You hum them while you work.
You belt them out in your car.
You dance to them when no one is watching, and sometimes, even when everyone is watching.
Songs are an integral part of your life, so why shouldn’t they be part of your language learning routine?
Listening to music is so much more than just a fun way to pass the time. It can also be one of the most powerful language learning tools in your arsenal!
You just need a good approach and the right song in your heart and on your playlist. Here’s all you need to know to learn a language through songs.
Why You Should Incorporate Songs into Your Language Study
- Learning with music is a fun way to break up your study session without halting your learning. Conventional study methods are useful, but they can also zap your energy. Eventually, you’ll need a break to recharge. Listening to music in your target language can give you the refreshing break you need from your normal study methods while still upping your language skills.
- Plus, popular songs will be well-known in their countries of origin, giving you another connection to local culture. Not only can this make you feel more deeply connected to the culture, but it also provides a great topic of conversation for interactions with native speakers. You might even want to discuss your favorite songs and performers with your language exchange partner. For instance, Korean students will have no problem finding someone to discuss BTS with.
- Songs are also easy to memorize, so you can use them to remember grammar rules and vocabulary. The combination of rhythmic lyrics and a melody make songs much easier to remember than words alone. That makes them great tools to remember vocabulary and grammar rules you might otherwise forget.
For example, beginning Portuguese and Spanish students can reinforce some key vocabulary with “Meu Menino/Minha Menina” (“My Boy/My Girl”) by Luan Santana featuring Belinda. Luan Santana (the man) sings in Portuguese, while Belinda Peregrín (the woman) sings in Spanish.
The vocabulary is pretty basic, so beginners can see common vocabulary in context and get more comfortable with word gender and past and present tense verbs. Plus, you can always
read along if you need a little extra assistance.
- Music is also easy to have with you wherever you are. Music is one of the most portable language learning tools imaginable! It’s easy to load onto your phone and listen to in your car, on a plane, in line or anywhere you are when the desire to practice your target language strikes.
- It’s easy to listen to music in short bursts. Songs are just a few minutes long, and listening to one isn’t much of a commitment. You don’t have to set aside long chunks of time, so it’s easy to squeeze in whenever you have a couple minutes. Because it’s so quick and easy, you could listen several times throughout the day.
- Finally, songs use repetition, which is great for reinforcing vocabulary. Songs are inherently repetitive, particularly the choruses. For instance, anyone who has heard “Despacito” (“Slowly”) by Luis Fonsi can probably remember the titular word even if they don’t speak Spanish because of the repetition alone. Because repetition is often the key to language learning, music and learning seem like a natural fit.
Learn a Language Through Songs with These 9 Groovy Tips
1. Pick the right song.
Choosing the right song is the key to success. However, it isn’t as easy as just selecting any song in your target language and listening to it. Instead, there are some key points to take in consideration.
The first thing to consider is whether you find a song enjoyable. You want to pick a song you truly like listening to. The more you like it, the more likely you are to listen to it. The more you listen to it, the more likely you are to learn from it.
You should also consider whether or not the song is level-appropriate. If a song is much simpler than your current skill set, like a children’s song, you probably won’t learn as much as you could. However, if a song is way too hard, like a rap, everything might blur together, and you end up learning next to nothing. If you understand some but not all of the song the first time you listen, it’s probably at an appropriate level.
2. Keep your target song handy.
Keeping your target song with you wherever you go makes it easier to squeeze in a quick learning session. Because learning through music requires repetition, being able to listen whenever the mood strikes can increase your learning potential. Keep the song on your phone, on your computer and anywhere else where you might like to listen to music.
Purchasing your target song on iTunes can make it easy to save it on your phone, computer and/or favorite device. And you never have to worry about English-language ads interrupting your immersive language experience!
The selection on iTunes is hard to beat, so you’ll find plenty of great options in your target language. You can download individual songs or entire albums so that you have plenty of content at your fingertips.
Not only can you listen to some of your favorite songs on Spotify, you could even craft your own learning playlist! If you’re not up for creating your own playlist, that’s fine, too. There are a lot of existing foreign language playlists that can help learners find and enjoy great songs in their target languages.
If you’re using a free Spotify account, your playlist will be interrupted with some ads, so try to tune out the English and focus on your target language if you’re looking for a more immersive language exercise. If you can’t ignore the ads, though, try translating them in your head for a little extra practice!
3. Use the lyrics for added support.
Even native speakers can’t always understand all the words in songs. While misheard lyrics can be hilarious, they can also create headaches for language learners.
That’s why there’s no shame in using the lyrics for added support. Not only can they help you make out individual words more clearly, but you can use them to study even when you’re not listening to your target song. Referring to the lyrics gives you ample opportunity to look up and practice new vocabulary without interrupting your favorite tune.
Want to take some of the work out of learning a language with music? FluentU can help! FluentU takes real-world videos, including music videos, and turns them into language lessons.
FluentU gives videos a unique learning twist. Each video is captioned, and the captions are annotated to give you easy access to any word’s definition and example sentences. If you want to study a word from a music video more, just add it to your vocabulary list.
But your love of authentic language learning materials doesn’t have to stop at music! FluentU also offers other authentic videos, like news broadcasts, movie trailers and informational talks, so you’ll have plenty to choose from.
When you want to change it up, hop on over to Quiz Mode. Quiz Mode combines videos, images and example sentences into flashcard activities that provide an authentic, engaging experience.
Lyrics Translate provides lyrics translated between languages, so you may be able to find English translations of your target song. Perhaps best of all, you can view the original song lyrics side-by-side with the translation, making it easy to check the meaning of any word or phrase
If you don’t see a translation of your target song, though, all is not lost! You can post a request for a translation, and a friendly translator may help you out. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you could even offer translations for songs as an additional way to practice your target language.
Genius provides tons of song lyrics, so you can find a lot of popular foreign language songs through this website.
However, Genius is more than just song lyrics. Annotations provide additional details on inspiration and meaning, allowing you to understand songs in greater depth.
4. Look up new vocabulary words.
Even if you understand your target song for the most part, looking up words you’re unfamiliar with can expand your vocabulary and ensure you understand the song more completely.
If you’re using printed lyrics, looking up new vocabulary words is simple. Just read through the lyrics, jot down any unfamiliar words and look them up. Then you can study them in greater depth so that you understand them better when listening to the song.
If you’re not using lyrics, you’ll need to rely more on your ears. When you hear a word you don’t know, write down what you think you hear. Then look that word up. If the meaning you find doesn’t seem to make sense in context, try listening again—you may have misheard a lyric.
You can also maintain vocabulary lists for all your favorite songs to give yourself reference material and track how much you’ve learned.
5. Learn one chunk at a time.
When you first start out, approaching an entire song at once may be challenging. One great technique to learn and enjoy a song in your target language is to break it into tiny chunks.
To do this, just listen for a set length of time, like 15 seconds, or just choose a section of the printed lyrics. Look up unfamiliar words and study them until you know everything in that chunk.
The chorus is an ideal segment to start with. Because the chorus is repeated, you’ll hear it often, so learning it right away can make it easier to enjoy the song.
6. Sing along.
Finally, the excuse you’ve been looking for to sing at the top of your lungs! Singing along is definitely fun, but there’s so much more to it than that. When you’re singing along in your target language, you’re also practicing your pronunciation and reinforcing the vocabulary you’ve learned from the song.
Not confident yet? Try lip-syncing. It will get you used to thinking of what lyrics come next, and it might help you transition toward singing your heart out.
If you have friends who are studying the same language as you, even better. You can get together and have sing offs, of just enjoy a language learning binge on your next road trip.
7. Watch music videos.
Watching music videos is a great way to feel more immersed in the music. Not only do you get great visuals to go along with the music (and possibly hint at the meaning), you may also have the opportunity to watch the singer’s lips, which could make it easier to figure out what they’re singing and learn how to replicate the sounds yourself.
While FluentU is a great resource for music videos, there are even more options to accompany it.
YouTube provides a wealth of music videos. You can find a lot of the most popular international hits, so you can probably find the music video of your target song.
And YouTube comes with some major bonuses! You can interact with other fans in the comments section, and many of the videos offer English subtitles. For instance, French students who don’t mind adult language can enjoy “Balance Ton Quoi” (“Expose Your What”) by Angèle with English subtitles.
To find your target song, try searching the song name and “official video” in your target language.
Vimeo also offers up a lot of official music videos. You can encounter plenty of foreign language content just by searching “official music video,” or you can search the title of your target song. Regardless, Vimeo has some great options, such as “Oasis” (“Oasis”) by La Chica, which Spanish students may enjoy.
8. Dance along.
Wait… if the goal is to listen to your target language, why should you dance?
Well, studying can be a pretty sedentary activity. However, studies indicate that physical movement can aid learning, so if you’re sitting still, you might be missing out!
The next time you watch the music video of your target song, just try to pick up as many dance moves as possible. Once you have a handle on the moves, try to dance when you listen!
Not only is it a fun, active way to break up your study session, but associating words and phrases with specific movements might make that vocab easier to remember.
9. Interact with other music fans.
While music is great for listening practice and building vocabulary, it doesn’t provide great writing practice. However, that doesn’t mean your passion for music can’t fuel your writing practice! There are avid music fans all over the world, and connecting with them online can be a great way to practice your writing skills and make new friends.
To find fan groups using your target language, try searching “music fans” for your target language. You can even search the name of the performer/group and “fans” to try to find people who share your specific preferences.
Reddit has plenty of subreddits dedicated to music, including international music communities. While these groups may discuss both English and non-English songs, they communicate in different languages. So if you find the right subreddit, you can practice reading and writing in your target language. And if no one is talking about the music you want to talk about, you can simply start your own thread to launch the conversation.
Spanish students can try out their skills at “Música en Español” (“Music in Spanish”), where members share music videos and discuss songs.
Francophones who love music can interact in the “La musique française“ (“French music”) subreddit.
Learning Italian? You guessed it! There’s an “Italian Music” subreddit, too.
While not all languages have a dedicated music page, you can also discuss music in other foreign language subreddits. For instance, music definitely isn’t the focus of the Japanese subreddit, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring it up!
To find subreddits for music in your target language, just search the name of the language and “music” in your target language on Reddit.
If it sounds like music to your ears to learn a language through songs, try these tips to get started! There’s no groovier way to learn a new language.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.