Applications of Motivation Theory Using English Songs into EFL Learners in Japan

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A large number of researchers have tried to explore the efficacy of utilizing songs to enhance English as a foreign language (EFL) learners’ motivation (Millington, 2011; Limbong, 2012; Nipattamanon, 2018, Paquette & Rieg, 2008). In recent years, there has been a renewal of interest of the relationship between improving learners’ English lexical, grammatical and phonological abilities and implementation of English songs in the classroom (Chen & Chen, 2009). However, how the usage of songs on learning English affects to reinforce learners’ enthusiasm has not been investigated assiduously (Aguirre, Bustinza & Garvich, 2016). In Japan, the English instruction employing the grammar-translation method through the teacher-centred approach has been a matter of intense controversy in the six-year junior high and senior high school pedagogy (Molnar, 2019). Furthermore, with the Tokyo Olympics held in 2020 (though it got postponed because of unanticipated circumstances), the Japanese government has proposed innovation in third-grade elementary school since 2020 (Ismail, Koffi & Uchikawa, 2020). Now is the time to focus on diverse approaches to motivate Japanese learners aiming at desired English proficiency. For the purpose of this assignment, three empirical pieces of research implying English songs in the process have been related for discussion as they have applied for teaching.

Motivation theory is associated with English learning and Using songs

The motivation toward learning English is, so to say, the reason why people learn English (Sakai & Koike, 2008). According to Dörnyei (2001), motivation is “an antecedent of behaviour rather than of achievement” (cited in Csizér & Dörnyei, 2005, p. 20), the fuel of a trajectory of people’ awareness towards English learning, which makes them study English and continue to learn. Therefore, it is significant for educators to examine why this motivation strengthens or weakens in pedagogy (Dörnyei, 1994; Ikeno, 2003; Nakata, 2006; Sakai & Koike, 2008). Motivation towards not only English learning but also holistic learning has been widely researched since approximately 1970. In a paper, Deci and Ryan (1985) threw new light on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in association with self-determination theory (SDT) in the field of in prevailing psychological needs (Hiromori, 2003), which have instigated in a second language (L2) study incorporating some factors of the theory so as to have a deeper understanding of L2 motivation (Dörnyei, 1998). In the domain of second language acquisition (SLA), many studies including Ellis (1994) at the vanguard, and also recently Dörnyei (1999) have posited the importance of motivation repeatedly (Hiromori, 2003). However, Ushioda (1996) proposed that a loop of motivation considered as a “cause or product of learning success” (cited in Sahinkarakas & Inozu, 2017, p. 96). By contrast, SDT demonstrates that “for learning to be motivating”, which encourages self-efficacy and leads to additional challenges, and innovation (Sahinkarakas & Inozu, 2017, p. 96). SDT has been investigating the necessity of triggering interest for learners associated with a societal application, which motivates EFL learners development (Hiromori, 2003). However, even if individual learners have several reasons for learning English, educators are required to explore how to motive learners effectively (Sakai & Koike, 2008) by broadly considering dynamic facets of values, enjoyment, demands and empowerment in the current era (Gao, Lamb & Murray, 2011).

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Considerable studies have emphasized the positive effects of the usage of songs into English learning of young learners to increase their motivation (Nipattamanon, 2018; Limbong, 2012; Millington, 2011; Paquette & Rieg, 2008) as well as young adult learners (Liva, Sutapa & Bunau, 2015; Nipattamanon, 2018). Utilizing songs is one of the listening activities, which leads students to easing anxiety and accelerating fun with their teachers and classmates (Džanić & Pejić, 2016). Nipattamanon (2018) demonstrates that incorporating songs in the EFL class stimulates the students’ imagination, creativity and willingness to learn towards the target language. Songs play an influential teaching role in increasing EFL learners’ motivation in the classroom, which encourages further attraction to realia and activities around them in accordance with the transformation of the modern age (Džanić & Pejić, 2016; Jolly, 1975; Shin, 2006).

Current empirical research

Study 1: Influence of Songs in Primary School Students' Motivation for Learning English in Lima, Peru (Aguirre, Bustinza & Garvich, 2016)

Aguirre, et al. (2016) undertook a research on the third graders at a private primary school in Peru. Fifty-six pupils were equally divided into two classes: 1) a class that used songs 2) a class that did not use songs in the teaching-learning process of four EFL classes. Considering the young age of the pupils, Aguirre, et al. carried out a mixed-method consisting of testing each pupil through a questionnaire and being observed by two researchers.

From examining the findings, pupils in classes without music they seemed disinterested and apathetic. By contrast, pupils learning with music expressed enthusiasm to participate in group activities with their peers and teachers. In addition to this, even without any teacher’s suggestions, students wanted to go in front of the class and sing songs voluntarily (Aguirre, et al., 2016). A research conducted by Sevik (2011) illustrates that 100 per cent was derived from the 52 Turkish English teachers’ response. This shows that especially young learners are highly motivated and entertained through singing in the classroom. The Affective Filter Hypothesis by Krashen (1985) addresses that when learners feel relaxed, self-efficient, and motivated, the affective filter is low and the input becomes easily intake (Nipattamanon, 2018). Furthermore, listening and singing activities make pupils feel reassured by interacting with peers in class and draws their full attention to the learning contexts (Aguirre, et al., 2016; Anshel & Kipper; Lems, 2006). In addition to this, being exposed to songs increases the opportunity to mimic them frequently. As a result, this stimulates learners’ speaking and phonological development unconsciously (Aguirre, et al., 2016).

Study 2: Assessing English vocabulary and enhancing young English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learners’ motivation through games, songs, and stories (Chou, 2014)

The study was conducted by Chou (2014) targeting 72 participants of Grade 2 aged eight to grade 5 aged eleven students who are taking intensive English courses and four teachers at a primary school in Taiwan. Towards five English cultural events, the students prepared for the events by listening to the festival-related songs, singing together and moving their bodies with the rhythm incorporating storytelling and games. According to Millington (2011), using seasonal and cultural songs drives learners to raise their awareness towards language development.

The result revealed songs motivated most of the students to learn English and helped understand the topic in class. In addition, the lower graders felt encouraged to study English through songs more than the higher graders (Chou, 2014). Students were willing to express themselves singing with gestures, which resulted for the whole class to be more energetic and enthusiastic towards learning. Simultaneously, they enjoyed the rhythm of the songs related to the target culture with audio repeatedly (Chou, 2014). A teaching strategy developed by Asher (1977) is known as Total Physical Response (TPR) which explains that young learners are stimulated with physical movements and auditory and visual teaching materials (Chou, 2014). Therefore, in English pedagogy, students’ motivation and positive attitude to the learning contexts are boosted by utilizing songs (Chou, 2014).

Study 3: The use of English songs with social content as a situated literacy practice: Factors that influence student participation in the EFL classroom (Palacios Mena & Chapetón, 2014)

Palacios Mena and Chapetón (2014) carried out the qualitative archetype research that examines to reflect educational practice pinpointing how to improve it (Burns, 2010; Palacios Mena & Chapetón, 2014; Sagor, 2005; Wallace, 2006). The subjects of this study were 11th graders, whose age ranged from 16 to 19, taking an English course at a public high school located in a difficult social-economic milieu in Colombia (Palacios Mena & Chapetón, 2014). Based on Lewis’s (2001) suggestion, students can develop by engaging themselves in socially situated practices in the process of English learning. Therefore, Palacios Mena and Chapetón (2014) conducted this study that is incorporated with songs focusing on three aspects as follows; 1) the relation to the learner’s social environment 2) a reflection how to communicate with others 3) the recognition of the importance of individual values as a member of the community.

In line with the evidence, English songs with social content brought adolescent EFL students a significant motivation to participate in class activities conveying what they felt, accepting classmates’ ideas and sharing each other’s experiences. Simultaneously, this allowed students to raise their awareness of society, common realities, and their own identities (Palacios Mena & Chapetón, 2014). As Hiromori (2003) demonstrates, SDT is instrumental in developing learners’ individual needs correlated with the socio-cultural contexts, which motivates students to involve themselves in learning environment spontaneously. Alternatively, Al-Hoorie and MacIntyre (2020) point out that engaging in activities when learning contributes individuals to pleasing and meaningful lives, and these feelings are the driving forces to acquire a foreign language for improvement.

Proposed applications of this theory into my future classroom teaching

English learning with songs can help students reduce their anxiety and start to learn with a relaxing and warm atmosphere interacting with their peers and teachers. Listening to the song first with audio, then singing with the whole class repeatedly incorporating karaoke applications contribute to exposure to English stress and pronunciation as well as express students’ themselves without hesitation (Aguirre, et al., 2016).

The utilizing songs related to the season and culture with visual realia heightens students’ curiosity and deepens understanding of the learning contexts embedded in the target language. The characteristic of repetition and simple linguistic forms is one of the probable reasons (Džanić & Pejić, 2016), which develops students’ cognitive process (Chou, 2014). Using gesture and dancing with the rhythm of the songs boost students creativity and imagination (Chou, 2014), which reinforces them to recall the cues for the lyrics (Good, Russo & Sullivan, 2015). Brown and Larson-Hall (2012) demonstrate that young students can be instructed visually, auditorily and kinesthetically.

Implementing the songs associated with their social contexts can facilitate students to observe what they experienced in this era. This allows them to embrace the contents with the melody and rhythm that songs convey in English and a deeper understanding of it from different angles. Students can reflect on what they felt with their peers through the songs and become more aware of the relationships among their classmates, family, community in a society (Palacios Mena & Chapetón, 2014).

I will propose “Let’s enjoy singing in English” class between the 3rd graders of elementary and junior high school students aged 9 to 15 at a community centre in Japan. I will ask the local education department to hold a one-day program for free during the summer vacation and students will come from different schools in the region signifying a heterogeneous class. It is still rare for Japanese students to communicate in English in their daily lives. Thus, this unique program would promote the students to take advantage of what they have learnt in school with people whom they do not normally encounter in class. I will also ask some university volunteer students beforehand. The participants will be encouraged to communicate with each other in English by older staffs. The volunteer staffs facilitate the activity in order for the participants to build a good rapport and to interact with other participants in English smoothly paying attention to easing anxiety. Students will sing “I love the mountains” (nursery rhyme) as an icebreaker. Consequently, they will listen to “Over the Rainbow” (Ariana Grande) and sing it varying group dynamics (Džanić & Pejić, 2016).

Benefits from this practice

The effectiveness of this proposed practice implementing songs in EFL classes outside of school will be identified from two pedagogical viewpoints. Firstly, Students can achieve growth in a community and physical environment through collaborating and cooperating with a diversified aged group (Oxford, 2017). There have been homogeneous facets in the English learning environment in Japan, hence this opportunity will provide a different learning experience with various people. Lai, Zhu and Gong (2015) illustrate the importance of outside of classroom in order for students’ linguistic development. This English pedagogy utilizing music is learner-centred, which is not artificial settings but authentic contexts (Palacios Mena & Chapetón, 2014). Jumping into the unusual milieu is probably further challenging for students compared to their daily English classrooms. Furthermore, from the viewpoint of developing the students’ speaking ability, in order for EFL learners to sing lyrics would “require more processing effort and involve smaller units of chunking” (Ludke, Ferreira & Overy, 2014, p. 42). Nevertheless, Brown and Larson-Hall (2012) claim that intrinsic motivation occurs when learners feel the task is interesting, challenging, rewarding, novel and aesthetically catchy.

Secondly, performing “Over the Rainbow” is intended to reflect on what students have weathered in the current unexpected lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. Moreover, this song has been used on TV or other media to have hope for the future, which is also familiar with young students since experiencing the Great East Earthquake in Japan in 2011. In the process of practising this song with their peers, they can share the common social issues not only in Japan but also in the entire world. Singing songs in the EFL classroom promotes not to accumulate academic knowledge but to reproduce and express the songs which can convey their honest thoughts as their own piece of art cooperating with friends. Therefore, this practice nurtures students’ autonomy towards English learning, which simultaneously brings them “to gain the experience self-determined” (Liu, 2015, p.1166) as a language learner in the modern era.

Evaluation of the effectiveness of my proposed teaching practice

Students will perform at the end of this class together in front of their families. After singing songs, each student will be passed a certificate of this class and a small comment by the teacher. Each Volunteer staff will give some feedback to the whole class. In addition, some of the parents and siblings will be asked to give a comment regarding the performance. Dörnyei (2003) states explicitly in his research that L2 motivation has considered goals as a central factor. Performing at the end of the class makes students and teachers share the common goal wherein they plan and practice for the desired goal. Setting a performance at the end causes the whole class to drive-force. Before the lunch break, students will what they have done reflecting on their attitude and what they will prepare themselves for the rest of the time in a small group, including volunteer staffs.

Furthermore, Dörnyei (2003) posits that it is crucial for learners to evaluate motivation by themselves. Zarrinabadi, Ketabi and Tavakoli (2019) articulate that learners’ expectations about how to work on tasks and the extent of value they envision to achieve the goal are the keys to the understanding of EFL learning motivation (Baleghizadeh & Masoun, 2013). Both to set goals concretely and to provide feedback are necessary regarding self-assessment, which attributes learners to heighten self-efficacy.


The implementation of singing songs is the valid verbal teaching material in English pedagogy. This opportunity will give the students openness, engagement, willingness to interact with distinctive people as language learners. From the evidence, utilizing songs can promote learners’ motivation for English learning development, expressing themselves emotionally and fathoming voice beyond the lyrics and contents of songs. However, a point that cannot be ignored is that there is a deeply-rooted saying in Japan, which is “A nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” This conservative ideology leads students to impeding to express themselves freely and narrowing their self-efficacy towards English learning in the classroom. Therefore, taking account of this cultural mind wall, educators will be required to practice various pedagogical approaches both in and outside of the classroom in Japan. Concurrently, it is imperative for EFL learners to embrace individual values and to appreciate sociocultural diversity through varied experiences. In conclusion, my insight into this assignment could allow English teachers to bring out each student’s challenges as a global citizen in the 21st century.

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Applications of Motivation Theory Using English Songs into EFL Learners in Japan. (2022, March 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 18, 2024, from
“Applications of Motivation Theory Using English Songs into EFL Learners in Japan.” Edubirdie, 17 Mar. 2022,
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