bilingual songs

The Language of Music: 19 Phenomenal Bilingual Songs That Connect Us All

Bilingual music is the language lover’s dream realized.

It’s a pure, joyful celebration of the diverse world we inhabit.

And, as it turns out, it’s pretty freaking cool—bilingual music is starting to both dominate the charts and capture our hearts.

Now it’s only a matter of time before kids are rocking multiple languages for kicks.

Bilingualism, until now, has been either a fact of life (you live in a place where multiple languages are used) or a uniquely fascinating (albeit somewhat nerdy) talent.

Being bilingual might just be the next big trend that takes the world by storm—and wouldn’t that be awesome?

The answer is “yes, it would be awesome.” And here’s why!

Why Bilingual Songs Are Great for Language Learners

There are just so many beautiful ways to look at it (or, rather, listen to it): Multiple languages are respected as forms of expression, bridges are connected and people from different backgrounds can sing along to the same tune. As they say, languages aren’t just different sets of words for the same objects and ideas—different languages are actually totally different ways of seeing the world and expressing thought. By engaging in musical expression with multiple languages, bilingual songs are intrinsically more nuanced than monolingual songs.

Not to mention, bilingual songs are powerful pieces which capture glimpses of bilingual culture. For example, Chicano music blends English and Spanish to reflect the natural mix of languages found in Mexican-American communities.

Bilingual music is also the best recipe for high-powered learning. When music and multiple languages collide, your brain kicks into overdrive. There’s so much complex information entering your brain that the gears automatically get whirring.

Music boosts brainpower and language retention, while bilingualism boosts your hearing and attentiveness. That means the more music you listen to, the better your brain is at absorbing language. The more time you spend becoming bilingual and learning languages inside and out, the more receptive your brain becomes to music and other input. Now, imagine what your brain is capable of when you feed it both language and music together!

Then there’s the obvious benefit of listening to bilingual songs: It’s fun. 

Singing along to music sneakily gives us language learning practice. It’s even ideal for raising bilingual children, as they’ll simply be enjoying themselves while learning languages in the process. Same goes for you, grown-ups. You’re so busy jamming along to the tune that you don’t even realize you’re deftly swapping between languages.

Mastering the Spanish rap interlude in your favorite pop song adds an element of challenge to the experience—and when you finally master that bit of the song, the satisfaction and pride you feel is beyond compare. Like, how cool are you?

How to Learn Languages with Bilingual Songs

Find songs that blend languages. 

Many songs use two (or more) languages equally, switching back and forth throughout. These are great for training your brain to work with both languages at once. Sure, you may tell yourself that you don’t want to speak Denglish (Deutsche + English) better than pure German, but it can be pretty freaking useful.

What if you’re translating for a party of German and English speakers? What if you someday need to translate for your English-speaking parents and your German-speaking mother-in-law so they can get to know each other? Maybe someday you’ll even become an ambassador, professional translator or tour guide.

Listen to songs with two different versions, one for each featured language. 

Many bilingual artists record multiple versions of their hit songs. For example, you’ve probably been rocking out to Enrique Iglesias’s “Bailando” on the Top 100 channel over the past year. Well, he’s got a 100% Spanish version of the song which is arguably even better.

Try listening to both. Favor the version in your target language until you’ve mastered those lyrics. Once you can sing along perfectly in your target language, switch over to the English version and compare and contrast the lyrics. How has it been changed?

Check out covers in your target language. 

Take your favorite English songs and search for them in your target language. If it’s a popular song, chances are good that there’s a sweet cover out there on YouTube or Soundcloud in your target language.

I fell in love the first time I heard this Japanese rendition of “Tomorrow” from Annie. The first time I heard Seu Jorge’s Portuguese version of “The Life Aquatic” album by David Bowie? Pure magic!

Get down with the remix. 

Explore the Internet by searching for your favorite song remixed in your target language. For example, are you a Spanish learner who loves (or gets some guilty pleasure from) Rihanna?

Then a search for “Diamonds Spanish remix” will take you to the original RiRi favorite overlaid with a Puerto Rican artist’s original rap. Now you get your favorite song mixed in with some Spanish learning time.

Try some bilingual songs for kids. 

The following resources are designed for bilingual kids who are growing up learning English and another language. Use them as a starting place!

19 Bilingual Songs That Bring the World Closer

It’s finally time to listen to some great songs!

The songs I’ve got for you below are grouped by the languages in which they’re sung. We’ll start off with a couple multilingual musical works (sung in 3+ languages). Then we’ll move on to a few English and French bilingual songs, followed by songs sung in German, Spanish, Japanese and more.

1. “L-O-V-E” by Nat King Cole

Languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese

What it’s all about: Love, of course! Multilingual, international love (no, not the kind Pitbull sings about). This song sings the same upbeat message about love in six languages.

Nat King Cole’s accent is perhaps a bit off in some languages, but give the guy a break while he tries to spread the love, okay? Anyway, it feels darn good to see an American showing off his linguistic chops.

2. Album: “eXtraOrdinary rendition” by Rupa & the April Fishes

Languages: English, French, Spanish, Hindi

What it’s all about: The song above, “Une americane a Paris,” is only sung in French, but it comes from the extraordinarily multilingual “eXtraOrdinary rendition album,” which is like one long—sometimes tormented, sometimes joyful—love song to the world.

The song itself captures one brief experience had by the lead singer, an American with Indian roots, while living abroad in France. If you’ve traveled or lived abroad, even if you’ve never had an experience similar to what’s told in this story-cum-song, you’ll probably relate to the lyrics to some degree.

The frontwoman of this musical group, Rupa, is a lifelong multilingual, part-time doctor, part-time musician and all-around fascinating human being. Her parents hail from India, she was born in San Francisco and the whole family relocated to France when she was still quite young. So, she has grown up with a beautiful mix of languages—and also some confusion about her roots and identity.

While no one song on the album is bilingual, just open up this full album and take a look at the multilingual track list. The colorful, soulful music really manages to capture the ups and downs of an international life that crosses every border imaginable.

3. “Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi” by Kylie Minogue

Languages: French and English

What it’s all about: We kids of the ’90s sometimes forget that Kylie was around, pumping out dance tracks well before our time. This late-’80s pop hit is upbeat, catchy and wonderfully dance-able.

I’m jamming to this at my desk right now, so I say this from firsthand experience. It doesn’t offer any complex language lessons, but it will stick the titular French phrase in your brain for all eternity.

4. “Michelle” by The Beatles

Languages: French and English

What it’s all about: Here we have a classic tale of international, bilingual love. Paul tries to woo his French lover in the little French he knows, as she doesn’t seem to know much English. I’m willing to bet you know the song, and the French is easy to understand by context alone.

5. “Bongo Bong” by Manu Chao

Languages: French and English

What it’s all about: This song humorously depicts Manu’s bohemian existence. It’s in French and English, yes, but Manu sings in so many languages it’s kind of hard to keep count. Off the top of my head, I know I’ve heard songs from him in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic.

6. “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quittes Pas)” by Regina Spektor

Languages: French and English

What it’s all about: Regina is well-known for her multilingual lyrics and albums. She sings in English, French, Russian—and she occasionally throws in a Latin verse or two. If you loved this song, then check out “Après Moi” which also has both French and English lyrics.

7. “If That’s What It Takes / Por Que Tu M’aimes Encore” by Celine Dion

Languages: French and English

What it’s all about: It’s all about Celine, naturally. This diva is ripping her heart out for you in two languages. While she usually has the two versions separate, this mash up is ideal for language learners and fans of bilingual music.

8. “Mentirosa” by Mellow Man Ace

Languages: Spanish and English

What it’s all about: This Chicano hip hop song’s music video displays English translations along with all its Spanish-sung lyrics. It’s almost as if they wanted non-Spanish speakers to be able to access their music—let’s take advantage of this!

9. “Stand By Me” by Prince Royce

Languages: Spanish and English

What it’s all about: You’ve undoubtedly heard the original R&B hit “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King. Well, this is a Spanglish version by the New York Dominican King of Bachata, and it has every bit as much soul. The first time around it might seem tricky to guess when he’ll switch from Spanish to English and vice versa, but after a couple listens I’m willing to bet that you’ll be singing right along.

This song took Latin America by storm when it was first released—you couldn’t leave the house without hearing it playing somewhere. Put it on constant replay in your house until you master the Spanish!

10. “Promise” by Usher feat. Romeo Santos

Languages: Spanish and English

What it’s all about: You’d never expect Usher to thrive in a bachata song, but the two urban crooners find a lot of common ground as they plead their lovers to stay with them. It’s also funny to hear each artist plug himself, as Usher whispers his name repeatedly in the background and Romeo jumps in with an almost subliminal “escucha las palabras…de Romeo” (listen to the words…of Romeo). I’ll give them a pass because the song is just so lovely to listen to—and all the dancing in the video is so pleasant to watch.

11. “Latinoamérica” by Calle 13

Languages: Portuguese, Spanish

What it’s all about: Wow. Just, wow. Calle 13 is an eclectic Puerto Rican band which integrates virtually all styles of Latin music into their songs, everything from reggaeton to salsa, cumbia and bossa nova. They jump around, they rap, they denounce power-hungry governments and spit rhymes on every major social issue under the sun. They’re an extremely empowering musical act all around—but this song might just be their most potent.

Combining Spanish and Portuguese lyrics, as a way to unify Latin America’s primary spoken languages, Calle 13 sing about exactly what it means to be Latin American—and what you have to endure and rise up against having been born there. While the song batters us with social, cultural, political and economic issues facing this influential region of the world, it also gives us hope in the strength of the people native to it.

This all culminates in the final lines of the song, when the group repeatedly sings about how nobody can buy or control the sun, the wind, the rain—we have to love and respect the natural environment we live in, or no man can be free.

12. “Ilusion” by Julieta Venegas feat. Marisa Monte

Languages: Spanish and Portuguese

What it’s all about: This lovely duet is a melodic dreamland that’s bound to charm you. Julieta Venegas herself grew up bilingual in Spanish and English, but notes that she “feels” in Spanish. This certainly comes through in her Spanish-language musical performances.

Loved it? Try another Spanish-Portuguese song by Julieta featuring Lenine (a bigshot in Brazilian music): “Miedo.” The Spanish and Portuguese are actually overlaid in this song, giving it a fascinating, textured quality. Listen to how the accents combine, blend and contradict one another during the chorus. Cool stuff!

13. “We Are One (Ole Ola)” by Pitbull

Languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese

What it’s all about: Ah, just leave it up to the World Cup to unite us in song! This song is the very epitome of what multilingual music is striving for. Even if you don’t see it as a musical masterpiece, just think about the sheer number of people who were exposed to this song worldwide.

Everyone had their eyes and ears glued to the games, in every part of the world, and this song traveled the globe as the official song of the last World Cup. It carried the spirit of the games in English, Spanish and Portuguese, united as one to spread a message of excitment, national pride and international cooperation.

14. “Somos Sur” by Ana Tijoux featuring Shadia Mansour

Languages: Spanish and Arabic

What it’s all about: Oh. my. God. If you haven’t heard of one (or both) of these kickass lady rappers, then you’re in for an amazing treat. Bumping beat, wild, bombastic sounds, a cacophony of instruments from around the world—and two pissed off, multilingual, revolutionary social activists who are speaking for the voiceless people in their home regions.

During their “joyful dancing rebellion,” they shout out a list of nations too often ignored, undermined and oppressed by the “empire” of the countries that colonized them. Whether or not you agree with their statements, you have to admit—they rage over a hot beat.

Ana Tijoux raps about political justice and revolutionary ideals in both Spanish and French, having been born in France to Chilean parents who left during a traumatic time of upheaval in their country’s history. Shadia Mansour is a British Palestinian rap goddess. Enough said?

15. “Stirb Nicht Vor Mir (Don’t Die Before I Do)” by Rammstein feat. Sharleen Spiteri

Languages: German and English

What it’s all about: Rammstein is one of those rare bands that can get their messages across with their sound alone. The sound of buzzing guitars and a deeply booming voice remains constant, as do the band’s dark, brooding, morbid and often violent lyrics—but you’ll find a lot of diversity in the languages they use. This one uses German and English, but others combine German with Spanish, Russian or French.

16. “99 Luftballons” by Goldfinger

Languages: German and English

What it’s all about: We all know it, we all love it—I’ll just give you a minute while you replay (for the 1,000,000th time) this anti-war song that brought German music into ’80s vogue. This English version is a punk rock favorite, but keep in mind that Nena, the artist behind the original German song, never liked the English translations.

In case you never heard the plot to this imaginative song, it illustrates the effect of wartime paranoia by telling a story: 99 balloons float up gently into the sky, the nations sharing the airspace get engaged in a 99-year war after failing to properly identify them as harmless objects. Oops.

17. “Picture This” by Kero Kero Bonito

Languages: Japanese and English

What it’s all about: This is one of the most recently-released tracks on the whole list, so you may not find it surprising that it’s all about selfies and posting on social media. It’s a weirdly universal idea now, isn’t it?

The soft Japanese “rap” in the middle of the song introduces a lot of useful, common Japanese phrases clearly and cleanly. If you listen to this song (and their other releases) as obsessively as I do, you’re bound to pick up a few things.

18. “Sumahama” by The Beach Boys

Languages: Japanese and English

What it’s all about: Did you know that the Beach Boys sang something in Japanese? Well, they did. This is a slow, melodic, poetic song about love and loss in Japan, worth a listen on a rainy day.

19. “Party Poison” by My Chemical Romance

Languages: Japanese and English

What it’s all about: I had to wake you up after that last song. We’re going from romantic to aggressive at full speed here. While My Chemical Romance screams about parties and dance floors and darkness (you know, all the usual stuff) a Japanese girl pipes in and loudly encourages listeners to join in the party madness.

 

That’s where our bilingual music journey ends for today!

I’m leaving you with some great places to start if you want to keep searching for more of the same.

When I started this, I just wanted to share all my favorite songs from around the world. But you can’t listen to so much powerful music without starting to dig a little deeper.

One big takeaway from all this music—boasting topics and genres as diverse as its languages—seems to be that we all have more in common than we think we do.

No matter where we come from, we love to rock out, we love to groove, we love to sing about lost loves, we love to dance, we love to scream at the top of our lungs.

Sometimes all it takes is a great beat to break down our boundaries.

And One More Thing…

If you’re digging these songs, you’ll love using FluentU. FluentU makes it possible to learn languages from music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks.

With FluentU, you learn real languages—the same way that natives speak them. FluentU has a wide variety of videos like movie trailers, funny commercials and web series, as you can see here:

FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.

Didn’t catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.

You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s “learn mode.” Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.

And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It uses that vocab to give you a 100% personalized experience by recommending videos and examples.

Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store.

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