“Do you listen to music in English or Spanish?”
This was the question that arose again and again during my first few weeks teaching my native language—Spanish—in an English-speaking country some years ago.
I felt like a bit of an exotic figure during that time, as students would whisper as I sped down the halls.
It was as if I had been the very first Spanish person to ever set foot on that part of the world!
But what stood out among all of the interest was this curiosity about music in general. It came up so much that I decided to start all my lessons with a song.
A couple of years later, a student asked if they could listen to music on their phones during in-class study time. I thought it was a great idea, but walked over later just to make sure they were listening to something that wouldn’t distract them from their upcoming GCSE controlled assessment.
To my pleasant surprise, I found out some of the songs I’d introduced them to had actually made the cut and were part of their jam!
There’s something about music that just keeps people going, so why not use it to get all funky in Spanish class—while teaching language knowledge that lasts?
I’ll show you how—with nine popular Spanish songs, complete with lesson ideas.
Why Use Songs for Teaching Spanish
I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel here when I speak about the wonders of music as a key part to everyone’s life, how it unites people, how it helps them express feelings and emotions, and provides an escape from the routine. There’s no denying music has a power beyond our understanding.
How can we use this power, though, to spice up our Spanish lessons and take them to a whole new level? What does music bring to language learning?
- Increases cultural awareness. Music gives students an understanding of the culture and society in Spanish-speaking countries. Whether that’s talking about previous conflicts, exploring the concerns that society has or just getting a peek into what daily life looks like in different places, it’s all valuable.
- Helps students understand different dialects. Although some might argue that this is, again, another cultural aspect of the language, the insight that music gives us into different Spanish dialects is so important, it just deserves a bullet point of its own. From Colombian slang to old-fashioned Spanish words, songs are a never-ending source of vocabulary and phrases to improve our students’ command of the language.
- Provides authentic materials. Songs are an obvious choice when it comes to using authentic materials, but Spanish music can also encourage students to regularly listen to the radio—increasing their love for the Spanish culture and providing us with hassle-free listening activities.
- Adds variety to how vocabulary is learned. Although there are new techniques and strategies that teach Spanish in different ways, the reality is that many of us are still using topic-based vocabulary activities. Sadly, our students become experts in talking about clothes, but are unable to hold a casual conversation with Spanish speakers. Songs provide a great way to teach new words in many different contexts, which will obviously benefit your students’ communication skills.
- Offers great scope for differentiation. There are plenty of activities that can be planned around songs, from your classic “fill in the blanks” to writing exercises or even debates. When it comes to planning activities around music, it becomes really easy to give our students different degrees of support without spending hours preparing our resources.
- Engages students and spices up lessons. No explanations needed, right? Just play your favorite tunes and get your students hitting the dance floor!
To help your students gain all of these benefits, here’s a compilation of great “ready-to-go” lesson plans and activities based on popular Spanish songs.
9 Superb Songs for Teaching Spanish to Learners of All Levels
1. “Me gustas tú” – Manu Chao (Beginner)
“Me gustas tú” is Manu Chao’s most popular song, a catchy tune that will ensure your students master opinions once and for all. Anyone that has already listened to Manu Chao’s hit will surely agree that it does its work when it comes to drilling likes and dislikes.
Check out this safe version of “Me gustas tú” if you teach younger students, as the original does talk about marihuana.
Agustín Yagüe Barredo has some great activities to hammer me gusta, le gusta, nos gusta, etc.
You could also organize a survey for your students. Give your students a list of vocabulary from the song (el café, correr, la cena, la noche…) and ask them to go around and ask each other “¿Te gusta…?”
Higher-ability students can extend their learning by including reasons and aiming for more complex forms, while lower-ability students can have visual or written support (for example, model questions and answers) to help them get involved in the activity.
Surveys are really successful group activities because they are not only fantastic speaking practice, but also a great way to break up the routine, get your students walking around and working independently, without having to constantly follow your guidance.
2. “Inevitable” – Shakira (Beginner)
Although our students will probably know (and love) some of the newer Shakira songs, older tunes like “Inevitable” are still fresh and great for teaching. “Inevitable” is fantastic for focusing on the present tense, as most of the song is made of simple, straightforward sentences. Plus, the vocabulary is varied, but quite accessible.
Raquel Perez has put together an activity suitable for beginners, which includes fill-in-the-blank activities, as well as verb conjugations and multiple choice exercises. It’s a varied lesson plan that will allow you to teach new vocabulary, reinforce the present tense and work with time phrases and connectives.
“Inevitable” includes many verbs in the present tense, including irregular verbs. Additionally, there are a few verbs in the past and the future tenses too. This offers great scope for differentiation, allowing higher-ability students to tackle harder verbs, while lower-ability students can work with simpler forms.
Allow your students to work with a conjugator app like VerbTrainer to check their answers and find the ones that they can’t wok out (i.e. conocer – conozco). Remember, with Spanish it’s not always about having every answer, but also about knowing where to find them!
I’m a firm believer in the benefits of practice and using the right resources when it comes to verb conjugations. “Inevitable” is a fantastic way to reinforce verbs in a more entertaining way.
3. “La Reina del Pop” – La Oreja de Van Gogh (Beginner)
“La Reina del Pop” is one of the La Oreja de Van Gogh’s first songs, and yet another great way to practice the present tense—a key grammar point for beginners.
Although this activity suggested by Milena Ivanova Koleva has a similar structure to our previous idea, the vast majority of this song is in the tú form.
Experience has taught me that Spanish learners find the tú form and the vosotros form the hardest to memorize, probably because our focus on writing activities gives them fewer possibilities to practice them. For English speakers, the tú and vosotros forms come with the additional complication of not having a clear difference between “you singular” and “you plural” in their native language.
Take advantage of this opportunity to reinforce the differences between “you singular” and “you plural” in Spanish. Using the lyrics, ask students to identify verbs in the tú form and change them into the vosotros form, maybe as a pair activity or even as a whole class. How would the sentence change in English? How would the meaning change?
4. “Aquellos años locos” – El Canto del Loco (Intermediate)
Once students are comfortable using the present tense and verbs conjugations, the next step is being able to master other tenses.
Although the grammar practice opportunities in this song make it a great choice for our lessons, there’s much more to it than just verb conjugations.
“Aquellos años locos” is the story of someone’s youth, so students can take a stroll down history lane to discover what life was like in Spain during the ’80s.
Oscar Rodriguez García has planned an activity with which to practice and review the use of the imperfect in “Aquellos años locos,” which focuses on regular verbs, most of which are in the tú form.
Hands up if you teach the imperfect by getting students to talk about their childhood. I see many hands out there, including my own. So what better way to do it than with this song? After listening and working with the lyrics, Oscar’s lesson plan features an exercise in which students describe their own youth and even compare it with that of their partners.
To show a better command of the Spanish language, get your students to compare their life as kids to their lives now, by combining the imperfect and the present tense—just as you can see on the final slide of this PowerPoint, which will help you teach this new tense. Even better, use this as a way to compare how life has changed in their own country and in Spain since they were younger.
5. “Marta, Sebas, Guille y los demás” – Amaral (Intermediate)
The great thing about teaching Spanish to an intermediate class is that, at this level, students are already able to hold small debates and express their own views on different topics. “Marta, Sebas, Guille y los demás” is a song about friendship, an accessible topic for pupils of different ages and something they surely have loads to say about!
“Marta, Sebas, Guille y los demás” also provides great grammar practice. The whole song is pretty much a combination of preterite and imperfect tense, giving us fantastic opportunities to work with these two tenses together once our students are comfortable conjugating them separately. Alicia Pascual Miguelañez has put together a whole lesson plan to make the most of this great song and practice talking about friendship in the past.
If you have higher-ability students in your class that could cope with some challenge, you can ask them to predict what will happen to their friendships in the future. Especially for those in school, it would be a great way to review vocabulary regarding future plans and it will push the final writing suggested by Alicia Pascual Miguelañez to a whole new level.
6. “Mi paracaidas” – Marwan (Intermediate)
After having closely worked with the present and the past tenses, it’s time to push our students forward and get them to express concepts and ideas that will happen in the future.
“Mi paracaidas” is a song by Spanish songwriter and singer Marwan, probably not the typical party anthem you would hear at the disco or the radio, but definitely interesting for older students looking for good quality rather than popularity.
The best thing about this lesson designed by Rafael González Tejel and María Martín Serrano is that it takes a song that’s entirely in the future tense, but uses it to teach and work with the conditional tense. This strategy is not only a fantastic way to get our students to understand the differences between these two tenses, but also forces them to become more flexible and think on their feet when it comes to conjugations.
The whole lesson plan linked to above is so full of interesting and well-thought out activities, it could be tempting to focus on those and spend hours squeezing the Spanish out of “Mi paracaidas,” forgetting about some of the exercises at the end of the worksheet.
Don’t! The very last activity is a true goldmine. Students are given cards with a hypothetical scenario and are asked to imagine and write down what they would do in those situations (winning the lottery, having twins, signing with Real Madrid…). If you give this activity a little twist, it can become a fun game to practice the conditional!
Students hide their cards from the rest of the class and just read out their sentences in the conditional, saying what they would do, while their peers try to guess what the card said. Encourage your students to go crazy with their sentences and see what comes up. You’ll have some good laughs!
7. “¿Qué sera?” – Amaral (Advanced)
At an advanced level, our students are able to play with the language in a more natural way and need resources that are able to stretch them. Music at this level plays a different role, moving away from the usual listening comprehension and showing our students the particularities of different dialects and slangs.
“¿Qué sera?” is Agustin Yagüe Barredo’s choice for this double lesson, in which students learn and use phrases and expressions to help them sound like real Spanish speakers. If you’re looking for a good resource with which to teach your students the difference between bala perdida and viva la vida, you’ve found exactly what you need!
In his lesson plan, Agustin Yagüe Barredo suggests reinforcing the new vocabulary by asking your students to describe famous people or popular TV characters with the phrases that were taught in class.
So, why not make it even better by actually watching an episode (or part of it) of a popular Spanish TV series, such as “Cuentame” or “El Ministerio del Tiempo” (which can be watched online via the RTVE website) and using the vocabulary to describe the characters and situations? For example, “En este episodio, Toni es un Don Juan” or “Amelia es un trozo de pan.” Now that’s real Spanish immersion!
8. “Si Pudiera” – Los Suaves (Advanced)
Do you want to rock your lesson with the best tunes? If you’re looking for some good old rock classic, then Los Suaves is a must-have in your music collection.
Grammar can be boring, especially when you’ve been doing the same exercises year after year. Trust me, I’m still battling with some of those when I go to my French lesson (yeah, I’m still a language student too…). Don’t get me wrong, they’re really useful, but for once I just wished my teacher would come up with something different!
Alberto Castilla Ruiz has put together a grammar session based on the song “Si Pudiera” to get students working with the imperfect subjunctive and the conditional in a more original way. “If clauses” in the imperfect subjunctive can be tricky, so it’s always useful to reinforce the grammar and teach our students how to apply it in real life.
Alberto Castilla Ruiz’s suggested activities include a fictional interview with Los Suaves’s leader Yosi. Don’t overlook it! Some years ago, Yosi was diagnosed with hepatitis, which has forced the band to retire. Get your students to read this article on Los Suaves’s announcement and then work in pairs preparing the interview, with a focus on what would happen if Yosi wasn’t ill or what he would do if he could keep playing for years…
By providing your advanced level students with a magazine article and a real scenario, you’re giving them the opportunity to use the language with a real purpose.
9. “Malo” – Bebe (Advanced)
“Malo” is a tale about one of the biggest social problems in Spain: domestic violence. What in Bebe’s song is just a sad story, is actually a real drama in Spain today.
RedEle’s magazine features a great didactic session on gender violence, which not only explores the message behind the song, but helps students analyze the whole situation. Although there’s not a huge deal of grammatical content covered in this unit, when it comes to cultural awareness, it doesn’t get any better than this. There are graphs to analyze and key data and information on gender violence in the target language, which will enable us to take our lesson a step further.
The ultimate objective with our advanced level classes is to be able to have a debate on the topic, in which students use the language to communicate in the most natural way possible. So, combine this song and unit with a recent newspaper article covering the impact of domestic violence in one of the Spanish-speaking countries to trigger that debate! Go to El País or El Mundo, search for “violencia de genero” and find the perfect article to get your class babbling away.
Are you so excited about including music in your lessons that you’re ready to try them all? These nine songs can totally rock your Spanish lessons this year!
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