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Learning a Foreign Language Through Art

Do you feel that you might have had better luck with world languages had you been given the option of learning a foreign language through art? 

The truth is, most adolescents find that learning a foreign language is, at best, a challenging venture. For some, it can feel arduous and impossible. Plus, they’re self-conscious about their performance in the classroom.

Meanwhile, foreign language educators must clear these (and other) hurdles to help students incorporate the new language in their own lives while valuing a culture that is different from their own. Teaching through the arts facilitates this.

Learning a Foreign Language Through Art

Educators have long known that language and art complement and assist one another. And it’s not simply a matter of visual vs. verbal learning. 

There are times when a concept may be hard to decipher in written form so a visual form is employed to help the learner understand. Likewise, a written form can be equally helpful when a visual form just isn’t making sense. So it’s a reciprocal relationship. 

And one that makes a lot of sense. Especially in arts-integrated high schools and middle schools. 

Visual Art As an Aid 

The arts-integration approach isn’t looking to strip away textbooks when it comes to learning foreign languages. (Or any other subject, for that matter.) Rather, visual forms are used in tandem with the skill or concept that the textbook is emphasizing.

Educators develop a process that uses art as a teaching mechanism that can be applied to any skill. So whether they’re trying to teach verbs and adjectives in the foreign language, or the names of different types of furniture or clothing or whatever, the educator defines the concept or skill that he or she wishes to teach.

This can take them down any number of paths.

One of the more successful routes for those teaching foreign languages through the arts is studying paintings. Once educators have selected specific paintings that are appropriate for the skill set they’re attempting to teach, they prepare activities around them. 

Seeing Paintings In a New Way

The Modern Art era that covered the period between the 1860s to the 1970s is a good place to begin. This seventy-year span saw a wide variety of art forms and artists from the Impressionists to the Dadaists, Surrealists, and Photorealists. 

There was also a wide range of colors used during this era. And teaching color is one of the first skills taught in teaching a foreign language. While having the student look around the room and point out things that are the color being discussed, the arts-integration educator can instead select several paintings that display many colors with ease. Furthermore, the objects in the paintings can be discussed. 

Allowing students to study these pieces is for the sake of developing a new vocabulary in a non-threatening and simple way. It isn’t about trying to analyze the paintings in a foreign language. They are, of course, permitted to express their feelings around the work and even ask about the meaning behind it.

All of this just further draws the student into the piece and encourages a positive learning experience. At the end of the day, the students are more excited about finding le chien or el gato in the painting when these objects exist within a larger context.

The Power of Music

It isn’t just visual arts that foreign language teachers tap to foster positive learning experiences. Music can also help to achieve these same goals.

There is such a wealth of music available at the touch or swipe of a finger. And educators have found that incorporating music into the foreign language classroom quickly and easily exposes students to the culture associated with the chosen language. Aside from getting the student interested, it’s hard to deny the energy music contributes to a more upbeat and exciting classroom environment.

Some of the old-school methods of teaching a foreign language included having students follow a standard audio clip. But when educators are able to target specific songs and lyrics from an authentic source, it exposes students to more than just the vocabulary. They also get cultural content. They’re exposed to a story that means something. And this is a much bigger hook than Luisa going to the store to buy tortillas, day after day. 

Teaching through music gives teachers a wide range of options. They can choose music that focuses on the grammatical aspects of the language but uses it in context. They may find one that succinctly teaches the content being covered. Or perhaps it’s a kitschy-type song that teaches about the countries in the world that speak the language being taught. 

The possibilities are endless.

Learning Through Lyrics

Whatever the drawbacks of technology, it’s difficult to argue the myriad benefits it offers. Numerous websites expose students to lyrics of a song in their target language along with a video. One such website, Lyrics Training has students fill in the lyrics as they listen to the song. From there, they can compete against one another in a “sing-off” of sorts at different levels of difficulty. 

Another plus to exposing students to music from foreign cultures is having them read the artists’ biographies. In learning about the artists’ backgrounds, they can learn more about the geography of nations where these languages are spoken. In addition, they can compare these musicians with those to whom they listen regularly.

It’s a fully immersive experience that brings a foreign language to life in a new and interesting way.

Is Your Child Bored With Conventional Education?

Each of us has different learning styles. If the idea of learning a foreign language through art has sparked your interest and is something your child would embrace, then it’s time for you to discover what we have to offer.

Contact us today to request a tour of our arts-integrated school middle/high school. And learn more about this revolutionary and successful way to embrace language, as well as math, science, and history through the arts.

Then prepare for possibility. 



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