The Language of Music


Music. To some, it is entertainment. To others, an escape from the world. To me, it is one of the best ways to learn a language. Throughout my years learning Spanish and French, as well as my more recent Arabic self-study, it has always been music that has provided the best supplement to my formal education. There are many ways that music helps me learn language, and in this post, I want to share just a few.

Listening to music improves your accent. This spring break, on a family trip to Playa del Carmen, México, I was met by many people who told me I had an authentic Spanish accent. I am sure this comes from the evenings I spend listening to Spanish music while doing my homework. My personal favorite genre of Spanish music is Reggaeton, a sort of Puerto Rican rap style, and my top artists these days are Nicky Jam and Daddy Yankee.

By listening to music, you are exposed to different types of speakers. When you listen to textbooks or other recordings made for learners, you hear people who speak in a slow, clear manner, so that you can understand. But in reality, most native speakers are not mindful of your level of comprehension. By listening to music, I have found myself able to better understand conversations. Take for example the Spanish language. While the dialect differences are nothing like Arabic, different parts of the Spanish-speaking world have different accents. In other words, while in Mexican Spanish the word “corazón” (heart) would be pronounced “co-raa-son”, in Spain Spanish, which is known for its signature lisp, it would be said as “co-raa-thon”. That’s why I personally love to vary the artists that I listen to, alternating Reggaeton with Spanish star Enrique Iglesias’ pop music. One of my favorite songs, “El Perdón“, which was very, very popular, has both Enrique Iglesias and Nicky Jam, and it is really interesting to note the difference between the Spanish from Spain, as well as that of Puerto Rico.

Music is instrumental (pun intended) in increasing comprehension and vocabulary. When I listen to music, I like to see how much I can understand without reading the lyrics. Then, I pull up a lyric video or find the lyrics online (not a translation), so that I can see if I understood more. After reading the lyrics, I look up unknown words and voila- my vocabulary grows. Usually, I find that my reading comprehension is a lot better than my listening comprehension, but I am working to change that through practice. Not only does this help in increasing general vocabulary, I am also developing a small reserve of slang. For example, in French class, we once learnt about the concept of “Verlant”, a style of speaking in the French inner-cities, in which people flip the syllables of some words. Later, I was listening to the song “Panama” by the French rapper, l’Algérino. I noted that instead of saying “femme” (woman), he said “meuf”. That was my first encounter with Verlant outside of the classroom! While of course, I don’t envision myself sauntering down the Champs-Élysées talking like a rapper from the inner-cities, it doesn’t hurt to know a bit of slang!

Listening to authentic music helps with reading and writing as well. I say this while referring to my experience with Arabic music, in which my comprehension is just a bit above zero. Although I really don’t understand much, I love listening to Saad Lamjarred or Jannat Mahid’s songs, while following along with a copy of the lyrics, even if it means slowing the audio down from time to time! One website that I have found especially helpful is Lyrics Translate, a free database of song lyrics from all over the world. You can find both the original lyrics as well as numerous translations. For Arabic, I like to pull up the words, and read them as I hear the song. It’s great reading practice, and by mouthing the words, I am even trying to get used to pronouncing some of the sounds!

Just for laughs, you can hear me attempting to sing along to Saad Lamjarred’s “Salina Salina”!



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