Learning to Sing or Singing to Learn?

Everybody sings sometimes, whether in a band, in a social setting, in the shower, or even if only in your head; music, for one reason or another, is a large occupation of people from all walks of life, providing those in sorrow with comfort, those in anger with release, those in stress with calm, and those that are learning with motivation; it is a staple of human existence.

We’ve most likely all encountered at some point in our life a song on the radio, a catchy little number with a simple little melody, that seems to latch onto our inner thoughts and play itself over and over and over with little end in sight. These songs have an amazing propensity for igniting our memory; we have an insatiable ability to memorize melody, harmony and lyrics better than when reading from a book or listening to a teacher talk. The best part about all of this is the fact that it can be harnessed and used in ways that greatly benefit us in things other than karaoke.

“So what” you say, “is the best use for this magical tool?” Well for our purposes, it’s learning a language.


Singing in the shower is more useful than you might think

A study published in the journal Memory and Cognition found that people learning Hungarian better learnt and memorized words and phrases when they were put to a song and sung. Without going into too much detail, the study itself consisted of 60 participants aged between 18 and 29, split into three groups. One group listened to spoken English with a spoken Hungarian translation, another group listened to the Hungarian phrases being sung, and the last group listened to the Hungarian phrases being spoken to the rhythm of the song, almost as if it were a chant. The results, as you probably expect, showed that the group with the Hungarian phrases being sung showed significantly better results.

This might not come as much of a surprise to you, especially those that listen to music in any other languages. I’ve met several Spanish speakers who say they cannot speak English, yet when The Beatles start to play on the radio, the same people sing the lyrics with more precision than even I can! This shows how exceptional music is for memorization and pronunciation. However, it is not a miracle language learning tool that you can use for everything — you still need to learn the meanings of what you are singing, it’s great and perfectly suitable for use in your repertoire, but it needs a little help from traditional methods of language learning to get you to your goal of a new language.


Infectious: Psy

To throw some examples your way, most of you will have heard of the South Korean artist Psy and his hit song “Gangnam Style,” I would wager you knowing a few of the lyrics too, even if you have no idea what it is you’re saying. A little further into the past is the ever popular and often covered “99 Luftballons” by the German band Nena. There are many songs like this and I’m sure you will several examples yourself.

Have you used music to help you learn and memorize and words? What songs in another language do you know?