German is one of the first languages I ever learnt (at school in Ireland and later in Berlin). It remains one of my favourite languages.
That said, I remember well how frustrating German could be. How I had to wrap my head around German grammar and memorise the intimidating long words.
Why Study German With Songs?
When people try to tell me that particular languages are hard to learn, I’ll argue back until I’m blue in the face. Why? Because when it comes to difficulty, I think all languages are created equal. German is no exception.
Even so, it doesn’t hurt to oil the wheels of learning with a bit of fun.
I love music and often incorporate it into my language learning process. Here’s why.
For me, studying from grammar textbooks can be quite dull at times. Reading tables of verbs doesn’t help me internalise them in any way – I just tend to get bored.
On the contrary, I find music to be a helpful language learning tool, simply because I enjoy it so much.
Listen to a song long enough (especially a catchy and upbeat song), and you will inevitably find yourself singing along to it. I don’t know about you, but I’m generally always up for an impromptu karaoke session.
Your Accent Will Improve in Leaps and Bounds
There’s a reason why I’m a massive advocate of getting out of the classroom (or onto the Internet) when studying a language. You’re not going to learn to talk like a native merely from reading a textbook.
You have to get out there and hear how people speak in their native tongue. You can do this in person, through watching films, or listening to music.
To know a language, you have to live it. So, if you want to speak like a German, you’re essentially going to have to pretend to be one.
It Will Give You a Unique Insight into German Culture
Luckily, music is an easily accessible gateway into a foreign culture. You can learn a lot about a people through the tunes that they listen to.
Throughout the ages, human beings have chosen to celebrate and commiserate with the aid of music. It doesn’t matter whether you’re listening to the current top 40, or singing a song from the last millennium. You’ve got a front row seat to an art form that highlights both the values and heritage of a particular culture.
You’ll Strengthen Your Memory Skills
Why is it that we get commercial jingles stuck in our head? Well, it’s because music engages certain parts of your brain that spoken language doesn’t.
So, you’re more likely to remember foreign words, if you hear them in a song, rather than in conversation. The music itself will act as a trigger point, stimulating words that you may otherwise have trouble recalling.
Active repetition of learning via song lyrics will help strengthen your memory skills overtime. That means you’ll be growing your vocabulary while having fun.
And of course, this language hack will give you a wicked advantage over others, the next time you partake in a karaoke session.
Here are some German songs you can use to strengthen your knowledge of this particular language. You have my permission now to go forth and listen to them obsessively.
1. Rammstein – Ich Will
Rammstein have been rocking around on the world stage since the mid-nineties. The majority of their songs are performed in German, although they do often integrate many other languages (English, French and Spanish, to name a few) into their lyrics.
Ich Wille is perfect for those at a beginner’s level. The lyrics are short, simple and straight to the point and the song is sung entirely in German. Best of all this particular tune is family friendly – which is notable in itself. As a hard-core rock band, Rammstein don’t tend to see keeping their songs PG as a top priority.
2. Helene Fischer – Atemlos durch die Nacht
Helene Fischer is Germany’s answer to Britney Spears. Her songs are pop-y, fun and catchy – pretty much guaranteed to get stuck in your head.
Atemlos durch die Nacht happens to be the most successful song in German history. I wouldn’t be surprised if i were to find out that most German speakers would know the words to it. It’s certainly the impression you get if you’re at a German club and the DJ puts this track on. Best to learn the lyrics if you should ever find yourself in this particular situation, so as not to look out of place!
3. O Tannenbaum
Although this is a song that is generally best served during the festive season, it’s another good one to start with. I would be surprised to meet anyone who didn’t know the words of this song off by heart in English – my guess is that they would have been deeply ingrained since childhood! The video itself is aimed at children and features subtitles so you can sing along.
4. David Hasselhoff – Du
David Hasselhoff’s music career may have never got off the ground in the United States, but he was a massive hit in Europe, particularly in German speaking countries. So much so, that he performed his iconic song “Looking for Freedom” on New Year’s Eve 1989 at the Berlin Wall (the song hit #1 in the German charts that year).
“Du” is unique among the other songs on this list, as the Hoff is not a native German speaker. He doesn’t run his words together – he sings clearly and distinctly (and with such fervent passion!), which makes this song yet another good choice for those who are just starting to tune their ear to German.
5. Marlene Dietrich – Lili Marleen
This German love song grew in popularity during World War II. Originally a poem written in 1915 during the first World War, Marlene Dietrich’s cover is probably the most well known recording of the song.
Funnily enough, the tune was popular on both sides of the trenches during WWII, making it one of the most famous German-language songs in the world.
6. Nena – 99 Luftballons
This anti-war protest song became an international hit when the English version was released. The original German rendition tells the story of an army general sending pilots to shoot down what turns out to be harmless children’s balloons, floating on a country border. This leads to a 99-year long war, in which there is no winner.
7. Stereo Total – Wir Tanzen Im Viereck
Here’s a song you can sing and dance along to! The beat is catchy and the lyrics repetitive. It’s probably the most bizarre song on this list.
The band in question are the multilingual Stereo Total, who mix things up by often producing songs in French and English as well.
8. Disco Pogo – Die Atzen
Disco Pogo is yet another catchy party tune, that’ll have you shaking your tail-feather in no time at all. I dare you to keep a straight face during the chorus. Dingalingaling indeed.
9. Deichkind – So’ne Musik
This song takes us well into intermediate to advanced language learner’s territory. Hip-hop is not a genre for everyone, but I recommend you give this song a go.
Deichkind are notorious for their humorous lyrics and So’ne Musik is no exception. If you’re eager to pick up some German slang while testing out your rap skills, then this is the song for you.
10. Klee – 2 Fragen
Klee are a German pop group influenced by English bands such as Coldplay and The Cure.
“Two Questions” speaks of the point at the end of a relationship, where you look at your significant other and fail to recognise them. It’s a sweet little song that is fairly easy to sing along to. You’ll be craving something with a bit of a slower pace after the last two tunes!
Songs are a Great Way to Learn
I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of songs.
A small warning: Be sure to avoid falling in the trap of passive learning.
Write down the lyrics as you listen to the song, until you have it memorised. Add words you’re unfamiliar with to your vocab list.
Also, don’t be afraid to belt out the lyrics with an exaggerated German accent. You may feel silly at first, but you’ll be sounding like a native in no time at all.
And even if you sound silly, it’s so much fun! To prove that I know what I’m talking about, see this music video I made (with a pretty terrible accent, and off-key, in true karaoke style but clearly enjoying myself) about a song in German that was popular while I was living in Berlin.
Above all, enjoy yourself. Language learning is not supposed to be a chore. It’s something you undertake because you have a particular passion for a country or culture. If you choose to mix up your learning, you’ll be far less likely to get disheartened along the way.
What are some of your favourite German songs? Let me know in the comments.
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.