Maybe you’ve seen one of my favorite quotes, “Music is the universal language.” Every week in Zumbini I am reminded how true this statement is. It doesn’t matter what language someone speaks to communicate, everyone can “speak” music. From the tiny babies with little verbal language to a fluent adult, everyone can communicate with music.
When a dancing song comes on, you can see everyone start to “speak” with tapping their toes, bouncing up and down, clapping, or swaying their body. When we sit to sing, everyone can feel the rhythm from patting our legs, repeat basic words in the song, or copy the gestures we use along with the words. Music works through everyone.
In any given week, I have families in my Zumbini class who speak German, Japanese, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, Hebrew, French and Hindi. Through all of these languages, music is the consistent language.
When we dance together, we do not have to speak the same verbal language to understand what the next dance step is or how to move, we can just watch each other and feel it in the beat. Even young children who come from English-speaking homes are still not yet fluent speakers (they are still developing a greater understanding of this confusing English language), they can still participate in music.
One of the ways we help vocabulary development throughout class is by singing words in context.
For instance, when we sing “no” we shake our heads left and right, the universal sign for no. In the same way when we sing “yes”, we nod our heads up and down, when we sing “me” we point to ourselves, etc. Using gestures helps everyone participating to understand what the words mean in context.
Singing about opposites is another way we help these vocabulary words develop in context. Sometimes the best way to learn what one word means is to learn what it doesn’t mean.
If you’ve taken a class with me you may have noticed that we name a lot of body parts throughout the class in various ways. Whether we touch our toes with our fingers, a scarf, or an instrument, we are constantly reinforcing that the word “toes” happens when we touch the ends of our feet. Using various manipulatives (such as bells, eggs, or sticks) keeps teaching these body parts fun and interesting.
There has been lots of research on how music helps the brain to make associations and how it affects memory. You can probably remember some jingle you learned to help remember the 50 states, all of the verbs, or multiplication tables as a kid.