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Music to help you learn

A couple of years ago when I was living in New Zealand, I took some classes in Māori, the language of the indigenous people. Māori people have a strong narrative culture, with songs and chants a large part of this. Our teacher would often make the class get up and sing traditional songs, as a way of learning not just the language, but some culture also.

Whilst singing was a bit embarrassing for everyone, the Māori words and phrases that I remember now come from the songs we sang. This is all a roundabout way of saying that music can help you learn your target language!

We’ve all experienced the horror of having an annoying song stuck in our head (an earworm), as well as the enjoyment of not being able to stop singing a song that we love. Music imprints in our memory much better than audio made up of conversation or repetitive words.

So find some music you enjoy in your target language, whether it’s Cantonese pop, Brazilian hip hop or nursery rhymes if you’re a total beginner. Listen to the lyrics and see how much you understand. Some of the lyrics may be slang or idioms you have not yet come across – write them down, look them up, and start using them! You can find lyrics online at places like or eLyrics World. Often you can also find the song on YouTube, where the video may give you clues as to the lyrics, and sometimes will have subtitles.

But most of all – enjoy! Music and language are meant to be enjoyed.