Music and TV for homework? Really? Yes. Sí. Oui. Да. نعم

This is a guest post by the author of Language is Music: Over 70 Fun & Easy Tips to Learn Foreign Languages, by Susanna Zaraysky. She speaks seven languages (Russian, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Serbo-Croatian) with perfect or almost perfect accents because she used music, TV, radio and movies to supplement her language classes/self-guided learning. She has also studied Arabic, Hebrew and Hungarian. Susanna has taught English as a Second Language and Spanish using music and the media. Susanna’s book covers how to use music, TV, radio, movies, podcasts, language exchange, cultural activities and other day-to-day tasks to learn a language. This blog post only covers part of her book, the listening section.

I speak seven languages with excellent pronunciation and almost native accents. I didn’t reach those levels of conversational prowess from a classroom. I got there because I LIVED my languages instead of purely studying them. Languages are a living creature not grammar charts and vocabulary lists.

I was staying in a hostel last week in Costa Rica, where a young Dutchman residing in the hostel was enrolled in a one-month Spanish language class fours hours a day, five days a week. What did he do when he was done with class? He’d come back to the hostel, read his Spanish grammar book or listen to Dutch or English music and watch TV. He was never outside speaking with Costa Ricans or listening to the language!

I told him about my learning methodology and told him to stop listening to English and Dutch music and get Spanish music. I told him to get out of the hostel and speak to the locals. He didn’t even know where to get Spanish music. He came all the way from the Netherlands to Central America and didn’t actually speak in Spanish outside of his Spanish class. He could have done the same back at home. Of course he wouldn’t be able to buy mangoes and pineapple as cheaply as in Costa Rica, but his linguistic experience might be the same.

Please! If you’re going to invest time and even money in language learning, make the language part of your life. It will be more fun and you’ll learn a lot faster.

Find radio stations, podcasts, have the TV on, or listen to music in your target language.

Here are some listening tips:

1. Tune your ears

Learning a new language means you have to change your key and tune. Dancing the cha-cha to waltz music is like speaking a new language while still using the rhythm of your mother tongue. Let yourself take in the sounds of the language as though you were listening to a new piece of music.

Even if you are just a beginner and barely know any words, you can still learn by listening. Pay attention to how people speak.

Does it seem like they are reading a phone number or rattling of a list of numbers? Are they angry? Happy? Sometimes, you have to shut off your brain and inclination to interpret and analyze. Listen to the words spoken to you and listen to your intuition.

2. Relax and listen to music in the language you are learning

Music engages more parts of your brain than language does. That’s why you get songs stuck in your head of commercial jingles. You’re more likely to remember new words if you hear them in a song than if you just read them in a book or hear them spoken.

Find music in your target language that you like. It doesn’t matter if at first you don’t understand the lyrics. Pick music you like. You may start singing along without even knowing what you are singing. That’s fine. You are not only learning the rhythm of the language, you are learning new vocabulary.

Relax and close your eyes. Turn off the lights. Lay down or sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and listen to the music. Don’t try to understand the words, just listen. You might fall asleep or day dream. Give yourself the time to simply listen and not do anything else. Your mind needs to be calm in order to absorb the sounds. Your ears need no other distractions to let them properly hear all the high, medium and low frequencies of the language. Do this regularly.

  1. Passive and active listening

Here I take partial issue with Benny’s post on the futility of passive listening. I see a value in passive listening only when combined with active listening. It can help with pronunciation and getting the right melody in one’s sentences. As Benny said, just having the radio on in the background will not lead one to fluency. No way.

I thought that I spoke Portuguese like Tarzan because I had mostly taught myself the language and had only taken two basic classes in adult school. For years, I listened to Rádio Comercial Portuguesa, the Portuguese radio station in San José, California. The radio station served the Portuguese immigrant community from the Azores Islands. While driving and being stuck in traffic, I listened to their local advertisements for Portuguese companies that ranged from plumbing contractors and construction supply companies to Portuguese “padarias” (bakeries). I could care less about construction companies and their wonderful supplies, but I listened to the announcers just to get a feeling for the rhythm of Portuguese and to learn vocabulary. Since the community was very religious, the station broadcast Catholic mass in Portuguese. I am not Catholic and was not keen on learning the “Our Father” prayer em português, so I sometimes paid attention and sometimes was too focused on driving to really focus on the liturgy.

The result was that, despite the fact that I had few opportunities to speak Portuguese, I was passively learning it for years. To be honest, when I started with the Luso tongue, I already knew three other Romance languages (French, Spanish and Italian) so I could understand a fair amount without straining myself. However, I did acquire many new words without realizing that I was learning.

In 2006, while living in New York, my Brazilian roommate Carla invited Silvia, her friend from Brazil, to visit during Christmas. Silvia barely spoke English. I had to speak in Portuguese, even though I was embarrassed of what I thought was my Neanderthal-like command of the language. To my and everyone else’s surprise, sophisticated words and long sentences came out of my mouth with ease. Carla and Silvia commented that my accent sounded like it was from Portugal. I found out that I knew much more Portuguese than I thought. All those years of listening to fishermen’s songs and Catholic masses paid off. I spoke Portuguese! I had been reinforcing the vocabulary and sentence structure rules that I had learned by just listening to the radio. The music was inside of me for years.

Turn on the music while driving, doing household chores, cooking, gardening, etc. Even if you are just passively listening to the music, the rhythms of the language will become more familiar to you. Exposure is key.

When you first start listening to radio broadcasts, the announcers may sound like they are emitting a stream or storm of sounds and not individual words. In time, you’ll hear familiar words repeated and will learn to distinguish them.


1. Make it fun

Think of speaking sentences in Japanese as singing a song. It’s a lot more enjoyable than only concentrating on grammar and vocabulary. When you get frustrated with the language, remind yourself that it’s just a game.

When US figure skater Sarah Hughes was the surprise gold medalist at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, journalists asked her how she won it despite all the stress and media attention. She said she was just having fun on the ice and didn’t let herself cave into the pressure of winning. This is a great attitude to have to keep your cool. There will be times where you won’t understand or will mispronounce things. Laugh it off. Learning can be enjoyable.

2. Write down the lyrics as you listen

Listen to music with the lights on, your eyes open and a pencil in hand. Write the lyrics of the songs while listening. You will have to pause the music and rewind or repeat many times to get the words down. Some words will be hard to write because they may be idioms or slang that you haven’t learned yet, but just write as much as you can understand. Remember that songwriters sometimes employ rarely used words just to make the song rhyme. They often play word games and compose their lyrics with words that sound alike or may even be spelled the same way, but have different meanings. Don’t be frustrated with obscure words. Compare the lyrics you noted with the original song and see how well you were able to understand the song. Some CDs come with the lyrics inside the CD case. If you don’t have them, look for them online on lyrics websites.

Once you have your version of the lyrics and the original, you can see how much you were able to understand from listening to the song. Use your dictionary to translate the words you don’t know.


If you can’t locate the lyrics on the lyrics websites, just type in the name of the song in quotes in a web search. For example, type “New York, New York” and “lyrics” in the search. But if you’re looking for a foreign song, search for the translation of the word “lyrics” in your target language, rather than the English word “lyrics” as native speakers would post words from the song in their own language. (For example, “letra” in Spanish or “paroles” in French.) Some songs may be popular but are more obscure from mainstream media and only fans themselves would have posted the lyrics online but they might not use the word for “lyrics” for their posting. They might just write the words of the song and the song title. So if you don’t know the song title, just type in the lines that you do know and you might find the entire song posted online.

3. Make a vocabulary list with words from the songs

To visually reinforce what you are learning from listening to music, write vocabulary words from the songs you are learning on flash cards or pieces of paper. On one side, write the word in your language and then write the word in the other language on the opposite side. When you are waiting in line in the grocery store, you can pull out the flash cards and study your new words. If you study one song a week and reinforce your learning by practicing your vocabulary with flash cards, you will quickly learn new words and have fun along the way. If you are high-tech, you can make flash cards for your computer, phone or IPod using Quizlet or another free flashcard service or use the SRS system Benny recommends for a time-released flash card system that tests you on words “a few minutes after the first time, then a few days later, then a few weeks later etc. always at the time you need to see it most to make sure it is constantly fresh in your mind”.

4. Imagine the lyrics in your head

If the song is a story, then close your eyes as you hear the music and think of what the songwriter is talking about. Create the story in your mind as you listen. You’ll retain the words from the songs better than by just memorizing them from a vocabulary chart. You will be more apt to use the words when you need to communicate. For example, the famous New York, New York song speaks of someone coming to New York and seeing the city is alive, even at night. Imagine someone arriving in New York city, or another big city, and seeing the city full of bright lights and action. People are walking around, eating in restaurants, and drinking in cafes. The streets are full of cars and buses.

Do this type of a visualization exercise to make the music come alive for you. Utilize your imagination.

5. Listen to the music in your head

When you hear songs in your head, you usually hear the music in its original form, without your accent. Relax, close your eyes, and play the song in your mind. Be your own stereo. You are letting your brain get used to the sounds of the language and recreating it in your mind before you try to sing it yourself. Singers hear the notes in their brains before they open their mouths and sing.

6. Watch television programs in the language

This may be the first time in your life when watching television is your homework. Take advantage of the opportunity!

Let’s say you are learning Spanish. You have found a local Spanish language TV station in your area or you are watching the a Spanish language news channel like Univision (Spanish language station in the US) or BBC Mundo. Even without knowing all the words, you will be able to get the gist of some of the news reports. The images and video footage of events already tell you what the news announcers are talking about. Tune into HOW they are speaking and the words they are using to describe the images on screen.

I did this exercise in a class of American 12 year olds whom I taught who had little or no exposure to Spanish. They were shocked at how much they understood the short video news clips I showed them about the salmonella outbreak in August 2010 in California, the Chilean miners caught underground, and a literature program in Argentine prisons. They could follow the story line and explain the main points. Believe me, you’ll learn new words without actively realizing you’re learning because you’ll be following the story line. It’s best to watch news in a foreign language after you already know the relevant news from a source in your own language. This way, you already know the context and will better understand what the news announcers are talking about.

If you’re learning Spanish, Portuguese or Korean, there are some popular soap operas from Latin America and South Korea that you could get hooked on and learn via melodrama! I’m totally serious. I’ve met people who’ve learned Spanish and Portuguese by watching telenovelas and other TV programs.

If they are learning French or Arabic, has great news articles that are directly translated, so you can watch them in one then another language. Deutsche Welle has videos online in both English & German and audio and text news in many other languages.

My parents didn’t have money for private tutors or expensive language classes abroad, so I supplemented my regular language classes in school with the media. Or in the case of Serbo-Croatian, I learned it just by living in Sarajevo.

Music, TV, movies, radio and the Internet offer a plethora of opportunities to get into the flow of a new language without having to spend a dime on tutors or expensive overseas classes. My goal is for people to be polyglots and I know for a fact that it doesn’t take money, living abroad or one-on-one classes. It’s all about passion and dedication. Find your groove in a foreign tongue or get hooked on a foreign TV show and enjoy your road to fluency!

Find more tips about learning foreign language using music, TV, radio, film, television and other low-cost resources in Language is Music. The books are available on Amazon , and via order through your local bookstore (in the US).

Make sure to share your thoughts with us on using music to learn languages in the comments below!



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  • Liam123

    Errr yes mostly, although I don’t listen to music for lyrics in any language including my mother tongue so no music for me. However many cultures have story telling traditions so listening to folk stories, or comedy or many other things will work just as well I am sure. I have even listened to audio bibles before if the voices are nice :).

    As for the partial disagreement with Benny and the passive/passivish listening I disagree also, I think Benny just doesn’t get it or can’t do it very well so assumes it has little value.

    Certainly for Japanese lots of listening meant that the first time I talked to a Japanese speaker it came out fine (no not perfect but more than pretty good). Again all I can say is that if you are grown-up you can choose when to first speak it doesn’t have to take a long time but the benefit of having listened is clear to me, so either I have a special gift that most don’t (unlikely) or I have just learned to listen well (more likely) which means like you and me other people can too :).

    Susanna I seem to remember someone pointing out the research of a New Zealand researcher to you a while back, I don’t know if you have heard of the phonological feedback loop? if not it is worth looking up as it is relevant to some of your points I think.

    • Benny the Irish polyglot

      I listened to 1,000 hours of German radio and still failed my C2 listening exam (despite doing quite well in other parts), so please explain what I don’t get?

      And a recent experiment I linked to proved quite well (at least for one proponent that wanted to prove its worth) that 2,000 hours of only listening lead to nothing remotely impressive.

      I’m not basing this on guesswork; avoiding speaking is a crap way to speak well. To me this is simple logic, and what I really don’t get is how anyone could possibly speak well on their first try without casting spells. So to me it’s not about talent, it’s about wizardry or a link in the chain not being explained fully.

      Your one-line story doesn’t convince me, and I would suspect other factors were at play that you are downplaying than you simply just listening. For example, Japanese may not be your first foreign language(?), which changes the context a hell of a lot – I could likely jump into speaking OK in a foreign language now with pure study but that’s because I have confidence and experience in speaking foreign languages that a typical monolingual person wouldn’t. In this case, whether one could speak well on the first try after lots of input doesn’t interest me at all since I write to encourage monolinguals who haven’t been successful yet, not polyglots.

      Also, other Japanese studying like books with feedback based exercises or even classrooms may have contributed in your case. Without all the facts it’s impossible to decide that it was definitely listening-only that did it. I don’t agree with most input-only-changed-my-life conclusions because of the likeliness of facts being skipped.

      A combination of listening and application is better than either extreme. But if your silent-period was short then the need for such a discussion is pointless, since the point is you are speaking now ;)

      • Benny the Irish polyglot

        I’ll add that in the context of this post, which I was glad to run, I want to encourage as many varied learning methods as possible, especially music-based. That’s why I was glad to have this guest post on the blog, especially from someone as experienced with languages as Susanna.

        My only beef in this whole debate is with approaches that discourage speaking by being overly-focused on inactive use of a language.

        I’d argue that Susanna spoke Portuguese well after all her input because it was far from her first language, and her other romance languages certainly would have made a big difference ;) I’m much more sceptical on the use of having noise in the background that is never explained to you. We would disagree on this point, and I can only say that my experience is based on being monolingual at 21, rather than coming from a multilingual upbringing. Because of that I feel being active when you have no experience yet might be much more relevant to some readers.

        If I was to apply input-only I think I could reach a good spoken level in a language after a silent-period right now on the first attempt of speaking, but my 21-year-old-self would NOT.

      • lyzazel – Linas

        Umm… how could you have listened to 1,000 hours? I mean, a day has 24 hours (assuming you don’t sleep) and to listen to a thousand, you would have to listen for 40 days. That is almost a month and a half.

        Assuming you were there for three months, you had to listen for about 12 hours a day! Not to mention studying, eating, talking to people and doing any of the other imaginable activities.

        • Benny the Irish polyglot

          I didn’t count the hours, I just had the radio on all the time. I was writing my book or otherwise doing studying/writing work for German for about 12 hours a day for 3 months, and listened to the radio on the way out to hang out with people for the remainder of the day. 12×90=1080.
          But I wasn’t counting the hours precisely, so some days it would have been more and some less.

          People can point out that my passive listening was worthless, and I’d agree. Actively giving it all of your attention is the best thing if you are not with natives at the time.

          • lyzazel – Linas

            Come on! 12 hours a day! That’s not only dubious, that seems like it’s just downright wrong. That’s like listening to radio 8 AM to 8 PM. I can’t possibly imagine anybody doing that (and hardly even if the radio is only in the background).

            But even if that did happen, I don’t think you can then use this as an argument against the radio. It’s not that you listened to radio, it’s that you have over-listened to it. Saying it doesn’t work is like saying: “I just read three 300 page books on French grammar yesterday and I still don’t know any of the grammar – thus grammar books suck!”. Well, sure you don’t because you should have read a section or two, not three books.

          • Benny the Irish polyglot

            That’s precisely what I did – 8AM to 8PM. And how many times do I have to say that it was in the background? I wasn’t really “listening”. That’s why I call it passive – it really doesn’t take that much of an investment.

            If you want to argue against my conclusions please do so in this post. I’d rather comments on this page were relevant to what Susanna has written as there are many of my posts that are more appropriate for this discussion.

    • Anonymous

      Liam, Yes I did connect with Paul Sulzberger in New Zealand. He and I spoke in July about his research on Russian language learners in New Zealand. Essentially, those that heard some Russian words for a certain period of time before formally learning Russian had a better time acquiring vocabulary than those who had no exposure to the language at all. Thus showing that’s important to first hear one’s target language before speaking. The synopsis for those who want to lnow more can be found here:

      Being a native Russian speaker who grew up in California, I can understand how hard it is for anglophones to pick up on the soft vowels and hard “r” in Russian.

  • Edwin on Languages

    Hi Benny, thank you for introducing Susanna to us. She is indeed an amazing lady.

    Forgive me if I get it wrong. Judging from her post, she seems to be a promoter of authentic content instead of textbooks, and this is in agreement with many on-line language learning methodologies. Most of these methodologies are “input-focus”.

    This is of course very logical. Everyone has 24 hours a day. When you spend most of the time watching and listening to authentic material, you would spend less time speaking and writing.

    • Benny the Irish polyglot

      If I waited to find experienced language learners who agreed with me absolutely 100% about everything, I’d probably never have guest posters ;) There’ll always be a difference of opinion, but I agree with most of what Susanna wrote here and am happy to promote it.

    • Anonymous

      Hello Edwin,

      I am not fond of most dialogue and narratives in textbooks, especially for elementary levels, because the dialogues are often boring. Not everyone is interested in learning how to buy train tickets at the Paris Gare de Lyon train station when they are starting to learn French. But for some people, these text may be OK. For more advanced levels, the texts may discuss cultural or historical information that is in fact interesting and thought provoking. But reading text books is not everyone’s cup of tea. That’s why I suggest finding current content (radio programs, podcasts, TV programs, newspaper columns, etc) that does rock the language learner’s world.

      One does have to learn grammar when acquiring a new language, but not at the beginning of their language learning or else they’ll be bored to tears.

      The blog post didn’t cover the other chapters in my book that are about speaking, finding conversation partners, cultural activities and the like to practice the language. Just to be clear, I’m definitely not against speaking at all. I suggest people speak even if they sound like Tarzan. Maybe I’ll write another post later to get into the speaking and practicing part.

      • Edwin on Languages

        Hi Susanna,
        Don’t get me wrong. I am all for authentic content. Just that I want to point out one needs to spend time to take in all the authentic stuff, so less time for output activities.

        No problem Benny. I like hearing different voices from your blog.

      • Edwin on Languages

        Hi Susanna,
        Don’t get me wrong. I am all for authentic content. Just that I want to point out one needs to spend time to take in all the authentic stuff, so less time for output activities.

        No problem Benny. I like hearing different voices from your blog.

      • Edwin on Languages

        Hi Susanna,
        Don’t get me wrong. I am all for authentic content. Just that I want to point out one needs to spend time to take in all the authentic stuff, so less time for output activities.

        No problem Benny. I like hearing different voices from your blog.

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    I’m temporarily hiding some comments as this post is brand new. They were irrelevant to the content of this post (apart from one question directed at Susanna). I’ll reactivate them after a few days – I’d rather the comments on a guest post didn’t turn into a circus.

  • Aaron G Myers

    Hey, Lots and lots of great ideas here. Thanks. Will be passing this one one!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Aaron!

  • Ekaterina Trayt

    I learned a lot from songs. If I can’t remember some word I’d just recollect a song where it was used, so I’d see it in context. In 99% cases it lets me remember the meaning easily. And if you love the song, you simply want to know what all these words mean – passionately :) Like theme songs of your favorite movies, TV-series and anime. It’s simply very funny. Not for my neighbors though.. =)

    • Anonymous

      Do the songs you listen to have a lot of strong base and drum beats to annoy your neighbors?:):)

      Music moves the soul. We need to get more language teachers to understand how to use music in the classroom so more people have your exactly your enthusiasm for recollecting words via lyrics.

      • Ekaterina Trayt

        Hehe, well, I’m into heavy metal, but it’s not guitars that could annoy them, it’s my voice. Here in Finland we have very thin walls :) And I do love singing – which is also helpful for studying language. (Still struggling with Japanese ‘r’ though.)
        Also, for die-hard music fans it can be seducing to learn the language of their stars – in case of meeting them ;) I think it’s much easier to make teens, for example, study better if using music in lessons.

      • Ekaterina Trayt

        Hehe, well, I’m into heavy metal, but it’s not guitars that could annoy them, it’s my voice. Here in Finland we have very thin walls :) And I do love singing – which is also helpful for studying language. (Still struggling with Japanese ‘r’ though.)
        Also, for die-hard music fans it can be seducing to learn the language of their stars – in case of meeting them ;) I think it’s much easier to make teens, for example, study better if using music in lessons.

  • Peter

    I really liked this post. I am already using songs to learn German, but in this post I found a lot of extra tipps, did not think about them before but they really make sense, thanks!

    • Anonymous

      Alles klar! I am glad the tips will help you speak the sprache.

  • Anonymous

    I love this post! Partially because I know Susanna is such a nice person but mostly because she gives such sound advice. It was good that she could guest post here because such a great gift should not be hidden but shared with the world.

    I am implementing the ideas that she talks about because it seems the most natural way to learn. Of course, lots of hard work is necessary to accomplish any goal in life. Thanks Susanna and Benny!

  • Anonymous

    Gracias Lorenzo! You’re right it’s about dedication. One can still have fun while learning. And that’s what I want to stress. Benny’s hilarious videos and photos also transmit very clearly the idea of putting the fun in learning.

  • Anonymous

    I think the message that is always being conveyed here is HAVE FUN! If you aren’t having fun learning, you’re not going to learn! I was so bored and confused in school with conjugating verbs and trying to ask where the bus station was, I lost sight of how fun it is to be able to communicate in another language. Today, while I do check in with my grammar books on occassion, I mainly just focus on saying “what feels right” and most of the time it works for me. I wanted to add one other tool I found useful in learning. Comic books, for the kids, or the kids at heart, are full of common terms and slang that will help you sound more authentic when trying to talk with native speakers. Instead of the boring formal terms you’ll find in text books, you’ll come across all kinds of everyday phrases. And, like watching the news, you can follow along with what is going on through the pictures. Just wanted to add my two cents! Thanks for another great post.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the idea about comic books.

  • Kate Mckenzie

    Hi Susanna

    I learnt a lot of Japanese through watching TV dramas and singing karaoke when I lived there. Karaoke makes you practice reading characters at speed if it’s a song you don’t know off my heart.

    Since returning from my exchange to Argentina, I used latin dance classes (tango and salsa) to maintain my Spanish. The music is in Spanish, there are Spanish speaking people dancing socially, many people learning Spanish and interested in latin culture.

    :-) Kate (twitter explorepromote)

    • Anonymous

      Keep up the karaoke and dancing! Those are both fun ways to engage your brain and have so much fun that you’re not even really forcing yourself to learn.

  • Anonymous

    I made the mistake of not listening enough in Spanish. When I was out for a walk I would listen to just English music or English radio. Then I would get back and only read in Spanish. Now, whenever I say anything, there is a strong English accent. I’m going to start putting more emphasis into listening though! Thanks a lot!

    • Anonymous

      The good thing about the listening homework is that you can do it anywhere. You may not want to sing along to Spanish music while on the bus, but just listening to it or recreating it in your mind still activates your brain.

  • Corey McMahon

    As a direct result of this post I am now listening to German gansta rap. Awesome.

  • Corey McMahon

    As a direct result of this post I am now listening to German gansta rap. Awesome.

  • Corey McMahon

    As a direct result of this post I am now listening to German gansta rap. Awesome.

    • Anonymous

      Very good!

  • Anonymous

    Nice to get a different perspective on language learning here.

    Although everything has to be adjusted accordingly. There is plenty of Japanese anime about if you want to do passive listening for Japanese, but if you attempt to talk like an anime character here people won’t take you seriously :-) I find films to be fairly good as I’m not into most music types.

  • Anonymous

    Make sure to pick music that has clear lyrics that you can hear over the music. Heavy metal songs (in any language) where the music is so loud and drowns out the words will not work.

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    I never said anything against listening, only against approaches based ONLY on listening. If you don’t have “constant” access to native speakers, but you do meet them to practice rather than waiting for months, then any work you do in between speaking sessions is likely to help more.

  • Troy

    Hey Susanna!

    (Parabens–you are really making waves lately! –Troy de South Bay Meetup)

    I’d have to say that music played a big part in learning Portuguese. It was really the music that kept me motivated in the beginning. And I couldn’t agree more that it helps with pronunciation and picking up vocabulary.

    However, music didn’t help much with conversation. It took years of actual conversation and podcasts to gain conversational fluency. Even reading was not very helpful. The reason is pretty obvious to me now: books and songs don’t have the same grammar structures, vocabulary, or topics that you find in normal conversations. Bossa Nova, for example, is so poetic that even Brazilians have a hard time explaining what a song means. And, at least in Portuguese, the spoken language drops, chops, dices-and-slices multiple words into one! For example:

    Deixa eu ver ==> “cho-ver”
    O que e’ que voce acha ==> “kek-se-acha”

    So while I think you should do anything and everything that helps you learn a language, if you want to converse, spend a lot of time listening and speaking.

    [math geek mode on]
    There is nothing particularly surprising about what I’m saying. Basically to learn a language you want to learn a probability distribution: what are the likely phrases you should say given a particular situation. Songs have a particular probability distribution, text another, and conversation yet another. These distributions are quite different, so don’t expect that knowledge of one area will carry over (completely) to another area.
    [math geek mode off]

    • Anonymous

      Oi Troy! Good to see you in the Cyber world. I am keen for another Brazilian Portuguese Meet Up soon. This blog post only covered my listening section and I didn’t get to the conversation and other media sections of my book.

      Music can help in conversation because when you’re searching for a word, you’re more likely to remember it if you have heard it in a song. This happens to me sometimes when I am searching for words or listening to someone say a word I’ve only previously heard in a music.

      As for that mathematical probability stuff, maybe you can make up a Google doc spreadsheet like for our churrascos to better show what you are saying:)

      Ate logo!


  • Michael Corayer

    I’m a big fan of using lyrics in language learning. When I taught English classes, one of my favorite activities (and a favorite of my students) was doing cloze exercises filling in missing words in a set of lyrics while listening. I found that vocal jazz music (like Sinatra, Tony Bennett, etc) can be great for this because the lyrics are usually crystal-clear and never drowned out by the accompaniment.

  • Michael Corayer

    I’m a big fan of using lyrics in language learning. When I taught English classes, one of my favorite activities (and a favorite of my students) was doing cloze exercises filling in missing words in a set of lyrics while listening. I found that vocal jazz music (like Sinatra, Tony Bennett, etc) can be great for this because the lyrics are usually crystal-clear and never drowned out by the accompaniment.

  • Ariel Del Tedesco Hoving

    Wow! Very good one!

    I think I’ll use it for my six years old lil sister. I’ve already done this with me, but I think for my sis will be very helpfull!
    We’re learning 7 languages now. So I learn, and she gets kinda passivelly. I noticed that when she started repeating sentences in German! I was amazed! She just heard my songs sometimes, and saw me studying!

    Great tips! I enjoyed a lot!

    And by the way, there is another cool site for learning with music that I use frequently:

    A very cool site to see!

    See ya

  • Benny Lewis

    This “knack” is also a myth in having a language learning gene, and something I feel works better as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some people simply need it explained to them correctly and they can do it. You don’t need to have a “good ear”, and tone deafnesses is exaggerated way too much by people who don’t have anything near as serious.

  • R

    thanks a lot for this post! i’ll be solo traveling to europe in 9 months and i’d like to be able to speak some french and italian to better converse with the locals. i’ve postponed actually learning those languages because i don’t really enjoy reading a guide book but this method you mentioned seems interesting. i guess i could put off that book for a while and start looking for some songs in french and italian. :D