music and language learning

Whether you love music or not, there’s something to be said about its ability to help you learn a language effectively. But despite what many say about the process, it’s not as simple as putting together a Spotify playlist.

If you want to learn a language using music and songs successfully, then you need the right approach and an understanding of its limitations.

The Benefits of Music in Learning

The benefits of music on studying are well-documented at this point. People use classical music to stimulate the brain, stay focused, and ease the burden of studying for prolonged periods. Various studies also exist that describe the brain-boosting benefits of listening to music, including creating a positive mood, enhancing memory, and evolving your personality.

And music also works a powerful mnemonic device that can help people memorize everything from the bones in the body to all 50 U.S. states. Think back to your favorite childhood nursery rhymes. You never actively worked on memorizing them nor were you ever tested on them (most likely). But years later, you could still sing along to those songs. 

Music’s effect on language learning is also powerful. Recent studies point out that as babies, we recognize sound, tone, and rhythm far before we understand meaning and content. Words are a kind of music for us from the very beginning. And so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that music can enhance your efforts to learn a new language. 

Why Music Supports Fluency: A Tale About Comprehensive Input

The best way to learn a language is by exposure to comprehensive input, and music makes that very simple on multiple levels. Comprehensive input comes from Stephen Krashen’s Input Hypothesis (a hypothesis that details how children acquire language). In this hypothesis, Krashen argues that for anyone to learn a language, they need exposure to content that is somewhat challenging but not too difficult. This is otherwise known as comprehensive input. 

The key is finding that middle ground. If the content is too familiar, you’ll grow bored with it and give up. And if it’s too hard, you’ll shut down and stop trying to learn. So, comprehensive input is kind of a “goldilocks zone” for learning. And with enough exposure to language in that zone, you’ll gain fluency rapidly.

That’s why music is so powerful for language learning. It can be engaging, challenging, interesting, and easy to access. As a result, if you listen to music in your target language, you can make rapid progress. (Provided you follow a few guidelines that we’ll talk about later).  

But there’s another aspect of Krashen’s Input Hypothesis that music supports: its positive effect on mood. He argues that people cannot learn a language if they’re in a stressful environment. This is evident when you study toddlers. They tend to learn languages in stress-free environments that encourage engagement and experimentation without a persistent fear of failure.

Music replicates these features, creating a comfortable mood that allows language learning to occur. And if done correctly, you can use it to learn your target language rapidly.  

music and language learning

The Best Way to Use Music to Learn a Language

Can you simply turn on the tunes in your target language and start learning? Sure. But you won’t get the most out of the experience. If you want to learn a new language rapidly, you need to be actively engaged in the learning material. While you’re able to pick up some familiar words through repetition, you’ll be much better off if you follow these steps instead: 

  1. Pick music you’re interested In. Think about how often you listen to your favorite song. Why do you listen to it so much? Enjoyment goes a long way. Pick a genre you won’t mind hearing on repeat. Because you’ll repeat it. A lot. 
  2. Translate the lyrics. It helps to understand what you’re singing. Songs will have more meaning, and you’ll be more familiar with the words. This means you’ll be able to use these words and phrases when talking. 
  3. Sing along. It may be embarrassing, but if done correctly, you’ll see more benefits if you sing along because you’ll be SPEAKING the language.
  4. Repeat often. You need regular exposure to your target language if you want to gain fluency. The more exposure and the more practice, the more familiar with the language you’ll become. 

What to Avoid When Using Music to Learn a Langauge 

As with any tip or trick, there are tactics you want to avoid if you want to see the greatest results. And if done incorrectly, listening to music to learn a foreign language can actually set you back. 

  1. Avoid music that’s too abstract or use uncommon vocabulary. Music is poetry. And as a result, some songs push the lyrical limits using obscure words or arcane phrases. These won’t help you in conversation settings, especially if people rarely use them.
  2. Avoid music you don’t like. If you don’t normally listen to a specific genre, you won’t like it any better in a different language. 
  3. Avoid ONLY listening to music. Music is just one of many tools you can use to learn a new language effectively. It’s a great way to expose yourself to your target language when you may not be in the right place or mindset. But don’t neglect other lessons, strategies, and tools that can help you gain fluency. 

It’s All About Balance

Remember that you’re listening to music in a foreign language to learn that language. The more consistent you are and the more engaged you are, the better your results will be.

But remember that languages have many domains, and you’ll need to practice those as well if you want to reach fluency. So, don’t forget to practice reading, writing, and speaking in your target language.

Entrepreneur and Linguist, Jonty Yamisha created OptiLingo after his efforts to protect his native language, Circassian, from extinction. Using scientifically proven strategies such as Spaced Repetition and Guided Immersion, OptilLingo has helped thousands finally achieve fluency.

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