Music for Language Learning: Best Practices

Whether you’re studying for fun, or to pursue a career in trade, diplomacy or translation, learning a language can be one of the most challenging and one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.

Several studies have pointed out that multilingual people earn more money, are open to greater career opportunities and can provide more value to the businesses they work in, whether at entry-level positions or as leaders. Multilingual people also rank higher than monolinguals on creativity tests and are more equipped than their counterparts to deal with the cultural diversity of our increasingly globalized world.

Especially if you’re learning a foreign language for the first time, or your target and source languages have little common ground, you should go out of your way to make the learning process as multifaceted and fun as possible. A great way to do it is through music.

Here are some tips on how to make the most out of it:

Find Music You Love

This is probably the easiest step for most language learners since those who want to learn a certain language are often motivated by an interest in the culture surrounding it. Make a playlist of songs in your target language that you love. Use your mobile phone or iPod, so you can carry them around and listen throughout the day.

Read (and Sing) Along

As you discover music you enjoy in your target language, use the internet in your favor. Search for the lyrics and read along. Try to recognize the words you listen to within the text, differentiating the sounds of each word. Other tools, such as Machine Translation apps that offer you the option of listening to the words you translate can be your best ally.
By reading aloud or singing along, you can practice your pronunciation without an interlocutor and without the pressure of real-time interaction.

Translate, Rewrite & Play with the Lyrics

Play around with the lyrics. Translate them, chop them up, rewrite them.
By learning through song lyrics, you’re interacting with words as they were used by an artist, to create a particular effect, convey an idea or explore a feeling. By dealing with language as used by a native speaker, with a function different from teaching you how to speak, you’re understanding how the language works in the real world. And this isn’t just about vocabulary choices or grammar: You’ll understand how the language flows, how long sentences tend to be and how flexible or rigid the language is.

As Claudia S. Salcedo noted in a 2010 study on the effectivity of using songs to teach a second language:

“song is an ideal marriage of poetry and music and is ‘one of the most authentic expressions of people, their feelings, and their everyday life’ (…) Music can empower students with a real-world communicative advantage. After all, a song tells a story set to music; therefore, one has examples of authentic speech yet is slowed, rhythmic, and repetitious.”

With the help of a dictionary, a fellow student or a machine translation tool (with a limit of 2-5 uses), translate the song lyrics into your native language.

Once you’ve acquired enough vocabulary, get creative: rewrite the lyrics, replace words with synonyms, reorder verses and try to make them rhyme, play around.

There’s an App for That!
In this day and age, it seems like there’s an app for everything. When it comes to language learning, it’s pretty close to the truth. For instance, Lirica is an app that helps Spanish students learn the language through the latest Latin pop hit songs. As they state on their website: “Songs make language memorable, they are naturally engaging and form a window into the cultures they represent.”

Using an app has another great benefit: It gamifies the learning experience. And, as concluded in a 2015 article published in the Digital Education Review, gamification can be a great way to acquire linguistic knowledge and open students to take a more active role in their language learning process – which, of course, brings about more learning opportunities.

If you’re not studying Spanish, Lirica might not be for you. But don’t hesitate to look for similar resources in your language.

Are you using songs to level-up your language learning process? Let us know in the comments below!


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