Face The Music — How Singing Can Help You Learn A Language
Three ways jamming to your favorite foreign song can make a new language stick.
The German writer and poet Heinrich Heine once said, “Where words leave off, music begins." But, perhaps the power of music goes beyond expressing what can’t be said in words alone. Could music also be a tool to help you learn those words in the first place?
A study by researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland found evidence that singing can help facilitate foreign language learning. Sixty adults participated in the study, which involved 15 minutes of listening to Hungarian phrases and then repeating the phrases normally or through song. When the participants were tested on the material, the researchers discovered those who used singing scored higher than the others. Great news for music lovers!
Here are some of the ways music can help you learn a new language:
Memory (all alone in the moonlight)
One of the amazing qualities of music is its ability to be used as a mnemonic device. We’ve all learned songs in school to help us memorize things like the alphabet, the 50 states and even the process by which a bill becomes a law (Schoolhouse Rock, anyone?), but music can also be very useful in committing a new language to memory. The best songs for this purpose are catchy, fun and fairly simple. You can listen to them again and again and, with any luck, you’ll know all the words in no time! Madalena Cruz-Ferreira, who has a PhD in linguistics, explains in her "Being Multilingual" blog that the key to music’s role in memorizing a language is that it allows for “chunking language." The rhythmical beat of the song makes the lyrics really stick in your brain.
Let’s Give ‘Em Something To Talk About
If you want to actually speak a new language, rather than just read and write it, listening to music can be a valuable resource. Native speakers tend to talk quickly, but singing can slow things down quite a bit, making it easier for you to take in what’s being communicated. This is particularly helpful with nailing pronunciation. For instance, you’re never going to mispronounce La Bamba because the song is permanently ingrained in your head. In a commentary for The Guardian, journalist Jonross Swaby tells the story of how listening to a song in Spanish every day helped him master rolling his r’s. The catchiness and repetition implanted the sound in his head, and one day he could roll his r’s without even thinking about it.
(Bird is) The Word
In addition to memory and pronunciation, learning songs in another language can be a great way to pick up new words and phrases. There are a few reasons for this. First, as mentioned above, singing tends to slow down the language, allowing you to pick out specific words and phrases that you might otherwise miss. Second, music puts these phrases into a new context that can help you understand how to use them in your conversations. Finally, going back to memory, the melody of the song will probably get certain lines stuck in your head, until you know them by heart, whether consciously or subconsciously.
Music can be an extremely useful resource to help entrench a new language in your brain. We’ve compiled a playlist of some of the most popular songs to help with learning Spanish. So pop your headphones in, press play, and start learning!