APU Online Learning Original

Using Music to Learn a Foreign Language Like Spanish

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By Dr. Karolina Kopczynski
Faculty Member, School of Arts, Humanities and Education

For many students, there are different ways to learn a foreign language. Many tools, such as podcasts or games, can help you to learn another language.

Another outstanding tool for learning a foreign language is music. We all listen to music when driving, running, working, standing in line at the bank or shopping. Many of us either hum or sing along with the music, and some songs even speak to our souls, as they tell a story that resonates with us.

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”  – Plato

Music Is a Good Way to Learn Spanish Because It Teaches Proper Pronunciation

Music is an excellent Spanish teacher. Primarily, it teaches proper pronunciation of Spanish words. If you hear a song in Spanish or another language, you can often sing along without knowing the meaning of the song’s lyrics.

The Spanish language uses many cognates, which makes it easier for beginner students to learn this language. One example is the song by Ricky Martin, “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” Even if you don’t understand the title of this song, it’s easy to tell that he’s singing about a crazy life from the rest of the lyrics.

“Despacito” (“Slowly”) by Luis Fonsi is another example. It’s simple to figure out the meaning of the title because Fonsi uses a slow tempo as he’s singing the song.

This song is also easy to sing because you can repeat the words and memorize them. When you’re learning any foreign language, memorization is crucial because communication with native speakers requires a wide knowledge of foreign vocabulary.

Learning Any Foreign Language Has Many Mental Benefits

Learning any foreign language has many mental benefits. For instance, music activates the auditory cortex part of our brain. According to research conducted at the University of Central Florida, music impacts brain function and human behavior.

The Kennedy Center also confirms that music stimulates different parts of our brains, including the part of the brain that copes with emotions. We have our preferences and listen to different types of music.

When you’re learning Spanish by listening to music, the brain helps us remember the words without knowing their meaning. Since music is connected to emotions, it evokes feelings of happiness, sadness, excitement or anxiety. At the same time, songs help us to memorize words, phrases and complete sentences.

Music Aids Us in Learning about Foreign Cultures

Music also helps us learn about foreign cultures, as viewed through the singer’s perception. For instance, songs can contain cultural references.

Spanish is spoken in over 20 countries, and there are many styles of music that can help you to learn Spanish. You can sing along with the song and look up any unknown words to discover the meaning of the lyrics.

If you want to learn the Spanish language through music, there are a variety of different genres from which to choose. These musical genres include salsa, bachata, merengues, cumbia, reggaetón, pop, bolero, norteño, fusión, mariachi, flamenco and banda.

Salsa

Bachata

Merengue

Cumbia

Reggaetón

Pop

Bolero

Norteño

Ranchero

Mariachi

Flamenco

Banda

As you listen, you can write down the unknown words to look up later. Another way to learn unfamiliar words is to use Lyrics Training, which allows you to both sing along and learn foreign words by playing a game

At this site, you can select a beginning, intermediate, advanced, or expert level for the game, then listen to a music video such as Alvaro Soler’s “Sofia” and fill in the blank with a missing word. This site is an excellent way to learn new vocabulary, observe how grammatical concepts are used in context and practice pronunciation.

Learning a language such as Spanish – or any language – doesn’t have to involve just memorizing long lists of foreign words. Using music will not only help you to learn more words, but you’ll expand your knowledge of other cultures. That knowledge will make you a more effective communicator when you’re communicating with native speakers.

About the Author

Dr. Karolina Kopczynski is a native of Poland. Her passion is learning foreign languages and their cultures. She earned her B.A. in Spanish from UMASS, Amherst, where she also studied French, German, Italian, and Russian. She completed her study abroad program in Oviedo, Spain. Dr. Kopczynski obtained her M.A.T. in Spanish and ESOL from the School for International Training, VT, in 2000. She also lived and studied in Russia, Mexico, and Greece.

In 2010, Dr. Kopczynski completed her Ed.D. from the University of Phoenix in Curriculum and Instruction. In 2015, she completed two additional master’s degrees from the University of Jaén in Spain and the University Iberoamericana in Puerto Rico in Applied Linguistics in Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language and Formation of Professors of Spanish as a Foreign Language. She has experience instructing Spanish at all levels and designing online Spanish courses. Dr. Kopczynski was a recipient of the 2021 Undergraduate Excellence in Teaching Award from the University.

Recently, Dr. Kopczynski and her colleague presented at the Teaching Excellence Summit on the Implementation of Technology into Spanish online classes to increase participation. She has also presented at Northeast OER Summit about interactive tools to engage participation.

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