You just can’t stop humming that tune.
It’s an earworm. And you’ve tried everything to make it stop.
Worse yet, it’s a song you heard while watching a foreign film. And you only caught some of the words.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could take that earworm and use it to your advantage?
What if the songs you just can’t get out of your head could also help you advance in your language studies?
It’s certainly something to think about. (Hey, any kind of distraction from the incessant repetition of that chorus would be a relief, wouldn’t it?)
Help is here. And it isn’t a set of earplugs for your brain: It’s a guide to a half-dozen of the best lyrics sites out there.
You can use these sites to track down those pesky words that you can’t quite remember or couldn’t quite figure out—the words that will help you better understand the language you’re trying to learn.
Believe it or not, you can also use them to keep up with the latest music in your target language and discover new artists you love.
In this post, we’ll find out how—but first, let’s take a look at how you can make song lyrics part of your language study plan.
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Value Behind the Verses: How Song Lyrics Help You Learn a Language
Music works its magic in several ways, helping you to learn far more than just a set of lyrics for a single song.
By stimulating your brain
Music engages your learning processes. It’s catchy and memorable, which helps you retain what you learn.
If you’re learning the words and not just the tune, the music itself will help you remember the lyrics.
By capturing casual speech and slang
Songs help you learn slang and idiomatic expressions. They often use everyday speech to express the writer’s feelings on the song’s topic.
Since they’re generally written for native speakers, they’re not glossed the way a textbook or graded reader would be. They bring you into the real, everyday life of the living language.
By helping you profit from poetry set to music
Song lyrics can be more than just everyday speech, though. Many of them are written in a poetic way, using metaphors and other figurative language to evoke a certain feeling in listeners—whether it’s painting a dismal picture of love gone wrong, or lighting up the world with hope.
A Transcription Prescription for Learning Through Lyrics
Knowing what you can learn from songs is all well and good, but how do you get there? Whether you think of a song in another language as a delicious nut with a tough shell that needs to be cracked open or as a sweet, tangy pomegranate with layers of juicy arils inside its waxy, honeycombed interior, the song’s lyrics certainly offer more than meets the eye.
All you need are the right tools to dig down deep and enjoy the fruits of your song-harvesting labor.
Below are some suggestions for finding and learning from song lyrics. Some of them, such as doing your own transcription, are a bit more labor-intensive—although they may bring you better reinforcement.
Other options, like finding the official lyrics and translations already done for you online, are huge timesavers. However, you may not retain what you learn quite as well if you jump right into looking up the lyrics.
Try the options that seem the most feasible for you. Just like your own personal playlist, the way you learn from lyrics should be customized to you.
DIY transcription and translation
Are you one of those people who likes to try figuring something out for yourself before you read the manual? You might enjoy challenging yourself to see what you already know—and what you can puzzle out—before you look at the answer key.
Try transcribing a song yourself first. Just sit down with a notebook, let the music play and jot down what you hear as best you can.
If you’re not sure about something, stop the recording and listen again. It doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t have to be pretty; there will be a lot of question marks and false starts. You just want to make an honest attempt to use the words you already know and the language skills you have, as this will build your confidence in the language over time.
Don’t belabor the attempt. The point is to have fun with the music, not to drive yourself crazy because you can’t make out some of the words. (That’s hard enough to do in your native language sometimes! And you’re not the only one—there’s even an online archive of misheard lyrics.)
Once you’re satisfied you’ve gotten the lyrics down as well as you can, attempt to translate your transcribed lyrics.
First, do what you can off the top of your head; then, when you get stumped or want to double-check yourself, reach for the dictionary.
Keep a running log of new words and phrases you learn while translating songs. You can review them from time to time to help you remember them, maybe even making your own lyrical flashcards.
Make it official
Of course, you won’t be completely sure how well you’ve gotten the lyrics down until you can compare your efforts with the official version.
If the song’s artist has a website with a lyrics archive, great! Getting the lyrics directly from the artist is about as official as you can get, and those lyrics will probably be the most correct.
Older artists may not have gone digital with their works. If you went old school and bought a CD, you may have the lyrics in the liner notes, right in the CD booklet.
Coming up empty on getting the official lyrics from the artist? There are many online lyrics repositories that could fit the bill. Aside from the great lyrics sites we’ll look at below, MetroLyrics is a solid, well-presented site with lyrics from multilingual artists, as is Genius.
If you choose not to personally transcribe the lyrics, but still want a chance to translate the lyrics for yourself, these are good places to go for just the original words.
Compare and contrast
Whether you choose to transcribe songs yourself or just to translate the lyrics you found on another source, you’ll probably want to check the accuracy of your translation.
Once you have your own translation on hand, you can see how it fared against an online version from a site like LyricsTranslate or AlltheLyrics.com. Both of these sites host lyrics translation forums supporting users who are interested in dozens of languages.
Don’t be shy about participating in these forums, whether it’s to offer your own services in translation, ask questions or just to be part of the cultural conversation.
And bear in mind that many online translations are done by amateurs, and may not be entirely correct. If something in the online version doesn’t seem right to you, it’s possible there were transcription or translation errors.
Again, the idea isn’t to strive for perfection, but just to enjoy a rich, entertaining language learning resource.
Learn a Language Through Music with 6 Awesome Lyrics Sites
Once you’ve practiced transcribing and translating a few of your favorite songs, you might be hankering for some new tunes. These six sites, with lyrics for millions of songs and thousands of artists, will introduce you to popular artists and rare gems, all while helping you improve your language skills through learning and translating lyrics.
Songs in Many Languages
With curated, interactive video libraries to help you learn languages, FluentU is your go-to source for learning language through music!
FluentU is like MTV for all these MFLs (Modern Foreign Languages):
You’ll find more than just the song lyrics on FluentU: Get fully captioned videos with translations and extra features to help you learn through lyrics… like the exercises, flashcards and quizzes available in FluentU’s Quiz Mode.
The great thing about using FluentU as your main lyrics site is that everything is right there in front of you: You can pick a song and immediately start watching the video, and you get to choose whether you see the transcription, translation, both or neither. You can even download a PDF transcription of any video to study offline.
FluentU can recommend more videos for you, based on your previous picks and your language level. Keep yourself challenged and keep the hits coming!
Songs in Specific Languages
This part of the list will cover dedicated lyrics sites for seven of the most widely-spoken languages out there.
Since these sites are often geared toward native speakers, many of them don’t offer translations for the song lyrics. If you find songs you really like on these sites and need to check your own translation, try right-clicking on the screen and see if your browser offers a “Translate this page” option. (Google Chrome has this feature, although the machine translation may not be as nuanced as a translation by a person.)
Otherwise, FluentU and LyricsTranslate might pick up where these sites leave off, giving you access to translations and other learning materials.
Chinese, Korean and Japanese: Alyricso
Alyricso will help you get your fix of C-pop, K-pop and J-pop.
The site offers two versions of lyrics for each song presented:
- Scroll down the page to find the Romanization (transliteration of the sounds of the words into the English alphabet).
A few of the songs, especially from the “Featured” section, are glossed in English.
This French music site lets you search for song lyrics by artist and/or title. But it’s more than just a lyrics repository—Paroles-Musique keeps you up-to-date with all the latest musical trends, tallying the Top 50 songs of the month (based on the number of visitors to various lyrics pages).
The site also hosts translations of popular songs into French. If you’re familiar with the original lyrics, this can be a great exercise: You might try your hand at producing your own version of a translation into French, then check it against the efforts published on the site. Just look for the Traduction (Translation) tab near the top of the page; you can either browse the Top 100 popular translations or search alphabetically for songs that might interest you.
If you’re just beginning your French language adventure, the site is available in English to help you navigate. And take a peek at these seven songs, which can help you tackle several facets of French grammar and vocabulary.
Get grooving with the German-language gems on Songtexte! This site not only features the lyrics to oodles of hits, but it’ll keep you up to speed with German pop with its front-page News section. Its interactive forum is the place to go to discuss the music of many genres—along with many other music-related and off-topic topics. You can even give your feedback about the website content.
Songtexte shows you the most popular music of the day, displaying the iTunes charts for Germany, Austria, Switzerland and more. You can also enjoy themed, “best-of” listicles, like this list of the 50 best Schlager songs, the 40 loveliest songs for nights around the campfire and the 10 most beautiful friendship songs.
RussMus may not be one of the biggest lyrics sites out there. However, its pages cover a broad scope of music genres.
The Traditional Music section brings you Russian folk songs and “Soviet Classics,” plus anthems and children’s songs.
Switch over to Modern Russian Music, and you’ll see rock, hip-hop, techno and more.
Each major section has a history of the music styles, helping you to put the artists and lyrics into cultural context. The site also gives short artist biographies, so you can learn a bit more about the individual singers and musicians.
The lyrics themselves are shown in the original Russian (or, in some cases, Ukrainian). Many songs have a Romanized transliteration/phoneticization, and there are even links to guitar tabs and song videos in some cases. This small-but-mighty site will get you on the path to learning Russian through song, boldly taking you where “The Volga Boatmen” has never gone before!
Spanish-language lyrics site Musica.com has got the beat, offering not only straight-up lyrics but lyrics paired with music videos for on-the-spot karaoke.
There’s a series of articles merging music and culture. Plus, you can test your knowledge of Spanish-language music, artists and culture with these music trivia games.
Here are 10 canciones (songs) to get you started, with tips on learning Spanish through songs.
Find some songs you’ll love and give these lyrics sites a shot at helping with the translations.
You’ll be humming a happy new tune, and singing along—with the correct words. And you’ll even know what they mean!
Michelle Baumgartner is a language nerd who has formally studied seven languages and informally dabbled in at least three others. In addition to geeking out over slender vowels, interrogative particles, and phonemes, Michelle is a freelance content writer and education blogger. Keep up with her latest adventures in language and learning on Twitter.
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