How can Music help you learn a Language? - Part 2: Where to Look for Inspiration

After my recent post describing some of the reasons why music is such a great learning help, let's get into the groove today and find some song ideas! My examples in this post are in German, but you can use this inspiration for learning other languages too!

CC Licenced from SpecialKolin on Flickr

CC Licenced from SpecialKolin on Flickr

How To Use a Song for Language Learning:

  1. Find a few songs in your target language - you won't have to look a lot further than the local google searchbox, youtube or library. Below, you'll find many ideas for easy starters.

  2. Pick out a song that catches your attention and sounds fun - no matter if you understand the words at this point! Then listen, maybe a few times, and keep it around. Stick it on your iPod or put it on a CD for the car.

  3. After you've become pretty familiar, you will catch yourself humming along and maybe even picking out words that you sing along to. Now get the lyrics and dictionary out. What's this song actually about?

  4. Keep listening, sing along, sing it to your kid/pet/best friend. I bet it's almost normal by now!

  5. Make a note of 10 new words the song has taught you. Then look out for how the verbs and sentences are used. You should recognise some previous grammar lessons or verb tables.

  6. Congratulations, you can now sing in another language AND you revised without the boring effort.

1) Raid the Kids Section

Kids are full-time learners in their own right, and music for them can do the language learner many favours: a simplified range of vocabulary, many repetitions, perhaps actions, all aimed at making sure the song sticks! Think "If you're happy and you know it" and you've got the idea.

Beispiele (examples):

Germany's award-winning songwriter Rolf Zuckowski has given us a beautiful list of songs to choose from. My recommendations, based on them being so catchy that they are curently stuck in my head even though I sang them in the 80s, are:

Another great example is the (slightly retro..) Sesame street theme in German - so great for question words. And general cheeriness.

2) Learn from Lovesongs

I'm thinking boybands here, and Céline Dion. Lovesongs have distinct advantages for the language learner. They are usually sung more slowly, giving you a chance to keep up with the pronunciation. The topic is predictable and the lyrics usually stay away from tricky stuff like world politics.

And auf Deutsch: Schlager

The Schlager genre is an absolute treasure trove for any German learner. These cheery hits from the 1960s and 1970s stick in your head for days. The lyrics largely restrict themselves to flirting and having fun and they always come out in a group of merry Germans so these will really give you the edge for making quick friends in the pub.

A few favourites of mine are Mendocino, Michaela and, best and surrealest of all, anything by Dschinghis Khan (these are more complicated lyrics, but the topics are easy to guess from the costumes!).

3) Not for the faint hearted: Drinking Songs

All right, now I don't know how far this will get you if you're trying to learn Arabic or Tamil, but for many European people a good party is never complete without a bit of a song.

German learners rejoice, you have a big range to choose from. If the Schlager genre was your thing, then I would recommend the gem called "Sieben Fässer Wein" (seven barrels of wine, no really, that's what it means) by Roland Kaiser. It has everything - drunken irresponsibility, a spoken section from a priest and that 70s humour where the wife is every man's nightmare

Other useful drinking songs are the regional ones, often blurring into folk song territory. For example, my own home region offers absolute beauties like "Oh Mosella". I have heard this song accompany the happiest wine festival memories of my whole life, for as long as I can remember.

CC Licenced by punk17er on Flickr

CC Licenced by punk17er on Flickr

4) Popular Music

The big advantage of using songs that you love in your target language is that you'll look very cool and won't feel as silly as when you are singing a kids song. There is a huge range of songs and artists to discover who are making music right now. But handle these with a bit of caution - if you're into rap, for example, there will be an awful lot of words and lyrics to handle!

Germany for example has a strong indie scene represented by bands like Tocotronic, Blumfeld and Tomte. The rappers and hip hoppers are even more active - try Kool Savas or Samy Deluxe.

After all that, a deserved reward!

With any music from artists which are active and out there, I urge you to add a final step 7 to the instructions of using music in language learning. Get involved! Go buy a ticket to see your new favourite band, maybe discover a soundtrack written in the language (Disney films, for example, tend to have translated versions of all their songs), find other fans in online forums and really get out there and enjoy it! That way, not only will you have fun but you'll also be using your amazing language skills before you even notice.

Fancy reading more? Tofugo has a post about learning Japanese through kids songs and the topic is also covered by Everyday Language Learner Aaron.