Music is a universal language. Exposing children to the music, songs and dances of other cultures should simply be another aspect of the music and movement program, integrated quite naturally on a daily basis. In the home setting, where only one language is spoken, it is a good idea to expose children regularly to the sounds of another language through music.
Why is it a good idea? Young children learn by being actively involved in the process, through exploring and experimenting, through copying and acting out. And so it is with learning music, including the music (and language) of another culture, the foundations for which are best learnt while developing primary language. As such, a successful early childhood music program must incorporate movement (including dance) and should quite naturally involve learning across the curriculum. In other words, through music, the child can also develop language, mathematical concepts, physical development as well as social and emotional outcomes. Music, of course, is not exclusively reserved for the school domain. At home or in a childcare centre, music, including music from other cultures, should form part of the structure of everyday play. EVERY child has the right to a musical education. Like other forms of verbal and non-verbal communication, exposure to music should start at birth and even before.
It is important to bear in mind that not every child will naturally take to singing or learning to play a musical instrument. Physical expression through dance and drama is the way some children prefer to enjoy their musical experience. How wonderful to extend that experience by using the dances, the music and the costumes from another culture. And what child doesn’t love dressing up?
In musical interpretation there should be no pressure on the child to “get it right” because there is no right or wrong but simply the joy of participation. When a child feels successful at something, the child gains enormous confidence. This is critical where children are suffering from low self-esteem due to poor academic achievement. The more you can extend the creative arts experience, therefore, the better.
Furthermore, by exposing children to other cultures in a positive way, they gain understanding and learn acceptance of others. They need to be made aware that somewhere in another corner of the world are children just like them. These children are also having fun by singing songs, chanting rhymes, playing games and dancing. In this way inherent social values are gained, especially discovering that difference simply means diversity. Thus, it encourages a sense of harmony and inclusion rather than discrimination and distrust.
Studies show that exposing children to the sound, rhythm and intonation of language and music from diverse cultures assists them to discriminate between sounds, which assist with the acquisition of language skills. Listening is a skill that needs to be taught, as opposed to hearing which is a sense we are born with. Listening to the sounds of another language encourages concentration. In time, it starts to make sense, in the same way that as babies, we all learnt to understand the spoken word. Introducing children to Languages Other Than English (LOTE) cannot start soon enough. Far from confusing children, learning another language actually enhances the learning of their mother tongue.
Unlike adults, children absorb the language of another culture easily. Children who come from bi-lingual households quickly learn to discriminate between the two languages and use them both appropriately. They soon become aware that communication, in whatever form, gets them what they want.
Whether in a classroom, a nursery or at home, children are naturally attracted to the sounds of another language. Most adults can remember the foreign songs that they learnt at school. How many English songs from school can we remember? And why limit it to songs? Include fingerplays, dances and relaxation music. To the child, it is not important what the words mean as the music conveys the mood and that is everything.