Sing Your Way to Spanish

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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.

My favourite Bueno, entonces videos are Clandestino by Manu Chao,  Gotas de Agua Dulce by Juanes and El Rey by José Alfredo Jiménez, but there are a number of others.

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

Lila Downs

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

Manu Chao

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

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

Maná

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

If you are trying to learn Spanish we recommend the Bueno, entonces audio course and the Language Hacking Guide.

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42 Comments (3 pingbacks)

  1. Great recommendations. I love listening to music en español, and it has greatly improved my Spanish. In addition to Gloria Trevi, I recommend you check out Paulina Rubio if you like pop. I’ll have to check out Ojos de Brujo.

    Reply

  2. Really enjoyed the article. Yeah I love to learn new languages I was learning Korean, and I thought going to the korean karoake bars in Oakland really helped me with my korean. It’s a lot of fun especially when you make a fool out of yourself. Now, I’m learning spanish since I think it will be useful. Don’t know many Spanish karaoke bars but I think singing along to spanish songs with lyrics and translations is a great way to learn the language and culture.

    Reply

  3. Have you heard about Pigaloo? They are these animated penguins that use songs to teach kids French. They are so cute! They sing catchy songs in French. For example, Moi J’Aime Skier is sung to the tune of YMCA and like karaoke, the words go across the screen.

    Reply

  4. Growing up with spanish music I love it so much. Just like in any language so many different styles and types exist. Glad you mentioned MANA cus they do rock. I love JAUNES he does so much great humanitarian work around the world & especially in latin america. You should listen to “MINAS PIEDRAS” very powerful song about the mines left around the country of Colombia hurting people.

    A few you didn’t mention that I love:
    SHAKIRA – also Colombian her 1st two albums are EPIC and her best. My fav song of hers is “SE QUIERE SE MATA” about a perfect couple who accidentally get pregnant and then later have an abortion.

    LEO DAN – Argentinian singer, he is very old now but thanks to my parents we grew up listening to all of his music. I can jam to him at any time & it takes me back to the long drives to Mexico. LEO DAN was infatuated with MEXICO my fav song of his is “TOQUEN MARIACHIS CANTEN” he didn’t want to leave Mexico but it was time to move on and he wrote this song about it.

    SELENA – I am sure you have to have heard of her… right? Selena is a TEXAN tejano singer who life was cut short when she was assassinated by her fan club manager at 23yrs old. SELENA left behind a huge collection of timeless music. I can’t just pick one favorite so I will list a few “NO ME QUEDA MAS”, “COMO LA FLOR”, “TU SOLO TU”, “AMOR PROHIBIDO”. Oh man I can go on & on she has so many amazing songs. I still remember where I was at 10yrs old when I heard the tragic news.

    GLORIA TREVI – She is known as the Mexican MADONNA and for good reason. She too has been in the business for decades and has always had outrages music & a outrages personal life. My fav song of hers is “PELO SUELTO” about being you & not giving a fuck about what anyone thinks. This is so my anthem!!! Also check out “CON LOS OJOS CERRADOS” & “EL RECUENTO DE LOS DANOS”

    Okay I will stop at this because I can list so many more amazing spanish singers & bands. I’m glad y’all are taking the time to learn spanish and actually indulging in the culture and listening to spanish music. I love music and think it says a lot about a culture. Let me know what y’all think of those songs if yall get around to listening to them. ;)~

    Reply

    • Wow! Thanks so much for all the recommendations. This is amazing! I will go and listen and we can discuss them in Spanish if we cross paths in Central America!

      Reply

  5. I probably owe half of my Spanish-speaking abilities to Mana. There was a period of time when I would listen to their songs for 3-4 hours per day and I must say, my Spanish improved as a result.

    Although, I think I need to check out Ojos de Bruja now…sounds like quite a unique group!

    Reply

  6. Thanks for the list of your favourite Spanish music. I also find listening to the music in Spanish helpful. But having said that it’s a good way of learning the language if you already have some basics. it could be a bit overwhelming to the complete beginner.

    And talking about good bands singing in Spanish try Chambao. Their lead singer has got amazing voice and the songs are beautiful. I love the one they sing with Ricky Martin.

    Reply

    • I agree that many of these techniques are better when you already know some of the language. That said, the Bueno Entonces videos I link to are perfect for beginners and it’s a fun way to learn.

      Thanks for the Chambao tip – I will look into them.

      Reply

  7. Lol, I have Disney soundtracks to thank for in learning English when I was growing up in Indonesia. Singing along to songs is still my preferred way in learning a new language. Love Carla Bruni for French… but now that I’m switching gear to Spanish, this list of songs are… gosh, just perfect timing, really. Thanks!

    Reply

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