11.19.2013

using music to improve your spanish


Music has always been an effective mnemonic device for memorization and learning. Think back to your toddler and kindergarten days. If your parent or teacher wanted to impart some knowledge or rule, they would sing. The alphabet, nursery rhymes, children's television shows, and even advertising use this strategy.

As a Spanish teacher, I tried to use music at least once a week to enforce whatever vocabulary or grammar we were using at the time for several reasons:

  1. songs are fun
  2. songs incorporate vernacular
  3. songs are authentic resources
In my search for songs to use on my students I would often find songs I myself enjoyed. Reading through the lyrics allowed me to learn new words, sentence structures, and idioms. Singing songs out loud in my car helped me work on pronunciation and also provided entertainment for those surrounding me. 

Here are a few tips for finding music to improve your own Spanish:
  • create a Spanish station on Pandora, iTunes radio, or Spotify. Write down the songs that you enjoy, and look up the lyrics
  • browse the iTunes Latin store for the top songs and albums
  • look up your favorite artists on YouTube. Many of them have a YouTube channel with their official videos
  • follow a favorite artist on Twitter
  • browse the audio section of your local library for latin artists
Once you have amassed a small collection of Spanish songs or procured a CD or two…
  • listen to songs on repeat. Over and over. Play them in your car, while you are getting ready in the morning, while you work out, while you do homework or browse the internet. Remember when you were a preteen and were "obsessed" with a certain artist or song? Remember how you could recite the lyrics to any given song from their album? Do that. You may find yourself googling some idiomatic phrases that don't seem to make much sense, but that means you're learning!
  • look up the lyrics. Aren't you thankful we have the internet, and we don't have to look at the little booklet in the CD cover?
  • Complete a song or two on Lyrics Training. In the top right corner of the screen choose the Spanish language. 
  • use Word Reference to look up new vocabulary words. It's better than Google Translate because it gives sample sentences showing how to use the word. There are also forums that help explain vernacular if you scroll down. 
  • sing in the shower. Practice recalling the words from memory without listening to the song.
  • if you are grammatically inclined, pore over the lyrics and try to figure out verb tenses. Are there any irregulars? Why did the songwriter choose preterite instead of imperfect? Is the subjunctive mood used in the song? Why?
  • buy a karaoke machine and throw a Spanish Karaoke night. Just kidding. But if you do that, invite me, ok?
Personal Favorites:
  • Shakira (Songs I love: Gitana)
  • Jesse y Joy (Songs I love: Electricidad, ¿Con Quién Se Queda el Perro?, La De La Mala Suerte, Una en un Millón) This brother/sister duo from Mexico is great because they are super easy to understand, and their songs are catchy. 
  • Juanes (Songs I love: Luna, Minas Piedras, A Dios le Pido, La Camisa Negra, Fotografia… oh who are we kidding? I love them all. Except Difícil. It's a little whiny). A popular Colombian singer, almost anyone who has taken Spanish at some point in their lives is probably familiar with ol' Juanes. 
  • Fanny Lu (Songs I love: No Te Pido Flores, Celos, Tú No Eres Para Mí.) 
  • Luis Fonsi (Songs I love: Me Gustas Tú)
  • Sie7e (Songs I love: Tengo Tu Love) I think this may be my all-time favorite song in Spanish. Check out the music video. It's everything I want my life to be. 
Music is easily one of the most enjoyable ways to practice speaking and listening in any language. It can be active or passive learning, depending on how much time you have at your disposal. If learning or maintaining the Spanish language is important to you, I would encourage you to give these strategies a try.

Who are your favorite artists that sing in Spanish? Are there any favorite songs I missed?

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