Learning through music and the media

Have you ever heard a song on the radio that you haven’t heard in a decade and you surprise yourself by singing all the lyrics?

Music and catchy jingles can stick in our minds for years while names of people, places, and memorized data disappear. Music engages more areas of the brain than language does.

Don’t focus your language learning on vocabulary lists and grammar charts. Get the beat on and add some music, TV, radio and movies.

I’ve met people who have learned almost perfect American English accents by watching TV shows from the US. They didn’t get their accents from their English teachers in school. They were having fun being entertained and learned American pronunciation in the process. I’ve also met people who have learned Spanish and Portuguese from Latin American telenovelas. All of these people had never lived in the Americas. They learned through the media. So can you!

I know how powerful music is because I studied 10 languages and speak seven (Russian, English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Serbo-Croatian, and French) with perfect or almost perfect accents. I was able to do this because I listened to language like music and internalized the prosody and melodies of the languages. I also studied grammar, but it’s a lot easier and more fun to study grammar rules when you actually like the language you are learning. You can learn to like your target language by finding movies, TV shows, music and radio programs that you like. Plus, you remember the grammar rules better when you know verses from songs that display these rules, irregular verb conjugations, idioms, etc.

For example, when I was learning the imperfect subjunctive (the case denoting doubt) in Spanish, it was much easier for me to remember the “como si” construction that necessitates the following verb to be conjugated in the imperfect subjunctive because I remembered the verse from the famous song Besame Mucho, “Besame mucho como si fuera esta noche la última vez” (Kiss me a lot as though tonight were the last night). “Fuera” is the imperfect subjunctive of the verb ser (to be) in Spanish. I knew the song long before I learned the imperfect subjunctive verb tense in Spanish, so it was easy to remember why the notion of doubt (as though tonight) would change the verb tense. This shows that music can not only help you learn the accent and rhythm of the language, but it can reinforce and illustrate grammar.

Just turn on your radio, relax and get in the groove of your new tongue. Paying attention to media in your target language introduces you to the phonetical and grammatical structure of your new tongue. After you get used to the melodies of your new languages, then you can insert the grammar and vocabulary. Listen first. Speak later.

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Learning through music and the media