songs-to-teach-spanish

5 of the Best Spanish Songs to Teach Spanish Like a Rock Star

Ever heard a ridiculously catchy tune once and had it stuck in your head the whole darn day?

Those musical earworms can really drill their way into your brain!

Creating, listening to, dancing to and remembering music is at the very core of humanity—it’s part of what it means to be human. Every human society has created its own music.

This intrinsic love of music unites us all, so much so that music is often considered to be a universal language.

Music taps into our emotions, which in turn improves our ability to open ourselves up, relate to others and learn new things. Scientific research has also found that music helps babies develop emotionally and socially, so there’s a good chance that it can work similar magic at any age.

Moreover, music is central to Latin culture. By teaching with Latin music, we can teach both language and culture lessons at once.

Sounds like a great idea, right?

Let’s go for it!
 


 

How to Smoothly and Effectively Bring Music into the Classroom

As Spanish educators, we know how important music and ballads are to Spanish-speaking cultures. As it turns out, many songs in Spanish are about love. It’s not far-fetched to surmise that romance and love vernacular are embedded into the DNA of the Spanish language, as well as the cultures and countries that speak it.

So, why not focus on quintessential love songs in Spanish, written by beloved artists from around the Spanish-speaking world?

The key is finding the most effective way to put the music center stage in the classroom.

To keep our students open to learning, it’s vital that we find a delicate balance between challenging them while simultaneously proposing tasks where their odds of success are high. One way to ensure that we’re attending to this delicate balance is by continually seeking student feedback regarding our music learning sessions:

  • What was difficult or easy for students in the chosen songs?
  • What other language tools or assistance do students say they need during musical Spanish lessons? (For example, lyrics, translations, vocabulary lists, dictionaries, dance moves, an accompanying video, etc.)
  • Are students able to overcome their embarrassment and sing with the class, unfettered? (Let’s hope so! If all students aren’t singing, ask them why they’re abstaining.)
  • What other kind of songs are students most interested in?

5 of the Best Spanish Songs to Teach Spanish Like a Rock Star

While there are other countless tunes with broad didactic utility, I highly recommend the five below. They come from five superstars from five Spanish-speaking countries, and they open up a wide spectrum of topics in the vocab and grammar departments.

Each song adroitly presents a unique angle on falling in love and all the fluctuating emotional experiences this entails.

Sit back, enjoy and don’t forget to heed your students’ faces as they connect viscerally with the catchy tunes as well as the poetic and rhythmic lyrics.

¡Ojo! The following song lyrics profoundly capture certain feelings and experiences of love. You and your students may inadvertently time-travel to past romances, your emotional and mental states mirroring the songs’ lyrics. Be prepared to manage the emotions that may arise in the classroom.

My personal interpretations to these songs emerge in each, and there are surely other ways of translating and interpreting the songs lyrics. Feel free to take them in different directions as you see fit.

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1. “El Problema” (The Problem) by Ricardo Arjona

This song makes a great didactic tool. The chorus repeats itself throughout and the lyrics are relatively simple.

“El Problema” is sung slowly and clearly and the lyrics are more al grano (to the point and concise) and less wordy compared to Arjona’s other tunes. Here he captures the anguish that accompanies unrequited love.

We have all been there.

Here’s a 1-hour lesson plan for “El Problema”:

1. Provide lyrics to the class.

For song lyrics, I’ve found AZlyrics to be most accurate and comprehensive, but feel free to run with your own choice of site. Here are the lyrics for “El Problema” which you can distribute to your students.

2. Share facts about this artist.

Ricardo Arjona, previously a basketball player and school teacher, has become the most well-known Guatemalan musician—possibly the most well-known musician in all of Latin America. Most Spanish speakers know a few of his songs off the top of their heads and have opinions about his voice, rhythms and lyrics.

His songs are an assortment of rock and pop, covering a broad range of topics such as love, racism, sexuality, immigration and violence. One of the songs that really catapulted his rise to fame is “El Problema.”

3. Teach a little about the musician’s country.

Arjona comes from Antigua, a small city ringed with volcanoes which lies 1.5 hours west of the capital, Guatemala City.

Do your students have a good sense of geography? Show them how Guatemala sits directly below Mexico, right above Honduras and to the left of Belize. It’s mountainous and there’s a significant indigenous population, around 7% of the country, that speaks 21 different languages.

4. Review any tricky themes, words or phrases.

The tricky challenge here for students is getting accustomed to Arjona’s paradoxical language. This song is filled with great prompts for dialogue and addressing possible confusions within the chorus. This is a great opportunity for students who are only used to more literal Spanish language. They can start to get warmed up to metaphorical language with this song.

For example, you can discuss the following lines:

¿Cómo deshacerme de ti si no te tengo? — How can I get rid of you if I don’t have you?

como encontrar en la alacena los besos que no me diste — It’s like finding the kisses that you never gave me in the cupboard

You can also introduce students to the subjunctive here. Arjona uses the subjunctive a few times, including when he sings:

El problemas no es que mientas — The problem isn’t that you lie

Now that you’ve completed this overview of the song’s teachable moments, background and lyrics, it’s time to sing along! Lastly, you can identify, define, and practice new words or phrases unique to your class’s level of Spanish.

2. “El Perdedor” (The Loser) by Maluma

Is your class ready for another song about a broken heart?

This song also makes a great didactic tool. The lyrics are simple to follow, plus it’s a great example of Medellín’s groovy and rhythmic street Spanish.

The chorus repeats itself throughout too, so your class can get another chance with anything they missed the first time. Your class may like that Maluma’s voice is catchy and he enunciates most words clearly compared to other, faster-paced reggaeton singers.

Similar to Arjona, Maluma avows the pain of unrequited love to his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend, who left him for another. Unlike Arjona, however, he is still in disbelief because the break-up was recent, whereas Arjona’s “El Problema” consists more of a long-term, inner psychological torment.

Here’s a 1-hour lesson plan for “El Perdedor”:

1. Provide lyrics to the class.

You can hand out the lyrics printed on paper, or you can play this video with subtitles.

2. Share facts about this artist.

I couldn’t write a better biography than this one to share with students.

The highlights: Maluma is a pseudonym for Juan Luis Lodoño Arias. The singer was originally planning on being a soccer player before he realized his musical talent.

3. Teach a little about the musician’s country.

So students better grasp geography, you can use a map to show them that Colombia is on the northern tip of South America, directly south of Panamá, north of Brazil and west of Venezuela. Medellín is the second most widely known city after the capital, Bogotá. Have any students been there? Have they heard of it before?

4. Review any tricky themes, words or phrases.

First off, this song is great for teaching the present perfect tense in Spanish.

The tricky challenge here is getting students accustomed to language that can’t translate word-for-word into English. The goal here is translating ideas, not words. You can find a great prompt for dialogue and addressing possible confusions within the first verse, when Maluma sings:

él me ha robado — he has stolen from me [present perfect tense] 

el truco para enamorarte” — the trick to win your love

Once you’ve gone through the song with a fine-tooth comb, let the students try singing the song together to seal the deal.

3. “Corazones Invencibles” (Invincible Hearts) by Aleks Syntek

This song makes a great didactic tool because it’s easy to follow, the chorus repeats itself throughout and most listeners are able to connect with the simple yet profound and deeply romantic theme of unconditional love.

If anyone in the class has ever experienced love, particularly when life feels extremely difficult, they’ll connect immediately. Like Maluma, Syntek enunciates slowly and clearly, which is another great bonus.

Here’s a 1-hour lesson plan for “Corazones Invencibles”:

1. Provide lyrics to the class.

You can find the lyrics to this song here on Metrolyrics.

2. Share facts about this artist.

Raúl Alejandro Escajadillo Peña, known by his stage name of Aleks Syntek, is a self-taught Mexican singer and producer who has received over nine nominations for the Latin Grammy awards (among others).

Syntek is from Yucatán, the southernmost tip of Mexico, where many natives still speak an indigenous language. Are students aware that there are still many languages other than Spanish spoken in Latin America?

3. Teach a little about the musician’s country.

Mexico is the sixth largest Latin American county, right below the US and above Guatemala and Belize. A lot of Spanish in the US has Mexican roots, since 60% of the Latino population in the US is of Mexican descent.

4. Review any tricky words or phrases.

This song is useful for reinforcing students’ command of the present and future tenses.

Once students grasp the metaphoric language in the chorus, they should gradually and naturally connect to the verse, which goes:

Si vas en caída libre — If you’re in free-fall [present tense]

y te sientes derrotada — and you feel defeated [in present tense]

yo me entregaré en el alma — I will give my soul [future tense]

para curar tu dolor — to cure your pain

no te dejaré rendirte — I won’t let you give up [future tense]

yo te sanaré las alas — I’ll heal your wings [future tense]

corazones invencibles — invincible hearts

por la fuerza del amor — by the power of love

Are students comfortable switching between the present and future tenses like this? Singing along is great practice. Once you’ve gone through all the sticky parts of the song carefully together, then you can blast the music and start singing along as a group.

4. “Lo Mejor de Mi Vida Eres Tú” (You’re the Best Part of My Life) by Ricky Martin

This song makes a great didactic tool because it’s easy to follow, clear, concise and the chorus repeats itself throughout like those above. It’s also upbeat, positive and encouraging.

The theme is readily detectable: a declaration of love, romance, appreciation and commitment. Similar to the chosen others, Martin sings this song directly to his significant other.

Here’s a 1-hour lesson plan for “Lo Mejor de Mi Vida Eres Tú”:

1. Provide lyrics to the class.

Here’s an accurate version of the lyrics to hand out to the class.

2. Share facts about this artist.

Ricky Martin, who was born Enrique Martín Morales, is a well-known singer and has become a popular author and actor. He was raised Roman Catholic and served as an altar boy in his childhood.

One of the other songs that brought him to fame was “Livin’ La Vida Loca” (Living the Crazy Life) in 1999. Many of your students may know some Spanish words thanks to this song along. Can they recall some Spanish lyrics from that huge international hit?

3. Teach a little about the musician’s country.

Ricky Martin is from Puerto Rico.

The capital and most populated city in Puerto Rico is San Juan, where Martín is originally from. Puerto Ricans often speak Spanish with a soft, undetectable final s sound, pronouncing las casas (the homes) similarly to la casa (the home). Play a video of native Puerto Ricans in conversation. How do students feel about this difference in accent?

4. Review any tricky words or phrases.

This song is great to reinforce or review students’ knowledge of the mandatos (commands) in Spanish, which are bolded in the below examples.

 Suéltate el pelo y juega entre las olas — Let your hair down and play among the waves

Another line that may possibly perplex students is:

Ven y nos vamos de marcha otra vez — Come and we’ll continue our travels again

Many students may mistake marcha for “march” when it better translates here to “go,” “travel” or “explore.”

And what other examples of mandatos can students find themselves? Have them go through the lyrics and mark every one, providing its English translation in the margin.

Then, of course, go ahead and sing through the whole song!

5. “No Me Compares” (Don’t Compare Me) by Alejandro Sanz

This song makes a great didactic tool mainly because Sanz enunciates clearly like the other songs above. It’s last of these five because it’s clearly more advanced in vocab, replete with poetic rhyming metaphors. Sanz sings slowly, monologuing to his significant other like all the tunes above.

This time, however, he and his significant other seem to be at a crossroads, in an argument, and he is proposing a resolution while challenging her to accept him as he is without aspaviento (fuss), stop comparing him to another man, and become open for their connection and repair. Hopefully students can pick up this theme, even if they don’t understand all of the details.

Here’s a 1-hour lesson plan for “No Me Compares”:

1. Provide lyrics to the class.

The most accurate lyrics to this song can be found here.

2. Share facts about this artist.

Alejandro Sanz, influenced by his flamenco roots, started playing guitar at age 7. He was born to Andalusian parents and grew up in Madrid. He has won 17 Latin Grammy awards in his lifetime, and his career really took off when he collaborated with Colombian singer Shakira in 2005.

3. Teach a little about the musician’s country.

The Spanish language spread to Latin America through conquerors such as Hernán Cortés and Cristobal Colón (known in the US as Christopher Columbus). How much do students know about Spain’s colonial history?

Spain is the 6th largest country in Europe, with 47 million people. Have students been there? What do they know about Spain? Any little details that come to mind will do, as they’ll help to forge stronger connections to the country in your students’ brains.

4. Review any tricky words or phrases.

This song is useful to review the present and past tenses, as well as negative commands. Students should know the basics of these beforehand.

As mentioned, “No Me Compares” is by far the trickiest song of the five songs here, so prepare for a little more work to get through it. The lyrics are poetic and can be interpreted in different ways. If students try to translate them literally, they’ll likely get confused.

An especially confusing section is:

No me compares — Don’t compare me [negative command]

Bajé a la tierra en un pincel por ti — I came down to the earth as a paintbrush for you [past tense]

Imperdonable, que yo no me parezco a él — Unforgivable, that I’m not like him at all [present tense]

Ni a él, ni a nadie — Not like him, not like anyone

In your lesson, assure that students get the general idea at least. Hopefully they can feel comfortable not knowing chunks of the song. This is a great experience because learning often entails successfully tolerating uncertainty.

After getting deeper into the topics of present tense, past tense and negative commands, it’s time to sing along and make the lessons stick!

 

I hope these five unforgettable, love-themed tunes can expedite and energize learning in the classroom!

These songs connect deeply to our universal need for love, as well as love’s inevitable challenges, ebbs and flows, activating us emotionally.

Music is undoubtedly an indispensable tool for language learning, and now you know how to harness it in Spanish class.

So, get singing!


Jason Linder, MA, is a doctoral student and intensely passionate Spanish tutor and blog writer. In his free time, he enjoys telenovelas, traveling around Latin America, meditation, yoga, exercise, reading and writing. Learn more about his free Spanish learning resources and tutoring.

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