There are approximately 5,000 – 6,000 languages and dialects spoken on Earth today, but there’s one that all of us understand: music. Every country, culture and group of people has some unique style of music to offer the world, and this is great news if you’re learning a second language. If you’re currently learning a second language and are quickly becoming bored with your usual study materials, adding songs is an easy way to boost your motivation while providing you with authentic language exposure. Here are 5 reasons why music is a great learning tool:
1. Music is abundant, readily available, and you don’t have to pay for it. It doesn’t matter what language you’re learning, you will find thousands of potential musical lessons, most of them at no cost to you. While the legality of viewing music videos on YouTube is a bit fuzzy, this is a great start. I also recommend signing up for Pandora and creating a foreign language radio station for a 24/7 stream of music straight to your headphones. And let’s not forget the almighty power of iTunes, which offers thousands of streaming radio stations and exponentially more podcasts that are all 100% free.
2. Music is naturally repetitive. Nearly every song has a chorus written into it, and this repetition aids our memory. When language learners are repeatedly exposed to the same language over a period of time, it transfers to our long-term memory and we can easily recall it days, weeks and even months later. You’ll be amazed by how much vocabulary, phrases and entire sentences you’ll pick up with seemingly little effort.
3. Music doubles as a reading lesson. If you can get your hands on a song’s lyrics, then you have enough material for a reading lesson as well. Some suggestions for using lyrics:
- Read the lyrics before listening to the song and figure out the tone or mood.
- Cut out some of the words and try to fill in the gaps by listening to the song.
- Have a friend reorder the lyrics line by line. Listen to the song and rearrange the lyrics in the correct sequence.
- Write a new verse.
- Read the lyrics out loud for pronunciation practice.
4. Music is a great way to learn slang and idioms. Musicians arguably have a lot of cultural influence over a population, and it’s amazing to watch their creativeness become part of our everyday vernacular. Hip-hop artists (such as Lil Wayne, Aesop Rock and Blackalicious) are particularly skilled at doing this, but informal language is a common trait across most music. Pump up the jams if you want to add more color to your language!
5. Digital music is totally portable. Whether you’re using a phone or MP3 player, you can take your lessons with you anywhere: in the car, on the subway, on your walk to the park. These small opportunities to listen to songs builds up into a lot of study time, which will maximize your learning success!