ijrsll.2012.183

Shin, J. K. (2016, November 30). Get up and Sing! Get up and Move! Using Songs and Movement with Young Learners of English. Retrieved from

Stewart, R. (2014). Rod Stewart – “Sailing” (Official Music Video). Retrieved from

Stygles, J. (2013). Building Schema: Exploring Content with Song Lyrics and Strategic Reading. Retrieved from

Swaffar, J. K. (1985). Reading authentic texts in a foreign language: A cognitive model. The Modern Language Journal, 69(1), 15. doi:10.2307/327875

The Great Worker. (2008). I’m Just a Bill (Schoolhouse Rock!). Retrieved from

Trinick, R. M. (2011). Sound and sight: the use of song to promote language learning. General Music Today, 25(2), 5–10. doi:10.1177/1048371311402066

Werner, R. (2018). Music, movement and memory: Pedagogical songs as mnemonic aids. TESOL Journal, 9(4). doi:10.1002/tesj.387Wolverton, V. D. (1991). Facilitating language acquisition through music. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education,9(2), 24–30. doi:10.1177/875512339100900206