Music is the language of the soul.
You can listen to a song in an unfamiliar language and still feel its vibrancy.
It can also be a tool.
When my father came to the United States from Italy 40 years ago, he didn’t know a word of English other than “hello” and “help.”
He never went to a class to learn the language, but still somehow managed to become a semi-fluent English speaker within a few years.
His method? “I listened to a lot of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles…”
That’s right. Music helped my father learn English in only a couple of years. While he also did other things, (like constantly asking people in conversations what certain words meant and watching a lot of daytime American television) he was able to learn English through listening to music.
But how exactly can an English speaker learn Chinese with songs? Isn’t it way more different than an Italian speaker learning how to speak English?
Not so much.
How Can I Learn Chinese with Songs?
Kind of like my father with his Frank Sinatra and “Judge Judy,” watching Taiwanese dramas and listening to Mandarin music helped me immerse myself in the Chinese language and gain some fluency.
While listening to a song isn’t akin to participating in a lesson (which can provide you with more tools to learn the language properly) it can do a few things to improve your fluency:
- You can learn new Mandarin vocabulary through lyrics sung through various tracks.
- By listening to an album or a specific track over and over, you can memorize song lyrics and tones and associate them with their English translations to further improve your fluency.
- You’ll also eventually be able to belt out a Chinese ballad with ease, which is sure to impress (or confuse) your friends.
- Plus, what’s better than relaxing with some tunes while technically learning something at the same time? I know all my fellow lazy learners out there can see the merit in this.
Adding songs to your Chinese study routine is a great way to bolster your learning. If you can’t get enough of these kinds of videos, consider giving FluentU a try.
Combine this resource with these 15 awesome tunes and you’re sure to make your learning sessions dynamic!
Learn Chinese with Songs: 15 Awesome Tracks for Memorizing Mandarin
1. “Ambiguous” by Rainie Yang (2005) — (曖昧 ài mèi by 楊丞琳 yáng chéng lín)
The Taiwanese drama 惡魔在身邊 (è mó zài shēn biān) — “Devil Beside You” was one of my favorite television shows when I began learning Mandarin Chinese.
Other than being the lead actress of the show, 楊丞琳 (yáng chéng lín) — Rainie Yang also produced one of the main songs from the series. It’s poppy, elegant and entrancing, and the chorus is sure to get stuck in your head.
曖昧讓人受盡委屈 (ài mèi rànɡ rén shòu jìn wěi qu) — Ambiguity makes people feel wronged
找不到相愛的證據 (zhǎo bú dào xiānɡ ài de zhènɡ jù) — They can’t find evidence of love
2. “The Drunken Beauty” by Li Yu Gang (2007) (新貴妃醉酒 xīn guì fēi zuì jiǔ by 李玉剛 lǐ yù gāng)
新貴妃醉酒 (xīn guì fēi zuì jiǔ) — “The Drunken Concubine” was a Qing Dynasty opera in Peking, also known as today’s Beijing. The play is still celebrated and performed in the city to this day with lavish choreography and extremely detailed costuming.
Popular Chinese singer and performer of opera, 李玉剛 (lǐ yù gāng) — Li Yugang, found fame when he performed the leading role. He recorded a song based on the play as well, blending modern and traditional Chinese music to make a truly interesting track. The coolest part of this song is Li Yugang’s uncanny ability to hit traditionally female high notes.
There are a lot of very simple prepositions and nouns in this song, so it would definitely be easy to memorize as a beginner.
愛恨就在一瞬間 (ài hèn jiù zài yí shùn jiān) — Love and hate in a flash
舉杯對月情似天 (jǔ bēi duì yuè qíng sì tiān) — Raise a glass to the moon, our passion as endless as the sky
3. “WeChat” by The Higher Brothers (2017) (微信 wēi xìn by 海爾兄弟 hǎi ěr xiōng dì)
海爾兄弟 (hǎi ěr xiōng dì) — The Higher Brothers have made waves in the West and are often described as the next big rap group in China. Their songs are comedic, modern and fun, and this four-piece rap group can seriously spit some rhymes.
Their song “WeChat” has a mix of Mandarin and English lyrics, making it a good beginner song for Mandarin learners. You can also learn a bit about today’s youth culture in China in their music, including everything from restricted access to free internet, sex, romance, food, classism, fashion and slang.
妹都愛跟我聊騷因爲[I’m a]天蠍座 (mèi dōu ài gēn wǒ liáo sāo yīn wèi [I’m a] tiān xiē zuò) — Girls love to chat with me because I’m a Scorpio
不斷有消息來打擾 (bú duàn yǒu xiāo xi lái dǎ rǎo) — I am constantly disturbed by news
While that last line is a little awkward in English, it makes sense in the full context of the song. Here, 楊俊逸 (yáng yùn yì) — Psy.P is talking about his Scorpio tendency to start drama with his words.
4. “Stranger in the North” by Wang Lee Hom (2017) (漂向北方 piāo xiàng běi fāng by 王力宏 wáng lì hóng)
Taiwanese pop music has its own fairly long list of pop music icons, and 王力宏 (wáng lì hóng) — Wang Leehom is definitely one of them. “Stranger in the North” is catchy and very high-energy, making it the perfect song to try and memorize while sitting in traffic.
There are a lot of complex prepositions in this song and the rapping portions are fairly quick, making it ideal for the intermediate learner.
飄向北方別問我家鄉 (piāo xiàng běi fāng bié wèn wǒ jiā xiāng) — I drift to the north, don’t ask about my hometown
高聳古老的城牆 擋不住憂傷 (gāo sǒng gǔ lǎo de chéng qiáng dǎng bú zhù yōu shāng) — The towering old walls can’t hold back the sadness
5. “Light Years Away” by G.E.M (2016) (光年之外 guāng nián zhī wài by 邓紫棋 dèng zǐ qí)
This pop ballad from artist 邓紫棋 (dèng zǐ qí) — G.E.M. is a great track to listen to for learning due to its alternating timing and use of tones.
Mandarin is a very tone-heavy language, and it may seem as if singing in Chinese would be fairly difficult. “Light Years Away” demonstrates how to maintain tones so that they’re understandable while also playing around with how those tones can be used in a singing voice.
記住望著我堅定的雙眼 (jì zhù wàng zhe wǒ jiān dìng de shuāng yǎn) — I remember (you) gazing steadily in my eyes
也許已經 沒有明天 (yě xǔ yǐ jīng méi yǒu míng tiān) — Maybe there already is no tomorrow
6. “Playhouse” by JiaJia (2017) (家家酒 jiā jiā jiǔ by 家家 jiā jiā)
家家 (jiā jiā) — Jia Jia’s track about self-acceptance isn’t just inspiring and beautiful, but it’s also slow enough for beginners to understand and memorize.
This pop ballad is a popular mainstream song in China and was used in the soundtrack for the romantic Taiwanese comedy 極品絕配 (jí pǐn júe pèi) — “The Perfect Match.”
抱歉 不擅長模仿 (bào qiàn bú shàn cháng mó fǎng) — Sorry I’m not good at imitating
你想要的 那種優雅 (nǐ xiǎng yào de nà zhǒng yōu yā) — the kind of elegance you want
7. “My Chambers” by Soft Lipa (2012) (房間 fáng jiān by 蛋堡 dàn bǎo)
If you’re a fan of more chill, laid-back music, this tribute to bedrooms by 蛋堡 (dàn bǎo) — Soft Lipa will definitely put you in a good mood. Keep in mind that because it’s rap music, the lyrics go by pretty quickly. This track would be ideal for intermediate or advanced speakers.
磚塊水泥鋼筋 做成四方空心 (zhuān kuài shuǐ ní gāng jīn zuò chéng sì fāng kōng xīn) — Bricks, cement and steel bars made into a four-sided emptiness
空間裏所有動靜 運作以我爲中心 (kōng jiān lǐ suǒ yǒu dòng jing yùn zuò yǐ wǒ wéi zhōng xīn) — All the movement in the space is centered on me
8. “Ashima” by Xie Tian Xiao (2013) (阿詩瑪 ā shī mǎ by 謝天笑 xiè tiān xiào)
China has quite an interesting underground rock scene. If all the pop ballads and high-energy rap tracks we’ve mentioned thus far aren’t your cup of 茶 (chá) — tea, maybe this hard rock anthem will be. This song has very repetitive lyrics and simple vocabulary words, so if you’re a beginner, enjoy!
我願在雲海中掩飾着你 (wǒ yuàn zài yún hǎi zhōng yǎn shì zhe nǐ) — I’d like to hide you in the sea of clouds
也願在黑夜將愛情拋棄 (yě yuàn zài hēi yè jiāng ài qíng pāo qì) — And also abandon love in the dark (night)
9. “Sing For You” by EXO (2015) (爲你而唱 wéi nǐ ér chàng by EXO)
EXO is a pretty interesting boy band. They perform songs in a mix of English, Mandarin and Korean. If you’re an advanced Mandarin speaker, a novice Korean speaker or just up for a challenge, why not try to memorize this beautiful ballad?
我指尖吉他的節拍 染上寂寞的純白 (wǒ zhǐ jiān jí tā de jié pāi rǎn shàng jì mò de chún bái) — My fingertips strum to the beat of the guitar, tainted by the pure white of loneliness
今天要把未完的故事說完 (jīn tiān yào bǎ wèi wán de gù shì shuō wán) — Today I must finish telling the unfinished story
10. “Hero” by Jay Chou (2016) (英雄 yīng xióng by 周杰倫 zhōu jié lún)
Need some inspiration? This 周杰倫 (zhōu jié lún) — Jay Chou track is a powerful anthem about sticking together, no matter how hard life gets. This song also has a lot of very basic nouns, verbs and prepositions, many of which you’d typically learn in Chinese 101. Great for beginners!
人生不是一個人的遊戲 (rén shēng bú shì yī gè rén de yóu xì) — Life isn’t a one man’s game
一起奮鬥一起超越 (yì qǐ fèn dòu yī qǐ chāo yuè) — Together we struggle, together we transcend
一起殺吧[sup]兄弟 (yì qǐ shā ba [sup] xiōng dì) — Sup brothers, together we can kill it
好戰好勝戰勝逆命 (hào zhàn hào shèng zhàn shèng nì mìng) — Being warlike and competitive prevails over going against fate
11. “Enough” by Eric Chou (2020) (受夠 shòu gòu by 周興哲 zhōuxìngzhé)
周興哲 (zhōuxìngzhé) — Eric Chou is referred to by Taiwanese media as the “king of the lovelorn people.” The lyrics of this 2020 chart-topper are pretty straightforward, so you don’t have to worry about missing the underlying message because of metaphorical language. Not to mention, the repetition makes the song quite catchy.
受夠 一次 兩次 三次 沒有說 (shòu gòu yícì liǎng cì sāncì méiyǒu shuō) — Enough. Once, twice, three times without saying.
後悔 再也沒 機會 讓你懂我 (hòuhuǐ zài yě méi jīhuì ràng nǐ dǒng wǒ) — I regret no longer having the chance to let you understand me
12. “Ten Years” by Eason Chan (2013) (十年 shí nián by 陳奕迅 chényìxùn)
A popular choice at karaoke parties, this nostalgic tune by Cantonese actor and singer 陳奕迅 (chényìxùn) — Eason Chan is worth adding to your playlist. The grammar is quite simple, which is perfect for beginners who are familiar with basic sentence structures.
如果對於明天沒有要求 (rúguǒ duìyú míngtiān méiyǒu yāoqiú) — If there’s no need for tomorrow
牽牽手就像旅遊 (qiān qiānshǒu jiù xiàng lǚyóu) — We’ll hold hands just like we’re traveling
成千上萬個門口 (chéng qiān shàng wàn gè ménkǒu) — through thousands upon thousands of doorways
13. “Your Answer” by A Rong (2019) (你的答案 nǐ de dá’àn by 阿冗 ā rǒng)
Although the sentence structures and vocab are beginner-friendly, enunciation isn’t a strong suit for 阿冗 (ā rǒng) — A Rong. His voice is beautiful and soothing, but the way he sings might make it a little difficult for novices to follow along.
In spite of this, his songs (and this one in particular) are great listening practice for learners of all levels.
低著頭期待白晝 (dīzhe tóu qīdài báizhòu) — Keep your head down, look forward to the day
接受所有的嘲諷 (jiēshòu suǒyǒu de cháofěng) — Accept all the ridicule
向著風擁抱彩虹 (xiàngzhe fēng yōngbào cǎihóng) — Toward the wind, embrace the rainbow
14. “Like a Breeze” by Seven Tan (2020) (Like a Breeze by 譚松韻 tán sōngyùn)
From the 以家人之名 (yǐ jiārén zhī míng) — “Go Ahead” soundtrack, this tune is another 2020 favorite. With the short and sweet lyrics and the English phrases in the chorus, it doesn’t get any easier to sing along to a Chinese song than this. The slow and steady rhythm really helps you hone in on your pronunciation as well.
你喜歡微笑 (nǐ xǐhuan wéixiào) — You like to smile
逼著我撒嬌 (bīzhe wǒ sājiāo) — Forcing me to throw a tantrum
你瞧就怪你總是慣我 (nǐ qiáo jiù guài nǐ zǒng shì guàn wǒ) — You see and just blame yourself for always indulging me
15. “No Love” ft. Miss Ko by Khalil Fong (2014) (愛不來 ài bù lái ft. 葛仲珊 gézhòngshān by 方大同 fāngdàtóng)
To conclude this list, here’s an upbeat song that will surely liven up a karaoke party (or the shower, if you’re not into KTV).
In the beginning, the way that 方大同 (fāngdàtóng) — Khalil Fong takes a breath between every word makes the track very approachable for listening and speaking practice. Even the rap in the song is easy enough for a beginner to repeat.
我的最愛，什麼方式對待 (wǒ de zuì’ài, shénme fāngshì duìdài) — How should I treat my most beloved?
跟你在的時候，時間過得最快 (gēn nǐ zài de shíhòu, shíjiān guòde zuì kuài) — When I’m with you, time flies by the fastest.
How catchy are these tracks in Mandarin?
Once you make a playlist of your favorites from this list, you can listen to them while you cook, study or when you’re just chillin’—all while learning Mandarin Chinese.
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.
And One More Thing...
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