Quickly, finish these sentences:
“Upside inside out, she’s…” (“…livin’ la vida loca”)
“Dale a tu cuerpo alegría, Macarena, Heeeey…” (“…Macarena!”)
Even if you’re an absolute beginner to Spanish, there’s a good chance you knew all three of these, even though you probably haven’t heard at least two of them for years.
You memorized some Spanish without even realizing it and, years later, you can recall it without hesitation. How?
With the power of music!
As you can probably see now, learning Spanish through songs is an extremely powerful way to get words and expressions to stay in your mind long-term.
We all get songs stuck in our heads—so put that to good use and use it as a learning tool to improve your language skills!
Why Learning Spanish Through Songs Works
Scratching the Itch
Songs get stuck in our heads because of the way our brains work. Music activates the auditory cortex part of our brains, and when we do not know the entire song our brains fill in the missing gaps in the rhythm and repeat it over and over.
Scientists call this phenomenon a cognitive itch or a brain itch, and by repeating a tune in your head you are scratching the itch.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), our brains sometimes act like stuck iPods, unable to shuffle past the song they are stuck on to move onto something else we would rather listen to!
Scientists and researchers all around the world have different names for songs getting stuck in our heads and different theories for why this happens. Marketing agencies and commercials are constantly coming up with new jingles and tunes to make their product memorable to you by creating a sound or piece of music that will get stuck in your head, and this often works very well!
We can use these same ideas to help learn a new language: If your brain can remember the music from a commercial or the theme song from a popular show on television, it will also remember a song or chorus line that you have heard even if it is in a different language.
Context Is Everything
By learning Spanish through songs, your brain makes the connection between the music you are listening to and the words and language concepts you are trying to learn.
A Shot of Culture
Music gives you an insight into the Spanish culture that cannot be learned from a book.
People often sing about things they care about, so you get to learn more about the way Spanish-speaking cultures view certain universally important themes like love.
Learn the Local Lingo
Singing along to Spanish music not only increases your vocabulary and knowledge of popular Spanish culture, but it also allows you to become acquainted with regional accents and slang.
It’s Just Fun!
Learning Spanish with music is just plain fun!
Tips for Learning Spanish with Music
As mentioned above, we get songs stuck in our head all the time. If you listen to something long enough, you will begin to recognize the beat, beginning notes and lyrics of the song. With repetition, you will soon find yourself singing along almost without trying!
However, in order to learn Spanish effectively, there are some tips and tricks to utilizing songs and music to your language-learning benefit. Here are some things you should look for when you are picking a song for learning Spanish, plus a few suggestions for how to learn with these songs:
- Clear pronunciation: You do not want to use a song where the lyrics blend into one another or are hard to understand because the singer is mumbling. This is especially true if you are a beginner: Choose songs with clear pronunciation for a better learning experience.
- A catchy beat: If the beat and rhythm does not catch your fancy when you listen to it, you probably will not want it stuck in your head. Songs that make you tap your foot and bob your head are the best!
- Repeating chorus/verses: The best songs to learn Spanish are ones that have repeating phrases in the chorus or verses that contain the same lyrics. If you can recognize and remember the lyrics, you will be able to sing the song in your head with more accuracy!
- A familiar song dubbed in Spanish: Learning completely new songs in Spanish can be difficult, so sometimes it is more than acceptable to take a familiar English song and find a Spanish version of it. You can do this for theme songs, your favorite songs, or listen to familiar artists who also sing in Spanish (like Shakira or Enrique Iglesias).
- Regional Spanish music: Pick songs sung by artists from the Spanish region of the world whose dialect you are learning. Dialects across the Spanish-speaking world differ and can use different slang, so make it easy on yourself at least at the beginning!
- Look up unknown words: It is also helpful to look up words that you’re not familiar with, and to write them down and periodically review them.
- Use FluentU: If this sounds like a lot of work, you can always use FluentU to learn songs. FluentU lets you learn Spanish through the web’s best Spanish music videos. There’s a wide variety of videos—topics like soccer, Disney musicals, TV shows, music videos and even magical realism, as you can see here:
And, of course, there are plenty of hand-picked music videos!
Choose any video that strikes your fancy! You’ll see how many Spanish vocabulary words you can learn from it, and you can even look at the transcript of the dialogue and practice vocabulary before watching the video.
Every video comes with interactive subtitles. So, when you choose a music video or something else to sing along with, you’ll find that all the lyrics are translated for you. You can hover over any word or phrase to see the translation, along with a helpful image.
Clicking on the word shows you useful example sentences, as well as other video clips which use the word. For example, check out this screenshot from a popular song by Carlos Baute:
You can even review the words in a review session that uses video context to help embed the words in your memory. You’ll be able to create vocab lists and track your progress as you advance through video after video.
FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
The best part? You can try FluentU for free.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Play store.
Resources for Learning Spanish Through Songs and Music
We have 10 awesome songs for learners below, but here are a few more resources to help you learn Spanish through songs:
- Lyrics Training: A great site to learn Spanish as well as other languages, through music videos. Lyrics Training lets you learn the lyrics to songs through fill in the blank questions.
- Barcelona Blond: A blog post that offers a playlist full of music to help you learn Spanish.
- Rockalingua: A selection of original songs designed to help children with learning Spanish. The songs include color-in worksheets with lyrics.
You can also use Spotify, YouTube or your music player of choice to find and listen to Spanish music!
Learn Spanish with Music: 10 Songs to Spark Spanish Learning
You are all set to start learning Spanish through songs! But where do you start?
We have put together a list of 10 songs that are perfect for language learners. These suggestions cover a variety of Spanish genres, styles, beats and topics, so you will definitely find something that you like.
In order to get the most out of these songs, here are a couple tips for when you listen:
The first time through, just listen to the song and the beat and try to pick out any familiar words you already know. The second time you listen, pay attention to repeated words and phrases. Do you understand them all? If not, look them up.
On the third listen, you should be understanding enough of the words to start listening to what they are saying. What is the message of the song?
It will be incredibly helpful to keep a dictionary nearby, as well as having the lyrics available to look at. You can find lyric videos which display the words as the song plays, so it is very easy to keep up. You can also look up lyrics to pretty much any Spanish song on the lyric site, Letras.
Become familiar with these songs and soon you will find yourself singing along!
1. “Me voy” by Julieta Venegas
This song tells the story of a woman who leaves her lover and must say goodbye, even though she doesn’t want to.
It uses common Spanish words along with a slow, easy beat—which is perfect for Spanish learners. Most of the song is in the present tense, though there are a few forms that might be new to beginners, like the subjunctive. Keep an ear open for common expressions, like “que lástima,” which roughly means “what a shame.”
2. “Eres” by Café Tacuba
“Eres” also has a steady, slow rhythm with simple, clearly articulated words that are easy to follow.
The song is a love song demonstrating the incredible joy of being in love, waking up next to someone and not having to miss their presence anymore.
Pair this song with a lesson about when to use ser and estar, the two forms of “to be” in Spanish. Why does the singer use ser for “eres” (“you are”) but estar for “estoy” (“I am”)?
3. “Bonito” by Jarabe de Palo
You will tap your feet and bob your head to this song! It has a very catchy beat and a repeating chorus line that you will be able to learn easily, and the lyrics are beautiful (much like the title).
Keep an eye on that last letter in the titular word bonito: it changes depending on the gender of the noun it’s modifying. Learn more about how adjectives work in Spanish, then make sure you use the adjective gender rules when you sing along.
This song talks about the beauty that can be found everywhere in life and that the bad things that inevitably happen cannot take away from the overall glory of life. This is a great song for a rainy day!
4. “Nada valgo sin tu amor” by Juanes
Another love song, this smooth and easy jazz-inspired tune tells the story of a man who is nothing without his lover. It is a beautiful confession of a man who is in love and knows what he would lose without it: the wonderful feelings of companionship that comes with a relationship, and the desire to feel that again when love has gone away.
The lyrics read like a love letter and are a bit more complex than the previous songs, so check this one out if you are at an intermediate level of Spanish to fully understand it.
5. “Vivir mi vida” by Marc Anthony
This song poses the question, “Why cry?” Life is full of ups and downs, but excitement is all around and the only thing we can do is live our lives. Marc Anthony provides a very upbeat song you will not be able to resist dancing to.
Laugh, dance, shout, enjoy and live in the moment! This song is a reminder that the moment is all we have, so take advantage of it.
You might notice a colloquialism in this song, “¿Pa’ qué?” (“For what?”), which is a shortening of para qué, and a great intro phrase to Spanish slang.
6. “Historia del taxista” by Ricardo Arjona
This song tells the story of a taxi driver who picks up a crying woman on the side of the road and the chance encounter turns into something more. The two begin sharing their life stories and, despite the gap between their social classes, something clicks.
Listening to the song is practically like hearing an entire story—and it even comes with its own twist ending.
The lyrics have dialogue, descriptive language and very little repetition, so more intermediate or advanced learners would benefit from hearing this one.
7. “No” by Shakira
Shakira’s “No” is slow and steady, and heartbreakingly expresses her reasons for refusing to be with someone who is constantly causing her pain. She says that no one can live with the venom of this relationship and that she resents the fact that her lover can still hurt her even when he is long gone.
The lyrics are simple and powerful, and make strong use of the Spanish informal command form—”don’t do this, don’t do that.” You will also find a few interesting expressions and phrases so make sure you read those lyrics closely!
8. “Nuestros tiempos verbales” by El Patio de Tu Casa
This song is different because it is not a pop or traditional song. Instead, it is a learning song all about the Spanish tenses, but it is so catchy and fun that you will be singing along and learning way more than you might if you just tried to memorize the words.
You’ll receive a new and clearer understanding of Spanish grammar concepts like gerunds, subjunctive and infinitives, as well as lyrical practice with all of the tenses. Plus, the song is just so charming!
9. “Todos me miran” by Gloria Trevi
Look no further for the perfect Spanish woman power anthem! From throwing off the chains of her inattentive partner to becoming the queen of the city in an evening, Gloria Trevi’s passion is palatable through the music she has created.
This song is a fantastic way to study the past tense!
10. “¿Con quién se queda el perro?” by Jesse & Joy
A sad and realistic breakup song, Jesse and Joy pose the question “Who gets the dog if we break up?” What starts off as a shiny, new and exciting relationship filled with shared joys soon turns ugly. The song leaves us packing bags and splitting material items until the final question of who gets the dog remains.
There is plenty of repetition but also plenty to learn here, so you may need to take some time unpacking the language. We recommend this one to intermediate learners!
Now that you have a good place to start, you have the tools to find new Spanish artists you like and play around with different genres of Spanish music. Find songs you enjoy listening to, find others like them and remember to keep a dictionary with you while you listen so you can look up any new words.
Also, keep in mind that you do not have to understand the entire song the first time you listen to it! Use the first listen to get acquainted with the beat and rhythm. You can decipher the meaning in subsequent plays.
After you have grasped the song’s concept, you will find it playing in your head and eventually, you will be singing along to the words!
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