“I’ll hear the same song three times during a 30-minute drive!” my friends complain.
This is the reason they say they no longer listen to the radio.
And who can blame them?
But what if there was a way to break up the monotony?
What if you could practice a foreign language every time a top 100 billboard song came on?
Over years of browsing YouTube, I’ve discovered several covers of popular songs in foreign languages and I wholeheartedly recommend them as a language-learning tool.
If you’d like to love radio again and you’re a Chinese-language learner, this post is for you. Here are five Chinese covers of popular English songs to help you practice Mandarin Chinese in a fun and entertaining way.
Why Are Cover Songs a Valuable Language Learning Tool?
Many Chinese YouTubers have taken the melody of popular English songs and created Chinese lyrics to accompany them. Sometimes these lyrics aren’t an exact translation of the English lyrics, but most of the time they convey the same general sentiment.
No matter which version you choose, there are still lots of benefits of committing these tunes to memory.
For one thing, top-of–the-charts pop songs are fairly catchy. You’re likely to already be familiar with the tune of the song as well as some basic words. Studies have shown that pairing new information with the familiar helps with information retention. Therefore, learning Chinese words to a memorable tune can help you remember new words or phrases.
Also, since there are usually various Chinese versions of the same English song, you can choose which version you like the best. Learning the lyrics is a great way to increase your vocabulary, get familiar with Chinese sentence structure and reinforce previous knowledge.
It’s also important to note that these songs are typically comprised of simple, everyday language. This means that the words you learn from song lyrics are words you’re likely to encounter again in Chinese conversation. This makes it easier to practice speaking (or in this case, singing) Chinese on a daily basis.
Pop songs also make for an excellent form of at-home language immersion. Since these songs come on the radio in English-speaking countries, you can sing along and review the Chinese words you learned from the Chinese cover every time they do. You can even bust out your new language skills during karaoke night!
Strategies for Learning Chinese with Chinese Cover Songs
- Listen with the lyrics in front of you. When learning the lyrics to any song, it’s helpful to listen to the song a few times with the lyrics in front of you. For Chinese songs, try to find a version that has both the characters and pinyin available. You can also paste the Chinese lyrics into Google translator and it’ll automatically give you the pinyin, as well as the translation.
- Take note of unknown words/phrases. This may seem like common sense, but it’s good practice to take note of words you’re not familiar with in order to focus on committing those to memory.
- Sing along. The next time you hear the song on the radio you’ll be reminded of how to use those words in a different context. And each time you sing along to the song you’re reinforcing your comprehension of those words and phrases.
- Create funny and memorable sentences with new words. When learning a language, you often have to memorize a lot of vocabulary at the same time. That’s difficult with Mandarin Chinese because you need to remember the pronunciation, the character and the meaning of the word separately (although learning radicals can be very helpful in bridging connections between these seemingly disconnected elements).
An easy way to commit new characters to memory is to practice using them in a sentence yourself. Take your list of unknown words or phrases and craft funny sentences with them.
Learn Chinese Through Music with These 5 Chinese Cover Songs
As I previously stated, you’ll sometimes find multiple versions of a song available on YouTube. Many times the title of these songs are not translated, but you’ll see 中文版 (zhōng wén bǎn), which literally means Chinese version.
Just like The Chainsmoker’s song “Closer,” the Chinese version by 嚴之 yán zhī (aka Andrewpop) tells the story of a couple who lost contact several years ago but ran into each other again and fell back into intimacy.
As you see below, the Chinese lyrics in this version uses words and phrases associated with losing touch with someone, feeling a sense of familiarity, reminiscing about old times, feeling your heart rate increase and other similar topics.
Here is the Chinese chorus and translation:
(Oh baby) 將我拉進 你的懷裡 如此熟悉
(Oh baby) jiāng wǒ lā jìn nǐ de huái lǐ rú cǐ shú xī
Oh baby when you’ve got me in your arms and I pull you close it feels so familiar
我知道 無法壓抑 這股情緒 在你心底
wǒ zhī dào wú fǎ yā yì zhè gǔ qíng xù zài nǐ xīn dǐ
I know I cannot suppress this feeling in your heart
所有回憶 像是電影 帶著我們 回到過去
suǒ yǒu huí yì xiàng shì diàn yǐng dài zhe wǒ men huí dào guò qù
All of our memories pull us into the past as if they were movies
shí guāng tíng liú zài nà yī kè
We ain’t never getting older
Apart from “oh, baby,” you’ll also find a sprinkling of other English words and phrases like “can’t stop,” “we ain’t never getting older,” “insane” and more—so be on the lookout!
This cover is a collaboration between YouTube beatboxer Echo Lee and Andrewpop. Unlike the English version of “Shape of You,” where the chorus is about dancing at a club with the refrain “come on now, follow me” (which serves as a metaphor for the movements and coordination of dating), the Chinese chorus repeats the following phrases:
喔 愛 喔 愛 喔 愛 喔 愛
Ō ài ō ài ō ài ō ài
Oh love oh love oh love oh love
wǒ yǐ fēng kuáng de ài shàng nǐ
I have already fallen crazily in love with you
If you’re not “crazy in love” with this song by the end, you’re just plain crazy. And just like the original version of this song, good luck getting it out of your head!
This song is even more poignant in Chinese (though the original is undeniably beautiful and tragic all at once). As you may already know, “See You Again” was written as a tribute to actor Paul Walker, who passed away during the filming of “Furious 7.”
The lyrics start out with the narrator anticipating a reunion with a close friend, marked with the refrain “I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again” (hence the title “See You Again”). In Chinese, this section is very similar in meaning:
Màn cháng de yī tiān nǐ bù zài shēn biān
A long day and you weren’t by my side
hǎo duō huà yào duì nǐ shuō děng dài zài jiàn nà yītiān
There’s a lot I want to say to you, waiting until the day we meet again
zǒu guò hǎo yuǎn yǒu nǐ zài shēn biān
Walked a long way with you by my side
hǎo duō huà yào duì nǐ shuō děng dài zài jiàn nà yī tiān
There’s a lot I want to say to you, waiting until the day we meet again
zài jiàn nà yī tiān
The day we meet again
The phrase 再見 zài jiàn used in this context means “to meet again” but it’s also the word for “goodbye,” much like the French “au revoir.”
So this song in Chinese literally conveys the simultaneous sentiment of saying goodbye to a close friend while also awaiting the next encounter with them.
Singaporean singer-songwriter and producer Jeric does both the vocals and rap for this song and definitely pulls them off.
YouTube talent Jason Chen has created a fairly faithful reproduction of the meaning and sound of “Sorry” in Chinese. Make sure you watch the video in its entirety to hear Jason sing the song in English after the Chinese cover.
Here is the chorus and its translation:
Yeah xiàn zài dào qiàn huì bù huì lái bu jí
Yeah is it too late now to apologize?
因为 我想拥你在我怀里 oh ~
yīn wèi wǒ xiǎng yōng nǐ zài wǒ huái lǐ oh ~
Because I want to hold you in my arms
xiàn zài dào qiàn huì bù huì lái bu jí
Is it too late now to apologize?
oh 我知道我很对不起你 请原谅我 oh 可以不可以
oh wǒ zhī dào wǒ hěn duì bù qǐ nǐ qǐng yuán liàng wǒ oh kě yǐ bù kě yǐ
Oh I know that I did something to be sorry for, please forgive me, can you do that?
There are several Chinese versions of “Despacito” floating around the internet, but this is by far my favorite. Much like the original, Sophie Chen’s version is about getting close to someone during a dance.
The Chinese chorus goes like this:
Xiǎng qīng qīng de
Want to softly
zài nǐ ěr biān ní nán xì yǔ tán qíng shuō ài
Whisper love in your ear
ràng nǐ wàng bù liǎo měi gè yī wěn de jīng cǎi
Let you never forget the wonder of every kiss
suí shí suí kè nǐ dū huì shì yī yī bù shě
At any moment you’ll be reluctant to let go
xiǎng jǐn jǐn de
Want to tightly
bǎ nǐ bào zài wǒ de huái lǐ ràng nǐ táo zuì
Hold you in my arms and let you revel in my embrace
chéng wéi nǐ xīn lǐ wàng bù liǎo dì nà yī wèi
Become the unforgettable one in your heart
bù huāng bù máng yào bǎ wǔ dǎo tiào dé wán měi
Unflustered and unhurried, need to dance this dance perfectly
In another refrain, she includes some of the original Spanish and added a few lines of French as well. This is a fantastic multi-lingual version of a global hit.
With these songs, you’ll be able to experience familiar songs in a new way while practicing Chinese. So the next time you’re at a karaoke bar, feel free to bust out those Chinese lyrics!
Jandy Gu is an anthropologist, ethnographer, writer, editor, teacher, curriculum designer and aspiring polyglot. She is a native English speaker, Mandarin Chinese heritage speaker and Brazilian Portuguese language learner. Her passions include traveling, eating, social justice issues and cuddling with dogs—not necessarily in that order.
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