Use Music to Improve Language Skills!

As a musician, it is natural for me to want to listen to music in a language I am learning. Even if I don't get what they are saying, I still get something from the music itself. But as I am learning more and more, hearing the language being used, even when you don't understand what's being said, greatly improves your ability to hear and even speak the language. Having the lyrics to read from can help even more.

You can expose yourself to a more real-life atmosphere by listening to the language in a non-classroom or non-academic environment (here's an interesting article on using music for language learning in the classroom). Musicians and songwriters often use more modern sayings and idioms that you may not get in books or the classroom. Also, they tend to be a little loose with the grammar, pronunciation and spelling, so that you are exposed to some of the limitations of the language for native speakers, and that helps to define the boundaries for us learners.

Allow me to use myself as an example. I have been learning Spanish on and off informally for the last two years. I have only recently begun listening to music in Spanish, and I admit it was stupid to overlook such a great resource. Spanish language music is common enough in the US that we hear it all the time, but as it happens, I am generally not that interested in the more traditional forms of music that I hear so often. Since I am not into dancing, that rules out much of the most popular forms of Spanish music. 

As a guitar player, I have always been interested in Flamenco, but that style is mostly instrumental. When a Spanish language singer or band includes a little Flamenco style in a song, it catches my interest. Listening to something you like in another language makes it more interesting and motivating to learn. 

So, my exposure to the Spanish language in music was rather limited. Until I discovered a radio station that was playing lots of rock and pop in Spanish (as opposed to more dance-oriented music that I generally don't like). That caught my interest a little. I recognized some of the names like Shakira and Marc Anthony, mostly because they also have songs in English, but I soon began to 'discover' bands and singers that I actually like. Some, like Juanes, Julieta Venegas and La Quinta Estacion, have an eclectic style that borrows from traditional forms of Spanish music and mixes that with modern rock and pop. Juanes is not only a Grammy award winning singer and songwriter, but he is also a very good guitar player. By combining my interests in this way, I am more motivated to learn and use Spanish and it takes away the pressure and boredom we often associate with 'learning.'

This has increased my exposure to everyday vocabulary, and also to some more poetic or idiomatic uses of the language. Some words, which I would pass by in a vocabulary list or dictionary as 'uninteresting' or 'not useful' I now learn by hearing over and over in songs, or by looking them up to figure out what the lyrics mean. It has given me another motive for learning, and at no expense to my active language learning time. You can listen to music passively.

The result for me is that I have not only helped myself learn Spanish, but I've actually found some music that I like and want to listen to. There are now four or five bands or artists whose music I am collecting. In time, the fact that it was in Spanish became secondary and therein lies the great victory of learning a new language - to expose yourself to new things.

I have already begun exploring music in other languages that I am interested in like Swedish, Cornish and Esperanto. Some are harder to find than others, but if you persevere, you can find what you're looking for eventually. I expect that music will be a key tool in my language learning bag-of-tricks for a long time to come.

What it boils down to is simply hearing the language used in a real environment. TV, radio, music and movies are all great ways to hear the language you are learning in order to supplement tapes, tutors, teachers and other speakers of the language. It's entertaining, so obviously try to find music that you actually like in the new language. That will enhance your enjoyment of it and add a new level of interest in your desire or need to learn the language.


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"We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams."

- Willy Wonka


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