How Music and Learning go Hand in Hand in Becoming Fluent

It’s a well-known fact that music and learning go hand in hand and can be an effective tool for learning a foreign language. Like original-version films, song lyrics are a good source of vocabulary and expressions that you can memorize—and have fun doing so. Furthermore, listening to or humming foreign songs helps you improve your pronunciation. This article will give you some ideas to help you learn a language with music. Personally, I really enjoy this method of learning and hope that, after you’ve tried it, you feel the same.

music and learning

How Music and Learning go Hand in Hand in Becoming Fluent

When listening to a foreign-language song, we too often don’t pay enough attention to the lyrics (passive listening). Consequently, this doesn’t help us improve our level of language.

To learn a language with music, we must try to process the linguistic information in the song while still enjoying the activity.

A passion for music can become the key to improving your language skills (whether you’re learning English, French, Spanish, German, Arabic, etc.). I have lots of friends who learned English while strumming a guitar and humming at the same time!

Here are 5 steps to optimizing your learning with music and enjoying yourself at the same time:

1 – Choose a song that you like

music and learning

You don’t have to go out of your way to find our how music and language mesh by finding songs you like to listen to. 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 per 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

music and learningIf 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.)

3 – How to Mesh Music and Learning? Simply Look up the Lyrics

music and learningNext, you can look up the lyrics on the Internet. 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.

Personally, I prefer sites that show the original song lyrics and the translation on the same page. I often use http://www.paroles-musique.com/eng/, which has over 8,728 artists, 112,935 lyrics, and 20,000 translations into French (but there are also lots of others). Its repertoire also includes music in a number of different languages.

If you use iTunes, you should install a software program that scans your music library and automatically adds the lyrics to your MP3 files. If you have a PC, I recommend the software program called LyricsFetcher; if you have a Mac, I recommend Get Lyrical. These programs make it possible for you to see the song lyrics directly on your phone or iPod as you’re listening to the music.

This way, even when you’re out and about, you can listen to your favourite music and read the lyrics at the same time!

4 – Listen to the song while reading the lyrics

music and learningWhen you actually 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.)

Focus on the phrases that you find most interesting, or perhaps just the refrain. Even if you only know the refrains of your favourite songs, that’s enough for you to learn hundreds of foreign-language words and phrases. Here are some examples:

For French:

  • The title and refrain of Edith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien” teaches the French negative pronouns “ne…rien”, meaning “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 ;-))

For Spanish:

  • “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 with the same name.

For Italian:

  • There is a lovely song by Charles Aznavour called “La Mamma“. In fact, Aznavour also interprets this song marvelously in Italian.

Anyways, everyone has their own tastes—the point is to choose songs you like!

photo credit: notsogoodphotography, and Brayan E. Old Flickr

5 – Listen to the song again and sing along

music and learningNow that you know the words and have grasped the general meaning of the song, you can continue to listen to the song while singing along. Once you’re fixed on your favourite song, you’ll certainly want to sing it while driving or taking a shower, for example. (Personally, these are the only places where I do 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.

One tip I have for language learners is to alternate between “serious learning” (e.g. the MosaLingua application or grammar lessons) and fun activities (music, films, etc.). This will help you continue practising without losing your attention or concentration or getting tired. You may be really surprised at your results!

If you enjoyed this article on music and learning, please share it by clicking below. Thank you in advance! 

Has music and learning impacted your fluency? If yes, which song? (Please don’t hesitate to post a YouTube link in the comments.

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