I recently spent an afternoon goofing around on youtube.com searching for Spanish and Latin American music to use with students. As much as I adore mariachis, Celia Cruz, Plaza Sésamo, and Marc Anthony, I recognized that my students might not be as keen on these songs as I am. Still, using music can be a great strategy for helping people learn a language. As I clicked around in Spanish-speaking dork heaven, I had a thought: why not use Pandora.com as a teaching tool?
For the uninitiated, Pandora is a free internet radio site that allows you to create your own stations based on an artist, a genre, or a song. It is easy enough to create a channel based on a fun Mexican band like Kinky or a genre like Latin pop or salsa. Then Pandora, using data from the Music Genome Project, identifies salient aspects of the group on which you based the station and then finds other songs similar in style to your original station. As the songs play, you can indicate whether or not you like each song, and your input influences the songs that the site selects for your station.
I imagine one using Pandora Radio in one of two ways as a teacher. One, you could use the station in your own time to discover new-to-you artists and songs. Alternatively, you could use the station in the classroom. You could play a song at the beginning of class and invite the students to listen carefully and describe what they heard, aloud or in writing.
(During my studies in Cuernavaca, one of my instructors gave us a similar assignment. We were to watch a half-hour of Mexican television and transcribe as much of the dialogue as possible. It was amazing to look back on the first few entries and realize how much more Spanish we could understand by the end of the study abroad.)
The fun part comes when the class would be allowed to vote for or against the song and then you could note that in the station so that the station would begin to conform to the class’s musical preferences as time goes on.
Let me know if and how you use Pandora radio in your foreign language classroom.