Music is a fantastic way to study another language and increase your fluency. You learn new vocabulary including local slang, improve your pronunciation, immerse yourself in the culture, and best of all it’s fun! I find listening to Spanish music a really motivating way to begin a study session; music lifts my spirits and inspires me to carry on.
I mentioned singing previously as one of our favourite cheap and useful resources for learning Spanish, and in this post I’ll talk in more detail about this idea. I’m by no means an expert in Latin music, in fact I’m a recent convert, but this is the music I’ve enjoyed and the techniques I’ve found useful.
Ultimately I think the best music to learn from is any music that you love and enjoy singing along to.
How to Use Music to Study Spanish
There are a number of ways you can use music to improve your foreign language skills.
1) Just Listen
If you listen carefully to a song and try to understand the lyrics this can be helpful to improve your listening skills. It’s a good, simple option for times like bus rides or in the gym: you’ll be using otherwise wasted time. It can be difficult to make out words though, especially if you are a beginner.
2) Sing Along
A much better option is to sing along as you listen to a song. Not only will you listen and focus on the lyrics more carefully but you’ll improve your pronunciation and hopefully begin to develop a more native sounding accent. This is the most fun option too!
You could just find the lyrics online and sing along as you listen to a song on your iPod, but luckily there are a number of tools available to make things easier for us.
Bueno, entonces You Tube videos – The makers of the entertaining Spanish audio course have created some free videos for popular Latin songs with lyrics in both Spanish and English, plus their unique grammar symbol system. This means you can sing along, learn new vocabulary from the translations and even recognise different verb tenses, all at the same time. Fans of the Bueno, entonces course will be pleased to see brief but amusing cameos from David and Jimena in the videos.
Search for Other You Tube Videos – If you are looking for a particular song then do a search in You Tube for the artist name + song name + lyrics or karaoke. There are lots of options and sometimes you can even find both English and Spanish lyrics.
Lyrics Training – This site is a more interactive option where you can choose from many videos by language and level of difficulty. When you have chosen a song you can just sing along in karaoke mode (with or without a translation in English) or play the game where you fill in gaps in the lyrics to test your listening skills. The only issue I have with this site is that the music on offer is a bit poppy for my tastes.
3) Translate Lyrics
If you want to take things up another notch then you can try translating the songs. You could:
-Listen to Spanish lyrics and translate them to English. This is the most difficult option.
-Find written lyrics in Spanish and translate from this. You can google the song name + lyrics to find the words and then sit down with a dictionary to figure out what they mean. Once you’ve done this you’ll be able to sing along with a greater understanding.
-You could let someone else do the translation for you. Andrew from How To Learn Spanish had a great guest post on Fluent in 3 Months where he did an in-depth translation of Shakira’s La Tortura, going into helpful detail explaining the grammar and vocabulary used.
-An easy option is to use the Bueno, entonces or Lyrics Training videos mentioned above to see the English translation. You won’t be doing the hard work here but at least you’ll have learnt some new vocabulary and be able to understand what you are singing.
Spanish Music We Love
So that’s how to use music to study Spanish, but what should you listen to? Anything you enjoy is good, but if you are just entering the world of Latin music here are some artists I love to get you started.
Ojos de Brujo
This nine-piece female-fronted band from Barcelona blew my mind when I first heard them; I hadn’t heard anything like it before. They somehow manage to combine flamenco, hip hop, rock, afro-cuban rhythms and even Indian music to create a wonderfully unique sound. It’s passionate, energetic and always surprising.
In the world of Latin music you’ll learn the words corazón (heart) and alma (soul) very quickly as so many artists (as everywhere) sing about love. I like my music with a bit more depth though and Ojos de Brujo sing about social issues in Spain and poverty around the world. The lyrics can be difficult to understand but it’s worth the effort.
A favourite song: Sultanas de Merkaillo
A favourite album: Techari
Mexican singer Lila Downs is another unique artist with a powerful voice. She covers a range of styles including jazz, folk, pop and traditional Mexican. Her voice is so versatile that sometimes it’s difficult to believe it is her singing across all her albums. She grew up partly in California and sometimes sings in English, and her lyrics highlight issues for immigrants to the US.
A favourite song: Perro Negro
A favourite album: Shake Away
How I never heard of Manu Chao until last year I do not know, as he’s very well known in the Spanish speaking world, but I’m glad I finally discovered him. He’s a French singer of Spanish origin and sings in an impressive number of languages: Spanish, French, English, Portuguese, Arabic. Luckily for the Spanish student there are many Spanish language songs particularly on the wonderful Clandestino album.
Like the others above he sings with a strong social conscience especially about immigration issues, and his lyrics are clear to understand for learners.
A favourite song: Clandestino
A favourite album: Clandestino
Juanes is a hugely popular singer-songwriter from Colombia. His energetic pop/rock music is a fun listen mixing catchy rock riffs with slower ballads. He sings about both the complexities of love and the need for peace in the world. His lyrics are easy to understand.
A favourite song: A Dios Le Pido
A favourite album: Un Dia Normal
Mexican group Maná are another big Latin rock group with epic songs. When I listen to their music I always imagine it being played in a stadium with arms in the air. Listening to their uplifting sounds enabled me to survive a night awake on our Bolivian bus hell. Although most of their music has a strong rock basis with big riffs you will hear the influence of Latin rhythms.
A favourite song: Sábanas Frias
A favourite album: Revolución de Amor
Buena Vista Social Club
As for many people this was the first Spanish language music I owned. This legendary Cuban music ensemble highlighted traditional Cuban music and a documentary was even made about them. Nostalgic and magical, it’s very different from the artists above so definitely have a listen if you haven’t already.
A favourite song: Chan Chan
A favourite album: Buena Vista Social Club
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