Language Learning Through Song

Last time I was in Europe was in 2007 when I was teaching English in a French elementary school. The other day it crossed my mind that my French “babies” (then ages 7-11) would now be all grown up and in high school!

Has it really been that long since I’ve been to Europe? I really feel my age now that I can refer back to the highlights of my twenties as something that happened SEVEN years ago!

I did visit Italy when I was living in France seven years ago, but it has now been NINE years since I have lived in Italy.

Nine years ago + barely speaking a word of Italian since then + not to mention I was just a beginner from the get go = super rusty Italian. As in, when faced with a true, authentic Italian from Italy, I could not even remember how to say “see you later.” (Yes folks, that really happened to me today.)

I also told him “Italia mi manchi”  (“Italy I miss you”) instead of “Italia mi manca.” Whoops.

I’ve always been a perfectionist when it comes to language and have always hated to make any kind of mistake, especially with native speakers. I think that is what has kept me from becoming really fluent in any of my foreign languages, though. I always tell my students that mistakes help us learn, and you better believe next time I’ll know if I’m saying I miss you or I miss it!

No matter where I am, Europe or the States, non-native English speakers always seem to want to practice English with me. I don’t mind, of course, but I’ve got to stop using it as an excuse to not make a fool out of myself when trying to speak a foreign language. One thing adult language learners, including myself, have got to come to grips with is temporarily regressing to the communication skills of a 2 year old. It hurts our pride as capable adults not to be able to communicate what we want, need or feel, and therefore not really be known as we truly are. At least that’s how I feel!

I’ve decided to be a little more proactive with keeping up my languages (by languages I am referring to French, Italian and Spanish, the three languages I kinda know/want to learn at the moment), so that next time I come across an Italian (or French or Spanish native) I won’t be so tongue tied.

Whenever I meet a non-native speaker of English who speaks like a native, I always as them how they did it. Without fail, their answer is always, “I watched a lot of movies and listened to music.”

Music and movies have always been my method of choice to stay connected to my languages-in-progress when I’m at home in the States. There are so many benefits of using music to learn a language (movies will be a topic for another post):

#1: It’s enjoyable! When we are having fun, we are more relaxed and more likely to pick up on new language.

#2: Multitasking–listening to music goes well with driving, cleaning, running, etc. Just void out right now that tired old excuse of “I don’t have time.” Even if you only have five minutes to spare, listening to one song takes under 5 minutes.

#3: Songs are meant to sung, which doubles as pronunciation practice.

#4: Not to mention, the rhythm of music makes it easier to remember words and phrases.

#5: Songs are easy to access  on the Internet and there’s a great variety of songs out there for anyone’s taste.

#6: Exposure to vocabulary and grammar in context is the best, and only way to learn a language, in my opinion. Throw out those boring grammar books with mindless sentences about Juan or Pietro!

#7: Songs are authentic language, not some made-up contrived sentence created only for learners.

I can remember exactly which words I learned, and from exactly which song. I remember the first time I tried out a word that I had learned from a French song  with an actual French person, and it felt like total victory when he understood me.

Here’s the process I use when I listen to songs in French/Italian/Spanish:

  • Listen to the song and write down words that I understand, while taking note of the verb tenses
  • Listen again to see if I can add any words
  • Guess what the song is about from what I know
  • Translate the lyrics to English and then take note of any new words
  • Listen to the song again, usually with a feeling of “Ahaaaa, so that’s what that means!” I love when songs go from unintelligible sounds to meaningful words.
  • Repeat the song many, many times until I have it memorized (usually what I do with my favorite songs anyways, ask my brother about the time my favorite song was Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream! Haha, he’s such a good sport!)
  • If possible, it would be ideal to use the new words in speech or writing to really commit them to memory

So going through this process with one song might take me an hour or so. I once read that if you do something for an hour a day for one year (or was it three?? anyhow, consistency is key), you will become an expert. Hmmmmm….we shall see…..

There’s also an AMAZING website I have to share called lyricstraining. It let’s you listen to a song and type the missing lyrics as you listen, with three different levels of difficulty, and all different languages. I wish this website was around when I was studying languages at the university. Whoever designed this site is simply brilliant.

Some of my favorite singers:

Italian/Spanish: Believe it or not, there are A LOT of singers who sing the same songs in both of these languages. Two of my favorites are Il Volo and Laura Pausini.

Spanish: Shakira. How can I not say Shakira? I also really love Reik, who one of my Spanish-speaking Friends told me about, and also Julieta Venegas, who I used to hear on the radio all the time when I lived in California.

French: I love Natasha St. Pier, and I even got to see her in concert while I was in France! She’s not on the site, but she’s hands down my favorite French singer and she’s not even French. She’s Canadian! I also love Alizee, who French people consider the “French Britney Spears.”

Happy singing/language learning!

xo Kelly





Hi, I'm Kelly!

I invite you to join me as I document becoming a dual U.S.-Italian citizen, my travels in Italy to discover the best of regional food & wine, and my progress learning Italian, mostly through cooking & wine tasting!

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[…] YOU JUST CAN’T UNDERSTAND OTHERWISE. Music is one of my favorite ways to learn a language. I am absolutely obsessed with Il Volo. Not only are […]