As the famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said: “Without music, life would be a mistake.”
We could not agree more, and this idea has even been confirmed by science (as we shall see in the next section).
Music gets us up and moving, it boosts our spirits and it can even help us learn German.
How is that, you ask?
Just think of your favorite song. You can probably sing along to the words. In fact, why don’t you hum a bit of it right now? …Oops, you have probably gotten it stuck in your head.
That is the beauty of music: it is repetitive and catchy, two elements that make it ideal for language learning!
Songs make it easier to remember that tough grammar concept and finally learn those new words you simply cannot memorize no matter how many times you look at the flashcards. And that information will be there every time you sing the song.
Isn’t music awesome?
Let us harness the power of music and use it to study German with five fun activities that will raise your skills while you rock out!
Science Agrees: Learning German with Music Is Awesome!
There has been plenty of research and analysis done on music and how it affects us, and the results are encouraging! Music, it turns out, stimulates the brain—therefore promoting improved learning capabilities. But how exactly are language learning and music related?
Many scientists have strongly established the fact that music can reinforce the acquisition of a second language, since both linguistics and music share structural and auditory complexity. In other words, grammar has its own rhythm!
And music can help at any stage of your learning: even beginners can benefit from listening to German songs, whether or not they can understand the words.
You can probably sing along to a foreign song or two already, even though you have no idea what the words are saying. That is because songs help you remember words by pairing them with a beat. Combine that with some active learning (actually looking up and learning the words being used) and you have one powerful vocab-acquisition tool.
That brings us to another important point about learning German through music: You need to consciously process the song in your mind, word for word as you hear it, to really get the most from your learning.
Remember, this is not a language you are familiar with. Your subconscious mind might be listening along even if you do not pay attention, but to tap that knowledge and apply it outside the confines of a song is going to take some time and active effort.
That is why it is a good idea to pair music with some active-listening activities, to maximize your learning scope and minimize the learning time.
Learn German with Music: 5 Fun Ways to Turn Top Tunes into Language Skills
1. Fill In the Blanks
Do not fret! This is not a classroom assignment. Believe me, this method can be a lot of fun, if done the right way.
First, decide on a theme. The theme—whether it is upbeat, encouraging, sad or anything else you can imagine—will determine what kind of language will be used in the song.
I am feeling a little romantic today, so I am going to choose “Das Beste” by Silbermond.
Since our theme is romance, we can expect to find a lot of vocabulary related to love in this song. Let’s have a look at the first stanza:
Ich habe einen Schatz gefunden (I have found a treasure)
Und er trägt Deinen Namen (and it carries your name)
So wunderschön und wertvoll (So wonderful and valuable)
Und mit keinem Geld der Welt zu bezahlen (and it can’t be paid with any money of the world)
Once you have chosen a song and found its lyrics, write out the lyrics and intentionally leave some words blank on each line.
When deciding which words to blank out, choose words you do not know or that you find interesting. You can also choose to blank out the most important words (the ones that stand out to you when you listen to the song) or you can focus on the grammar constructs and leave out prepositions and other helping words that generally fade into the background.
Here is one way your page might look once you have done this:
Ich habe einen Schatz _______
Und er _____ Deinen Namen
So wunderschön und _______
Und mit keinem Geld der Welt zu ________
Now, fill in these blanks while listening to the song. Do this for the entire song. I recommend printing out the sheet so you can write in the words as you are listening, or you can just use your computer and type them out.
By following the blanking pattern like above, you can learn four new useful words: gefunden (found, which is the Partizip II of the word finden — to find), trägt (wears, which is the singular third person conjugation of the verb tragen — to wear), wertvoll (valuable) and bezahlen (to pay).
If this seems like too much work for you, do not worry! There are some ready-made sites that do this for you. Just listen and fill in the blanks.
This technique is great for learning new words in a memorable way. Every song you do will give you a new list of vocabulary words! Look them up and see how they are used and you will be adding to the vocabulary you know.
You can also log onto FluentU and use the music videos there for an extra boost to your learning. Every video on FluentU comes with interactive captions so there is no need to even look up the lyrics to any song! They are right there as you listen.
And there are lots of other types of videos to be discovered, from news to movie clips and inspirational talks. As a bonus, if you find some words you do not know, you can simply add them to your vocab list and the adaptive quizzing system will help you remember them forever.
Not sure if FluentU is right for you? You can try it out for 15 days with a free trial.
2. Order, Order: Get in Line
This is another fun technique that gets you hands-on with the music. Print our the lyrics to your favorite German song, making sure the font size is at least 14 and leaving spaces between the lines to make things easier for you.
Then, cut each line of the song with scissors until you are left with lots of strips of paper and plenty of confusion about why you are doing this.
Simple: Now all you have to do is jumble all the strips thoroughly and put them back in order while you listen to the song.
This technique dramatically improves your auditory skills and makes you listen closely to the words of the song.
For a challenge, print out the English translation of the song and use the German music to put the English words back together. This will take you the next step from just hearing the words to actually understanding them.
If you are looking for some good sites with German song lyrics, try Song Texte or Genius. But do not be surprised if you find the latest English songs on German lyrics sites, as German youngsters are quite influenced by American chart-busters.
3. Relearn and Reinforce
The last two activities focused on words. This one is all about the grammar!
When you are studying German with music, try to listen to each song and figure out which grammar concepts it uses the most. Although the meaning of a song can have various interpretations, the sentence structure is a uniform concept. And often, songs use one or two main tenses and repeat sentence constructions throughout for a better-sounding song.
This is great news for German learners for when you want to learn a specific grammar concept!
For example, take the song “Ohne Dich” (“Without You”), by the popular German band Rammstein.
The main grammatical concept being illustrated here is the use of prepositions.
More specifically, we see the word Ohne (Without) and the Akkusativ case: When we use the preposition Ohne is used, the articles or pronouns following are in Akkusativ. Let’s take a look at the lyrics of the chorus of this song to better understand this:
Ohne dich kann ich nicht sein, (Without you I cannot be)
Ohne dich, (Without you)
Mit dir bin ich auch allein, (With you I am also alone)
Ohne dich, (Without you)
Ohne dich zähl ich die Stunden, (Without you I count the hours)
Ohne dich, (Without you)
Mit dir stehen die Sekunden, (With you the seconds stand still)
Lohnen nicht (They aren’t worth it)
From the chorus it is clear that the two main grammar concepts being demonstrated or stressed here are Ohne being Akkusativ and Mit being Dativ. You can see Dich (you) which follows Ohne is the Akkusativ form of Du (you), and Dir (you) which follows Mit is the Dativ form of Du.
This song, then, would be excellent to use when studying these cases and the overall concept of prepositions.
The next time you listen to a German song, do not just listen! Carefully analyze the grammar of the song and try to relate it to what you have learned already. Using lyrics will help you actually remember the concept in use.
4. Get Campy with Karaoke
Apart from the innumerable benefits that karaoke offers like uplifting your mood, taking away your stress and rejuvenating your senses, its effects on learning a language are truly great.
The best way to use karaoke to improve your German is to record yourself singing a German song. Then, listen to it and compare your pronunciation, emphasis, accent and the overall flow to the original song.
This not only boosts your confidence in German, it also increases your familiarity with the language since you are actively using it. Suddenly, the foreign language does not seem so foreign anymore. The next time you are in a café and a famous German song is playing, you could confidently boast that you know the song well… or just join in!
5. Rap It Up
A friend of mine who hates rap describes it as a genre where everyone is upset because the guy who knows the melody did not show up. Jokes apart, rap is not for everyone. But if used correctly, it is a fun way to work wonders on your German language learning.
Listening to German rap songs can also help you learn about Jugendsprache (the language of the youth). You get to see words like Mega (very), Babo (boss), Barbie (girl) and a never-ending list of other German slang.
My personal favorite is “Augenbling” (“Eyeblink/A Moment”) by Seeed. I love the catchy rhythm and the pace of the song—and maybe you will, too! Give it a listen, even if you are not a fan of rap.
You can definitely use the previous four methods on this song and other German rap songs. Rapping along with the music is a great way to work on your fluency and diction!
But by far the most fun way to use rap to learn German is to come up with your own song.
To do this, you can follow the minimal pairing technique—finding words that differ by a syllable or letter—and then weave these into creative sentences and form your very own rap song!
As an example, I came up with these minimal pairings:
Schatz (Treasure/Sweetheart) and Platz (Space/City Square)
Nacht (Night) and Acht (Eight)
With these, I can form my first rap couplet, which goes something like this:
Hallo Schatz ich bin am Platz,
Ist schon Nacht, wann kommst du, um Acht?
This roughly translates to:
Hey sweetheart, I am at the Square,
It is already night, when are you coming, at eight?
Do not worry about the lyrics not translating to something deep or even making much sense. We are not poets! But creating your own rap songs can definitely give you a hold on the language, in a fun way! So why not try it?
Music is basically magic. It can be used in many creative ways in any kind of learning!
So keep an ear out for new German songs and try to apply these techniques to them. German music has evolved a lot over time, and learning along with it will help you figure out your own journey of growth.
Gayatri Tribhuvan is a passionate linguist from Bangalore, India and teaches German, French and other languages. She enthusiastically contributes her knowledge in the linguistics field. Get to know more about the language school that she runs in Bangalore here.
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