A language learning tool that is well known yet underutilized
Welcome, aspiring polyglot! Learning a new language by listening to music is fantastic. Unlike most things, generally speaking most people have heard music in a different language. If you want to differentiate yourself from the average language learners you are going to want to add an extra step.
Looking up the lyric video and watching through it will ensure you can actually sing along rather than just making corresponding noises. Music is unique as a language learning tool in that the writers tend to seek out poetic vocabulary. This provides you with the opportunity in that you will be able to develop your language skills while laying a strong foundation of vocabulary words.
Develop your language skills with lyric videos
Adding lyric videos into your comprehensible input is powerful for a couple of reasons. First off, if you are going to sing along with a song you should know what you are saying. The last thing you want is to sing perfectly in time with a popular song only to have someone ask you what it means when you do not know. Verifying you are really understanding your listening comprehension practice is a fantastic way to go about self evaluation. Most importantly, though, you are going to have the advantage of learning a new language by listening to music.
A secondary advantage to adding lyric videos to your second language strategies toolkit is the vocabulary words you will have access to when you do. Artists are always trying to find the best way to say things. Choosing music as a place to lay your foundation is beneficial for that reason as well. Of course, you will always have the opportunity to bond with people over the music you to which you listen. Aside from access to unique new words, you will be faced with different tempos and ways of pronouncing things.
In order to get some things to rhyme musicians will often play with the way they pronounce different words. Once you see how many ways there are to pronounces words in your target language you can worry less about speaking perfectly. There is a proper way to pronounce words, but if you are being understood when you speak then it really does not matter. This is important because in any language there is a myriad of ways to pronounce different words.
Just in English you can read potato or potato or tomato or tomato or read or read or lead or lead or record or record or object or object and so on and so on. Yes, changing the pronunciation can change the meaning, but more often than not the context is more important than the pronunciation. That is where grammar rules come into play. Fortunately for people like me, grammar is secondary to vocabulary when it comes to songwriting. In other words, you are going to need to supplement music lyric videos with grammar work.
Music and language acquisition
One of the major advantages to using music as comprehensible input is that you can use it passively. You will have plenty of time to listen to music throughout your day. Whether you are listening to it at the gym, in the car, or around the house, just having music on is going to help you with your second language acquisition. The more time you spend around the language the better, foreign languages are fun like that. Irrespective of your learning style, being able to collect fun wins is important and music allows for that.
Catching a new word or several new words when you are listening to music is an incredible feeling. These are wins you can start stacking immediately. While you can certainly do this with audiobooks and podcasts, music tends to be more enjoyable. Cutting up a 3-5 minute piece is easier and more consumable than something that is several hours long. Every time you recognize a new word you take another step towards fluency. That in and of itself should provide you with ample motivation when you feel you have hit a wall.
Working on your language skills is going to take time, so it is imperative that you do what you can to avoid boredom. Music is perhaps that best solution for avoiding boredom. With how many genres of music there are, you can jump around and find new and exciting music wherever you go. It would be wrong of me to go all this time speaking only about listening comprehension, though. Listening to music is fantastic, but you need to be writing if you want things to stick. That is where the next level of language learning strategies comes in to play.
Level 2: Dictation
The worst activity of all language learning (perhaps an exaggeration, perhaps not) is dictation. An average language learner is likely not going to do this. Listening to things and writing down what you think you hear is not an enjoyable activity. Mostly because you will be forced to see just how far you have yet to go. On the other hand, you will find that your language skills develop at a quicker rate when you do difficult things. Training your ear is difficult, you cannot simply do it passively, as great as that would be. Listen to songs, even songs you have heard dozens of times, and write down what you think you are hearing. Then, check your work.
Once you have written down what you think you heard, it is time to check your work. Whether you have the lyrics up on a website or the lyric video up on YouTube is irrelevant, all you need to do is double check yourself. The easiest way to do this is to play the lyric video and write rather than read. Every 30 seconds pause it and check your work. Do this with 2-3 songs every day and you will be astonished at what you learn. That will be 20 dictation exercises all while listening to music you enjoy and learning what is it is about and what you are saying when you sing along. After you master a few dozens songs, try to expand into art outside of music.
Try out new forms of art
Music is always going to be a useful tool, but it is not the only one available to you. Poetry, short stories, audiobooks, podcasts, documentaries, all of these things and more are available to you in audio format. These days it is rare to find media that does not offer translation and transcription to at least some extent. In fact, you could even turn the television on and play something in your target language then write what you are hearing and verify how much you got right. Using these forms of art to learn a new language may also prompt you to practice by beginning to make some art of your own.
Consuming various forms of comprehensible input is great, but you should be creating just as much as you are consuming. If you want to learn to speak you need to learn to think and creating is precisely how you do that. Not only that, by writing and creating you are going to come face to face with key words you need to know. It will be difficult to do this in a new language if you have never done it in your first language, but it is far from impossible.
That said, if you start creating art in your native language you might find it easier to make art in your target language. If not, you can translate from your first language and focus on ensuring the correct usage of your target language from one sentence to the next. Do this by focusing on the vocabulary in the art you are working with and place and emphasis on understanding the context. The approach is pretty simple once you get started.
I do, we do, you do
In steps it looks like this:
- Find Music
- Listen to Music
- Write Things Down (Dictation)
- Check Your Work
- Make Your Own Art
- Constant Development
Overall, this is meant to be something you cycle through. You do not have to do this with every single song, but you should be doing it at least once every week. Making your own art will force you to think in your target language and develop your own sentences. If you focus on things that make you think and use your new language from the beginning you will have an enjoyable experience developing your language skills. This works for basically every component of second language acquisition.
Lyric videos are a tool that is discussed by people often, but it still goes underutilized. Whether you like it or not, many people develop their communication strategies based off of the music to which they listen. With that knowledge, language learning through music has benefits beyond just listening comprehension. For that reason alone, lyric videos should absolutely be in your second language acquisition toolkit for constant and repetitive use. To take it to the next level, however, it is going to require further investigation. Do not just do the dictations, verify them. Do not just consume input, create art.
Becoming bilingual is difficult, but you can do difficult things and be great. So go do difficult things and become great. Here I’ve given you some of the tools, but in the end, there is no comprehensive guide, no tips or tricks to carry anyone across the finish line. Language acquisition requires time, effort, and consistency. That said, it is something that anyone of any age is more than capable of accomplishing. I’ll be here rooting for you and watching your progress.
For more content find me on Twitter or Instagram. Don't forget to check out the new content on YouTube, much more to come there! If you are learning Spanish and struggling to keep track of your progress, be sure to check out the first of many in our Language Learning Logbook series! I look forward to seeing everyone’s progress in the months and years to come.