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How Music Can Teach You a Foreign Language (with Spanish, French, German, Russian, Chinese and Arabic examples)


Listening to music in another language is a great way to learn pronunciation, culture, grammar and vocabulary. If you can find music that you enjoy listening to and that gets "stuck" in your mind (or as they say in German, an Earworm), you can easily and enjoyably assimilate not only new words, but complicated grammatical structures.

It has never been easier to find music to listen to with sites such as YouTube or iTunes and play them on your portable music device while doing other activities. Another great thing is that you can usually find the lyrics (and sometimes the translation) for the songs on-line.

Here are some practical examples of how you can learn with music. I am isolating a few examples from each song, but remember that depending on your current level, each song contains dozens of learning opportunities.

Listening to this song in Spanish sung by Shakira, you can assimilate one use of the subjunctive tense when you learn the lyrics "…Yo quiero que vuelvas…Yo quiero que regreses…"

The song "Schau mal herein" in German includes the lyrics "Die Tasse Kaffee und auch das Glas Wein, trink' ich noch immer gerne mit dir". Once you know the lyrics to this song, you will know that "Glas" is a neuter noun and that the word "mit" or "with" is followed by the dative case (mit dir) so that whenever you need to know what case to use after "mit", you can think of this song and know the answer.

Sticking with German, the Song "Universal Tellerwäscher" from Die Sterne can also teach you German cases through lyrics like "in diesem Laden… in die Gegend… aus dem Haus…" and you will never get the case wrong after the preposition "gegen" because you will have heard "gegen mich" over and over again. 


With Amr Diab's Arabic language song "Ana Aktar Wahed Bihebak", you can learn how to form the possessive when he sings "..fee garhak, farhak, ana ganbak"  (… in your suffering, and your joy, I am beside you."


In addition to finding your own music, there are many good websites and blogs that have done all the hard work for you. For example, Rockin' Russian provides not only the Russian lyrics, but you have the option to also display the colloquial and literal English translation. There is also the blog Learn Chinese from Movies for learning Mandarin Chinese
 and Learn Egyptian Arabic through Music

Finding music you like is also one additional tool to help you to create your own immersion environment when travel is not an option or when there are no native speakers available.

Here's a more detailed example of using music to learn a foreign language using French as an example.

Suppose you wanted to improve your French pronunciation. Of course you can always study the rule in a textbook, but hearing the pronunciation in real life, especially in the form of a song that you can play over and over again in your mind, is not only great practice, but easy to recall at a critical moment when you are in a conversation with a native speaker. You will remember the song lyrics long before you will remember that according to rule y on page x of the textbook, when consonant t is following by a long vowel, then…

In French, there are two different ways to pronounce the initial sounds "im" and "in". Of course, you can memorize the rule that states one sound is used before a vowel and the other before a consonant. However, it is much easy to assimilate this rule using a song.

At 01:07 of this song by Céline Dion, she sings the words "impudence inouïe" (line 7 in the lyrics provided below) and this provides a perfect contrast of these two sounds.

If you have the written lyrics to the song (they are provided at the end of this post), you can also learn that the "t" at the end of the verbs désobéit (line 4), sourit (line 9), voit (line 2), etc. and the "x" at the end of the nouns "flux" and "voix" (line 2) are all silent.

You can hear the difference between the endings "émment" and "amment" (line 17).

Of course, the final "-ent" is not pronounced in the verb "passent" [they pass] (line 1), but the "ant" in the verbal noun "passants" [passing] (line 10) is partially pronounced (the "ts" is silent). The same thing happens with "dansent" [they dance] and "marchant" [while walking] (line 11).

You can hear some examples of French liaison: "quelques injures" (line 15) and "mais elles" (line 19).

You can see and hear that the singular "au" as in "au vacarme" is pronounced identical to the plural form "aux" in "aux voitures" and "aux trottoirs" (line 10).
 
Lyrics to Zora Sourit:
1: Une rue, les gens passent / Les gens comme on les voit
2: Juste un flux, une masse / Sans visage et sans voix
3: Quel étrange aujourd'hui / Quelque chose mais quoi ?
4: Désobéit, désobéit
5: Une rue comme d'autres / Et le temps se suspend
6: Une tâche, une faute / Et soudain tu comprends
7: Impudence inouïe
8: Insolite indécence
9: Zora sourit / Zora sourit / Zora sourit
10: Aux trottoirs, aux voitures, aux passants / Au vacarme, aux murs, au mauvais temps
11: Son visage nu sous le vent / Ces gens qui dansent en marchant
12: Tout ce qui nous semble evident / Elle avance et bénit chaque instant
13: Zora sourit / Zora sourit
14: Des phrases sur les murs / Des regards de travers
15: Parfois quelques injures / Elle n'en a rien à faire
16: Elle distribue ses sourires / Elle en reçoit autant
17: Zora sourit, effrontémment / Zora sourit, insolamment
18: Zora sourit pour elle / Elle sourit d'être là
19: Mais elle sourit pour celles / Celles qui sont là-bas
20: Pour ces femmes, ces soeurs / Qui ne savent plus sourire
21: Alors des larmes plein le coeur / Des larmes plein la vie 
22: Zora sourit / Zora sourit / Zora sourit

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