7 reasons why you should sing to learn languages

7 reasons why you should sing to learn languages

Benny

Warning: This video contains a silly looking Irish guy singing a German song in bad karaoke-style. Protect your ears!

Singing is an amazing way to dramatically improve your language learning strategy. To prove to you that I’m serious about this, you can see a video of me singing in German at the bottom of the post.

It’s a pop song called “Pflaster” from ich und ich that I like. (Here’s a vague translation of the lyrics). I’m not a good singer, but that doesn’t stop be from trying… Hopefully the Berlin scenery behind me distracts you from how bad my singing voice is!

Reasons to sing

Music and singing have made a huge difference in my language learning progress over the last seven years, as well as in getting along with the natives of the language. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Music connects across cultures and can break down barriers. When I have sung people songs they wouldn’t expect me to know and that they like, it has instantly broken the ice. In my first weeks in Berlin, even the start of the Sesame Street song in German helped me to make new friends! If I ever meet Madrileños I usually give them the theme song of Aquí no hay quien viva in an Irish twang. It always impresses them way more than perfect grammar ever will!
  2. Getting to know the music is getting to know the culture and language and sometimes learning languages is like learning a musical instrument.
  3. Learning the lyrics of a song helps you expand your vocabulary and teach you some slang/typical phrases.
  4. Singing can actually help you reduce your foreign-sounding accent! One of the ways I managed to convince Brazilians that I was a Carioca back in December was due to taking intensive singing lessons instead of Portuguese lessons. My music teacher taught me more about sentence rhythm, pronunciation, tones and beat of Portuguese than a foreign language teacher ever would have been able to.
  5. As I describe in my Language Hacking Guide, you can use music and singing to help you learn to speak simple basic essential phrases to get by in a language much quicker.
  6. You can take music with you anywhere and learn and practise it on the move thanks to your MP3 player / mobile phone. While it’s pleasant to have music in the background, make sure to actually pay attention to the words if you want to learn something beyond just being able to hum the tune!
  7. It’s fun! You can put your whole body into singing if you like and let your hair down a lot easier than you would in many speaking situations. You can really enjoy yourself by singing and it helps to improve your mood. Life would be way cooler if people sang more! Did you ever notice how happy everyone is in musicals?

So don’t be shy, and don’t worry if you don’t have a good singing voice (I don’t think Sony Records are going to be rushing to sign a contract with me based on the video below, but that isn’t the point is it?) and enjoy yourself!

If music has helped you to improve your language skills, share your story with us and let us know of even more reasons why people should sing to improve their language skills!

If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to share it on Facebook!

Music and singing have made a huge difference in my language learning progress over the last seven years, as well as in getting along with the natives of the language. Here are a few reasons why:

Warning: This video contains a silly looking Irish guy singing a German song in bad karaoke-style. Protect your ears! Singing is an amazing way to dramatically improve your language learning strategy. To prove to you that I’m serious about this, you can see a video of me singing in German at the bottom of the post. […]

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  • Troy

    Three and Four, couldn’t agree more!

  • http://www.mosalingua.com Sam (MosaLingua)

    Hehe ! Very good clip ;-)
    You are good, even if I don’t know the original… Do you have a link to listen the original song ?

  • Jasmine

    Agree! Without music I’d barely know Spanish, I learned from songs first then when I went on to actually study the language I already knew a lot and it kept it interesting. Arabic is kind of the same but since all Arabic pop music is just one rehashed song with lovey dovey lyrics it’s not as easy :)

  • Dustbuster

    You’re awesome, Benny. *Grin*

    But I think you know that already.

  • http://tomfrompoland.com Tom from Poland

    Benny, you are a pop star :-) When you start at the Eurovision :-)

  • http://www.neverendingvoyage.com Erin

    That video is fantastic! Well done Benny- you are a star =). The tips are really helpful too. I think music is a great way to learn a language – it doesn't feel like work at all. If I am not feeling inspired to do some language study if I start with singing along to some Spanish songs it puts me in the mood to carry on working.

  • lapingvino

    Funny that you post this piece of advice. I normally sing for myself when I'm alone (and mostly non-existing songs) and I do that in all languages I know. Probably that helped me a long way then :).

    Something I would like to add: if you are feeling you're doing something “normal people don't do”, you are on the right way. ;)

  • http://www.MyBeautifulAdventures.com/ GlobalButterfly

    I agree 100% with singing helping tremendously! Currently, I listen to almost all spanish music. I want to see you sing in spanish Benny!!! I loooooooved this video. I was totally into it. :)

  • http://easyenglisheasychinese.blogspot.com/ Chris

    Mad! Love the vid – very comical.

    Some excellent points, especially about breaking the ice with people in your target language. It kinda shows respect – music is culturally central in most cultures!!

    From my teaching days

    Songs were definitely great for getting the kids to use English with emotions, tones and rhythms. Taiwanese, even though they speak tonal languages (Chinese/Taiwanese) tend to speak English flat – but there’s nothing like a catchy (cheesy) song to get energy into their English!

    I know what you feel about passive listening but songs are great for moments when you want to rest/tune out (I’m thinking Khatzumoto – target language all the time kind of thing) and for catchy songs – some passive listening worked wonders in the classroom

    I used play the really catchy ones in the breaktime, perhaps 2-3 times before teaching the songs and it made the work so much easlier. Perhaps, with music, the brain doesn’t tune out -there’s not just strange words but some the brain already knows – music.

    Thanks again

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Thanks! Have you tried music lessons too?

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    If you look up “ich und ich pflaster” on youtube you'll see it! :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Eurovision is pretty desperate for funny acts, but I don't think they have sunk as low as to have the likes of me on there yet! :P

    • Mono Trouble

      Eurovision in 3 months?

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Oh dear! Sounds quite dull – but I'm sure you'll find some interesting exceptions for Arabic :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Exactly! The mood pick-me-up in itself is a worthwhile contribution to progress :)
    Glad you liked it, thanks for the retweet! :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I'm gutsy – I don't think many people who sing as badly as I do would have the balls to make it as public :P

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Haha, yeah good point! Unconventional and unique approaches seem to work the best! But singing is universal for everyone :D

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I will gladly sing to all requests in person! :P

  • Troy

    No, but I'm an amateur musician, so I've learned a fair amount of MPB (and, horror of horrors, pagode!)

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    Couldn't agree more, plus don't forget the extraordinary effectiveness of rhyming and rhythm as a memory device to help you actually learn the language.

    Karaoke is ridiculously popular in Asia, I personally plan on learning how to sing karaoke before I travel over there, I figure it'll be a great way to break the ice, make new friends, and pick up girls :D (plus I've always wanted to learn how to sing)

    I don't have much else to add, I wish I did, other than to say I just can't tell you how much I agree with the use of music and singing not only as learning devices but as cross-cultural communications methods that can break down cultural barriers and shyness in a heartbeat, music really is universal.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I used music a lot when teaching English. It does indeed inject some life into students!!

    • edna

      what are the list of music you use when teaching English? I would like to use the same songs when teaching all the little ones. Thanks a bunch.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Yeah, rhythm as a tool to learn phrases is something I use a lot.
    I'll definitely be singing at plenty of karaokes in future visits to Asia!

  • http://www.upgradereality.net Diggy

    Hey Benny,
    Hahahahah, totally awesome man! Love the video!!! :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Great to see you here Diggy! Thanks for the comments :)
    It's like they say on Toy Story “I can't fly, but I can fall with style!” Singing badly and having a blast and encouraging others to do the same was the purpose of the video :D
    You can bet that when our paths cross I'll be twisting your arm to go out for some karaoke! :P

  • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

    haha, super-cool idea. It's fun, especially if you understand German and know the original song.
    Ass-kicking video as well – like the trash factor ;)

  • http://addictedtolanguages.blogspot.com Lisa

    Hahaha awesome, I would never dare to do that :P I've been almost everywhere where you are in the vid! (that sounds like I travel a lot but really the only place I've ever been outside the Netherlands is Berlin lol) Unfortunately I don't have a very.. normal music taste haha.. so I can't find a lot of bands I like that sing in a language I learn :/ Die ärzte is ok.. and I like los planetas and el mato a un policia motorizado, for spanish. That's pretty much it.. I desperately need Swedish bands :(

  • Wirtshaus Im Spessart

    Benny, ich persönlich hätte es gut gefunden, wenn du keine (Spaß-)Aufnahmen in der Holocaust-Gedenkstätte gemacht hättest. Ich finde dieses Springen, etc., verletzt die Würde dieses Gedenkortes.

    Dein Video ist zwar witzig, aber ich muss dir leider sagen, dass sich deine Aussprache in den letzten 3 Monaten überhaupt nicht verbessert hat. Kein Berliner wird dich für einen der ihren halten….

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Ich spreche viel besser als ich singe ;) Ich schicke gerade ein Interview, das ich auf Deutsch gemacht habe. Vielleicht kannst du es schon Heute anschauen. Ich habe ein ausländischer Akzent auch im Interview – ich habe schon gesagt, dass ich zu viel mit der Prüfung gearbeitet habe, um mein Akzent zu reduzieren.

  • Lily Munster

    I totally agree with this!
    Not only have I been singing in Japanese for the past year, but I've been watching MUSICALS in Japanese, lol. But this is so good! I am obsessed with them, so I watch them over and over and over… I have learned so much Japanese from these musicals you have no idea!!

  • Lily Munster

    oh also, your video was hilarious. XD

  • Fullmetalrunt

    Dude, that's one of my favorite songs! Great job! Your German sounds great /jealous xD
    I tried this with Spanish, and hey, it works! Thanks for the awesome advice C:

  • http://twitter.com/chrissarda Chris Sarda

    This quite possibly one of the best youtube videos I've ever seen, especially for followers of your blog… Good show.

  • http://twitter.com/carlfordham Carl Gene Fordham

    Singing is great fun but it's never really helped me much with Mandarin probably because a) the language has so many homophones and b) most Chinese music is of doubtful quality.

  • http://www.i-blogger.info Briesauce

    From the time I was a wee little lad, my mom would have me sing our phone number and address so that I would remember them. It worked, to this day I remember all of our phone numbers and relatives numbers too.

    The problem is… Not singing someone my phone-number when they ask me for it.

    Thanks,

    Brian M. Connole | i-Blogger

  • http://www.b-speak.com William

    Listening to songs is an fun way of practicing your listening skills, although it's sometimes difficult with tonal languages to get the right tone during the song.

  • My name

    Are you sure you’re Irish, and not American? You litter your English with loads of Americanisms. What for?

  • My name

    Are you sure you’re Irish, and not American? You litter your English with loads of Americanisms. What for?

  • Idrankthekoolaid

    Didn't you have a link to a site that had foreign language video singing lessons for free? I can't find it in this post, but I thought it was here, or perhaps the newsletter?

  • Maria

    jaja, very funny, you sing better than Britney Spears, jaja I love Britney Spears, but you’re right, it’s a good way to speak with fluency, and come to Mexico to learn their history and see its natural landscapes, i’m from Mexicali, but here is very hot, we are not the finest people in the world but the “Mexican Macho” is jut a rumor =] Bye, adios, au revoir, ciao.

  • Harsha Fra

    I can completely relate to this. I am a multilingual person, but I never touched a European language before. When I first started out, I had a lot of trouble with french pronunciations.
    That’s when I accidentally stumbled onto a very catchy french song on youtube. I listened to them so much that I could sing the lyrics without ever understanding a word of it.At a later stage I used lyrics to aid my singing. Soon, I was able to recognise words and sounds that usually goes above my head during a conversation with a native.
    If anyone is willing to try sones and if you’re lucky you might even like their songs!
    gs as an aid to help you learn, I suggest you pick a teen popstar of the respective country/language. They tend to have lyrics that are not too verbose and deal with simple themes, and if you’re lucky you might even like their music! For french, I would suggest Alizée, if anyone is interested.
    Children storybooks and rhymes can be great for newbies. They are both extremely simple and offer an insight to the culture of the language/country.

  • Junk

    I’ve only taken one lesson so far, so in all seriousness — how do you sing Mandarin when the language is all about the tones?

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    “when the language is all about the tones”
    I don’t know any Mandarin, but I seriously doubt it’s “all about tones”. There are definitely words in there. Look up songs in Mandarin in Youtube and try to sing along, even if you don’t get it perfectly. And try to see the language in that context rather than “just tones”.

  • Melanie

    Benny, you are the David Brent of the polyglot community-the video is class!!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Cheers! :D

  • http://www.briangerald.com/ Brian Gerald

    HAHA one of the first things I did when I decided to start learning Danish was download lots of Danish music. I’m still in the singing along phase.

  • Anonymous

    You’re right on the mark. The essence of every language is its musicality. Once you tap into that, it’s much more fun and natural to learn. Language is music. Language learners need to find music they like in their target language to get in the groove. Any videos of you singing in Portuguese?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Yes! Go to my about page, I’ve added it recently :) It’s only a couple of seconds of Portuguese at the end though, and since it was switching immediately from another language I wouldn’t have the flow I usually have to maintain a nicer accent, sorry about that! ;)

  • http://profiles.google.com/tga240 Tim Anderson

    I found this really interesting. For a while my sister wanted to get into music therapy, and my mum is a piano teacher who has read a bit about how music can be a aid for learning.

    I can still remember some of the lyrics to a few songs I learnt in my high school choir, probably between five and eight years ago, in various foreign languages which I have never learnt. I have sung and still sing in foreign languages in choirs, which I think should give me a great advantage when I learn a second language; I’ve tried a few times to learn various languages (High school French for a year, Quenya, Esperanto, a few phrases of Dutch) and have given up through lack of motivation. Hopefully one day I will find the motivation, or be placed in a situation where it is necessary.

    Anyway, I found your blog today, and you will be satisfied in knowing that I have wasted probably four or five hours on it; I’ve found it to be very interesting.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Well, if it’s a few hours of being interested then it hasn’t quite been “wasted” has it ;) Hope you continue to enjoy the blog.

  • Cinnamongirl2

    I know this is an old post, butI just found this blog and wanted to say how much I like it (and your post on why it’s easy to learn Hungarian was very heartening).

    This particular post really resonated with me; I struggle with languages, sometimes due to a thick accent (depending on the language) and poor vocab recall, although I do enjoy speaking other languages and don’t fear making mistakes. But I find it much easier to learn foreign language songs. A lot of my favourite music is French, and I initially looked up the lyrics out of interest, and then to gain a connect between my reasonable understanding of written French and appalling spoken French. In English I have phenomenal recall for lyrics and generally sing in the song’s accent rather than my own, so I decided to learn my favourite French songs. This has been great for all the reasons you describe,  and has helped me with my French a lot. It’s nice to see someone else come to the same conclusions as myself about the benefits of learning songs in other languages.

     I’ve read through a bunch of your posts tonight and your tips are really helpful. Merci beaucoup, köszönöm szépen and thanks!

  • Cinnamongirl2

    I know this is an old post, butI just found this blog and wanted to say how much I like it (and your post on why it’s easy to learn Hungarian was very heartening).

    This particular post really resonated with me; I struggle with languages, sometimes due to a thick accent (depending on the language) and poor vocab recall, although I do enjoy speaking other languages and don’t fear making mistakes. But I find it much easier to learn foreign language songs. A lot of my favourite music is French, and I initially looked up the lyrics out of interest, and then to gain a connect between my reasonable understanding of written French and appalling spoken French. In English I have phenomenal recall for lyrics and generally sing in the song’s accent rather than my own, so I decided to learn my favourite French songs. This has been great for all the reasons you describe,  and has helped me with my French a lot. It’s nice to see someone else come to the same conclusions as myself about the benefits of learning songs in other languages.

     I’ve read through a bunch of your posts tonight and your tips are really helpful. Merci beaucoup, köszönöm szépen and thanks!

  • Cinnamongirl2

    I know this is an old post, butI just found this blog and wanted to say how much I like it (and your post on why it’s easy to learn Hungarian was very heartening).

    This particular post really resonated with me; I struggle with languages, sometimes due to a thick accent (depending on the language) and poor vocab recall, although I do enjoy speaking other languages and don’t fear making mistakes. But I find it much easier to learn foreign language songs. A lot of my favourite music is French, and I initially looked up the lyrics out of interest, and then to gain a connect between my reasonable understanding of written French and appalling spoken French. In English I have phenomenal recall for lyrics and generally sing in the song’s accent rather than my own, so I decided to learn my favourite French songs. This has been great for all the reasons you describe,  and has helped me with my French a lot. It’s nice to see someone else come to the same conclusions as myself about the benefits of learning songs in other languages.

     I’ve read through a bunch of your posts tonight and your tips are really helpful. Merci beaucoup, köszönöm szépen and thanks!

  • montmorency

    I know everyone has their own taste in music, but for German, I’d really like to recommend Udo Lindenberg. You can usually find the lyrics of his songs on the web, and sometimes on YouTube. They are a mixture of funny, happy, sad, but are always (IMO) a nice combination of lyric and melody. One of my favourites, & which is on Youtube, is “Die Klavierlehrerin”. Echt lustig!

  • http://www.facebook.com/daniel.brockert Daniel Brockert

    I totally agree. I’m trying to memorize 50 Turkish songs to “lay the groundwork.” Rather than taking a meaning-first approach to learning, I’m going sound first. I’ll figure out what all the words mean later. It worked with Chinese, though I only used a couple songs. Now I’m trying to see what learning a large number of songs all at once can do.

  • Joshua

    I agree with this completely! I’ve been learning Romanian for the past couple weeks and my boyfriend is my tutor. He’s been sending me some songs and without the songs, there are certain words I would be unable to even pronounce. Singing these songs has also helped me learn words he hasn’t even taught me yet! :)

  • Eduard

    I’m a Filipino from Q.C,Philippines

    i sing in 25+ language and i plan 40-50 different language by the end of this year 2013.

    some of lang:
    Tagalog (my lang.)

    Mandarin

    Japanese

    Korean

    Hindi

    Tamil

    Bahasa Melayu

    Bahasa Indonesia

    Vietnamese

    Thai

    Khmer

    Lao

    Karen(Myanmar)

    Bengali

    Dzongkha

    Mongolian

    Uyghur

    French

    Spanish

    German

    English

    Ethiopian

    Swahili

    Malagasy

    Portuguese

    Italian

    samoan

    stil practicing:

    russian

    arabic

    finnish

    polish

  • Tomos Burton

    I listen to/sing Japanese and Korean music the most. Welsh language music has been much harder to find instrumentals and lyrics for, so I do a lot of translating songs because of that. Luckily I know how to make an instrumental on Audacity.

    It annoys me in Britain that everywhere plays the same songs until you get sick of them.

  • Vinicius Tripári

    Dia duit Benny!
    I’m a language and music lover & since the day I began learning languages through songs, my cultural approach has improved a lot! I can tell I found Deutsch rude in way of speaking until listening to Tim Bendzko songs. So, in this case, music has changed my mind! & now i listen to many songs in Deutsch & in other languages. I even created a chart in which i choose the foreign songs i like the best in a week. I always get the lyrics to learn more about language and of course to sing. I’ve heard songs in these languages: English,Español,Italiano,Français,Deutsch, Română, Dansk, Nederlands, Русский, Polski, Hindi, Suomi, Ivrit, Türkçe, Ελληνικά, Íslenska, Slovenčina, Korean and Magyar.

  • Jonathan Yale

    any bright ideas or referrals for Brazilian Portuguese singing teachers? I’d like to take some intensive lessons remotely/Skype (or in Cleveland) before I start doing business in Brazil

  • Camilo Zuleta Gaviria

    Hey Benny, I’d like to listen to you singing in Spanish! Saludos desde Medellín, Colombia

  • Millie

    Oh, I learnt a lot of english by songs. I’m not very confident speaking it but I can reply and have a conversation with someone! and I’m a native spanish speaker :)

  • http://www.glossong.com/ Glossong

    Go to http://www.glossong.com/ to learn languages with music!

  • Tiago Pereira

    “One of the ways I managed to convince Brazilians that I was a Carioca back in December”. Totally egregious. Please, man, stop it.

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  • zingarella

    Gd idea.
    U have reason.

  • Iris Ka-Yan Bakalar

    That’s interesting – my dad tells me he learnt to speak Mandarin purely by listening and singing to Mandarin songs (he’s from HK and speaks Cantonese, which of course is bound to help). His accent’s actually pretty bad, but Mandarin-speakers usually understand him and find him endearing, they don’t mind the bad accent at all. However, I’m not convinced I can actually learn to speak Mandarin purely through songs – my listening skills have always been the weakest and for the life of me, I can’t remember the tones! (I speak Cantonese too, so it shouldn’t be hard for me it seems but I dunno lol)

  • Carla

    Yep! I was just discussing this with my boyfriend. I have learned quite a bit from Bollywood films (Hindi/Urdu/Punjabi) and all due to the music :3 I pronounce things very well and have gotten complimented by Pakistani & Indian people for knowing their culture’s songs!

    Not to mention am constantly making new friends!

    My first couple of days at a Dairy Queen LOL I sang “Badi Mushkil Hai” for my manager (Pakistani). He had such a big smile on his face after that! Some days later he asked me to sing some more songs for him, ha ha!

    I met a girl from Thailand, just while walking through Seattle one day because I know “Marjaani Marjaani” from the movie “Billu Barber” with Shahrukh Khan & Kareena Kapoor! It was playing over the speakers outside of her store, I walked in and loudly exclaimed “I LOVE THIS SONG!” She have me something for free.

    Music connects all of us together in many ways! Proud to be a language learner through song.