The "Language of Music"


I know, I know, "music is the way to people's hearts" and it's "a universal language". You've probably heard this a million times. But today I write this blog to show you a bit of how music helps your foreign language acquisition and makes your life just much more fun! Music, like any art form, is a gateway into a culture, and it says a lot about the context it was composed in.

Music also helps you keep motivation up when you're just done with declension tables and adjective endings (WHY DOES GERMAN HAVE SO MANY DEFINITE ARTICLES?!).

There are both active and passive ways in which you can employ music to learn languages, but first, you need to learn what kind of music you like in the other languages. Down below I'll share a couple of playlists I built as a sort of introduction to the music of diverse languages.

How does music help me learn a language?

Bella domanda! If you are willing to put in the work while listening to music in your target language, there's a number of ways you can use this to your advantage:

  • Create flashcards with the new vocab you run into: If you're listening to a song and there's a word you haven't heard before, make a flashcard out of it, physical flashcards are great, but I'm a mess so I use Anki or Quizlet. This is a good idea when encountering new words under any context. Another tip I can give you; is going to Google Images and google the new word before translating it, that way your brain will associate the word with an image, instead of having to translate in your head every time.
  • Sing along: Be it in the shower, your car on your way to work, or in bed on a lazy Sunday morning, sing along! Not only you'll impress your peers by singing in a foreign language, but from singing along with the music you're listening to, you'll eventually start getting a feel for the rhythm of the language, and the sounds employed in it. I confess that the first German song I learned was the infamous "Atemlos Durch die Nacht" by Helene Fischer (think of Shake it Off by Taylor Swift, but with more Apfelstrudel), and while that might be a bit embarrassing, it really helped me get used to the sounds used in German and practice pronunciation.
  • Slang!:  The sort of language you encounter in music might not always be the sort of language you'll find in textbooks. This is something that works especially for newer music (unless you want to sound like a Sicilian factory worker from last century, or a painter from La Belle Epoque. Which if it's your thing, then that's rad man, groovy)

  • Translate songs as fast as you can!: This one is kind of nerdy, but I am a nerd, and if you've made it this far, then you probably are one as well. While I was learning German and Italian, I'd pick a hit song, play it with my guitar and sing it in the target language. Ask anyone about my legendary renditions of "Sehr sehr langsam" be Henrik Kirchen (Despacito - Enrique Iglesias) or Der Wissenchaftler by Kaltspiel (The Scientist - Coldplay). It is as ridiculous as it sounds, but trying to translate the song as I sang it without falling behind really got my brain working. If you can't play an instrument, who cares? Get yourself the Karaoke track and sing the night away!

I've built a couple short playlists for some popular languages right now, with some of my favourite songs in each of the languages. If you like a song, explore similar music and let me know what you find! As a classical musician, I've snuck in a couple of Arias and Art Songs, which I hope you will also enjoy.

Introducing Italian:
I will cliche hardcore here, but anyways; close your eyes while you start this playlist. You're in Tuscany and are walking home from wine-tasting. The weather is perfect, and the town is alive. There are couples everywhere kissing under the moonlight (not you though, but you have a biiig pizza), you had lunch at Nonna's place, there was a huge table where everyone was speaking at the same time, but everyone was having fun. Italian music really takes me somewhere else, beautiful warm melodies and lyrics that break your heart. I omitted Neapolitan songs since Neapolitan is another language, but do check them out as they are lovely as well. The Opera Aria, composed by Puccini and sung by Luciano Pavarotti (<3), is the monologue of a young bohemian poet in Paris, who narrates his vision of life, and how important art is for him.

Introducing German:
I must admit I had a hard time doing this playlist, as I'm not a fan of Schlager, one of the most popular genres in the German speaking community, nevertheless, there are a couple of hidden jewels in the German repertoire that I'm sure you'll enjoy. There's Nena's 99 Luftballoons, which is a very symbolic commentary and protest against the Cold War and NATO's nuclear missile deployment. German Pop and Rock music are admittedly strongly influenced by bands like The Beatles, which you might notice in a couple of this songs. The Art Song I added, sung by Ian Bostridge, is Franz Schubert's adaptation of Goethe's "Der Erlkönig" a very dramatic poem with a mysterious evil figure, listen to the piano representing the horse's gallop. Big tune!  


Introducing French:
Nooooon rien de rien... Fine, I put two Edith Piaf songs in this one. Sue me! She's the queen. French chanson has a really long history, often involving love, loss, alcoholism and depression. I must say that the language has a special something that rips your soul apart. In the playlist, there are a couple of quite simple, yet beautiful songs, like "La Mer".  Claude François' "Comme D'habitude" will remind you of Frank Sinatra's "My Way" which, in its original language, is a much sadder song than it's English counterpart, google it. The Opera Aria I put in, sung by Roberto Alagna, is the desperate love declaration of the army official "Don Jose" to the classic "Femme Fatal"; Carmen.

Introducing Spanish:
You may accuse me of being biased when I say Spanish has one of the richest musical cultures in the world, and you are right, but so what!? If you read last week's entry you will have learned a bit about how Spanish has grown and changed in the course of history from a small dialect in Castilla to being one of the languages with the highest amount of native speakers in the world today. Salsa, Tango, Merengue, Flamenco, Cumbia and so many more genres of a long, unique tradition represent the Spanish language. I could do an entire dissertation about Spanish music, but for know I will leave you with this little collection, Ole!

As always, don't forget to check out our ever-growing collection of bilingual books at Glassbow. Recent additions include Dracula and Peter Pan! 

Happy Friday, and tell me if there's a song I forgot :)

Juan V.

Juan V.Comment