It’s a well-known fact that music and learning go hand-in-hand. And learning a foreign language is no different! Like movies, song lyrics are a good source of vocabulary and expressions to memorize—and the process is generally very enjoyable. Furthermore, listening, humming or singing along to foreign-language songs can be a big help for pronunciation. This article will give you 5 tips to help you learn a language with music. I really enjoy this method of learning and I think that if you try it you will, too!
How Music and Learning Go Hand-in-Hand
When listening to foreign-language music, we too often don’t pay enough attention to the lyrics. What we do is called passive listening. Don’t get me wrong, it can be helpful, but it’s not as effective as active listening for improving our language skills. To learn a language with music, you have to try to process the linguistic information in the song while still enjoying the activity.
A passion for music could be the key to improving your language skills, no matter what language you’re learning. I have lots of friends who learned English while strumming a guitar and humming along! (If you’re learning English, too, read our article about how to learn English with music.)
Here are 5 steps to optimizing your learning with music and enjoying yourself at the same time:
1. Choose a song that you like
You don’t have to go out of your way to find out how music and language mesh. And you don’t need to spend lots of time looking for new songs to learn with. Instead, you should start with songs that you already listen to. Then, look up the lyrics to the songs you like.
You could listen to your favorite foreign-language song dozens of times a day without actually paying attention to the content or the meaning of the lyrics. I think by now you’re aware that repetition is one of the most important factors to learning a foreign language.
2. Try to sing or hum the song without looking
If you want to improve your pronunciation, you should sing the song—trying your best to pronounce the words properly—without reading the lyrics. In fact, as soon as you try to sing the song by reading the lyrics, you’ll pick back up your bad pronunciation habits. It’s O.K. if you don’t understand the meaning of what you’re singing. The point of this step is to pronounce the words well.
A user pointed out to me in a comment that an extra step to putting together music and learning could be to try to write down the lyrics while you’re listening to the song. This is a great exercise and should fit into this process as Step 2B! (However, this step likely requires you to have reached an intermediate level of language.)
News flash: those people aren’t any smarter than you are, and they don’t have any kind of special gift for language learning, either. It’s all because of the methods they use. Practicing with the latest and most effective techniques, along with a few expert tips, is a recipe for success.
It can work for you, too! MosaTraining combines all of these tips and techniques into one comprehensive, hands-on approach to language learning.
3. How to mesh music and learning? Look up the lyrics
We wrote an entire article on the tools and websites for language learning with music. You can also look up the lyrics online. To do this, Google “lyrics Name of Song” (or letras = “lyrics” in Spanish, or paroles in French). If you need a translation, search “translation lyrics Name of Song” to find what you’re looking for in just a few clicks.
iTunes users can install a software program that scans your music library and automatically adds lyrics to your MP3 files. If you have a PC, I recommend the software program called LyricsFetcher. For Mac users, I recommend Get Lyrical. These programs make it possible to see song lyrics directly on your phone or MP3 player as you listen.
This way, even when you’re out and about, you can listen to your favorite music and read the lyrics at the same time!
4. Listen to the song while reading the lyrics
When you listen to the music with the lyrics, you’ll be surprised at how many words and phrases you already knew, but just hadn’t realized until now. It’s not always easy to understand the lyrics of a foreign-language song on your own. Think about all of the songs you’ve probably been singing wrong for years in your native language!
Focus on the phrases that you find most interesting, or perhaps just the refrain. Even if you only know the refrains of your favorite songs, that’s enough to learn hundreds of words and phrases. Here are some examples:
- The title and refrain of Edith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien” teach the French negative pronouns “ne…rien,” which mean “nothing/not…anything” in English.
- From listening to Carla Bruni singing “Quelqu’un m’a dit que tu m’aimais encore”, you will learn, almost effortlessly, a complete sentence: “Someone told me that you still loved me” (Sometimes, songs lose their beauty when they are translated ;-))
- “No, No es amor / Lo que tu sientes / se llama Obsession” (No, this is not love / that you are feeling / it is called obsession) sung by Aventura. Here is the music video for “Obsession” on YouTube
- Even the beautiful Shakira teaches us the adjective loca when she sings the refrain of her song entitled… “Loca”!
- There is a lovely French song by Charles Aznavour called “La Mamma.” But Aznavour also has a marvelous Italian version of the same song!
Anyways, everyone has their own tastes—the point is to choose songs you like!
5. Listen to the song again and sing along
Now that you know the words and have grasped the general meaning of the song, sing along! Once you’re fixed on your favorite song, you’ll find yourself singing it in the car or the shower! (Personally, those are the only places where I put on my catastrophic performances :-)) Before you know it, you’ll have memorized the song!
Repetition is one of the fundamental pillars of memorization. If you follow these 5 steps, I can guarantee that you’ll significantly improve. Learning a language with music is fun and takes minimal effort. It’s a nice complement to MosaLingua’s spaced repetition system.
We recommend that language learners alternate between “serious learning” (e.g. the MosaLingua app or grammar lessons) and fun activities (music, movies, etc.). (If you’ve read about passive vs. active learning, you’ll know why.) This will help you continue practicing without losing your attention or concentration or getting tired. You may be really surprised at your results!
Has music impacted your learning and fluency? If yes, which songs? Feel free to post YouTube links to your favorite songs in the comments! If you enjoyed this article on music and learning, click below to share it. Thank you in advance!