Learning Languages Through Music

Article in partnership with Day Translations. How did you learn a foreign language? Did you learn it at school, in evening classes, using an app, through online lessons with a tutor? Or maybe a mix of all of the above?

As I was reading an article compiling a list of useful apps that can help you learn a language, it mentioned an app that maximises the power of music for optimal learning potential. If you, like me, memorised song lyrics as a teenager, you will know how much stronger memory recall is when you sing along to a song you have learned by heart, even when years have passed.

When Music Meets Languages

Latino artists such as Jennifer Lopez and Shakira know how impactful it is to reach global audiences when singing in a language other than English. While concert goers worldwide happily memorise their favourite songs in English, when artists travel to South America, for example, they reach super stardom heights if they are able to sing in Spanish.

I mentioned it in previous articles that I am a native Italian speaker and I mostly achieved my English fluency learning song lyrics from UK artists. I was totally useless at the start to perform any practical task when I moved to London but I knew how to describe obscure emotional states in perfect English thanks to the songs that were etched into my brain.

Learning Tricks

When you are cramming information before an exam or simply want to memorise something and you need an aid to embed that data in your mind, experts say that reciting the information to music can make a huge difference for recall. Of course, not everybody has the same learning style, because some people prefer visual reminders while others learn best when putting things into practice. However, when you add rhythm to a words sequence, it can be easier to remember the sequence after a while.

Learning Languages with Foreign Songs

I’ll share a couple of examples from my language student life. When I was studying Latin at school in Italy, our professor did a lot of research into how Latin may have been spoken by Ancient Romans. Based on the structure of Ancient Rome poetry and the number of syllables, it was likely that some syllables would be stressed while others wouldn’t, creating a rhythm when reciting poems. Using a metronome, our class learned a poem in a faster time than usual as all us students followed the same pattern.

In another example, when I attended Spanish evening classes, our tutor played a popular Spanish song as a way to help us memorise the past tense of irregular verbs. The melody supported our learning curve by offering an immediate reminder of how to describe an action in the past.

Music with Words Is a Powerful Combination

No matter what age you are but did you notice how much you can remember the lyrics of a song compared to, for example, a newspaper article you’ve read or a book you have just finished? Also, isn’t it fascinating how we can remember nursery rhymes in adulthood or any of our favourite songs as teenagers years down the line?

That’s why learning something new with the aid of a melody can be so much more powerful than, say, memorising a script for a presentation or an acting role by repeating it over and over again. When you sing along to a song in a foreign language you don’t even realise you are learning, even if you may get some words or pronunciation wrong. What matters is that we naturally mimick sounds and over time we can reproduce them with a greater degree of accuracy.