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Music Is Underrated

As usual I may be completely off the mark on this, but music in general — and hiphop/pop music in particular — feels almost universally underrated (and even discounted) as a language acquisition tool. At best, in most cases, music is merely tolerated, considered a “nice supplement”, like an iron pill, not real food.

A lot of people would get in my face, as it were, to explain why music was (is?) valuable, why it would work. But as with many AJATT things, I can’t explain why. I just bombard myself with Japanese beyond my body’s ability to recover from it. Use ’em all, kill ’em all, let God sort them out type logic.

AJATT was once criticized on a certain yellow forum for (among other things) being overkill. The critics are right. It is overkill. It’s like scrubbing with surgical soap to touch your friend’s baby (where my OCD people at?). But it works, which is more than you can say for most publicized methods/toolsets that preceeded it.

I don’t know why music works. I suck at explaining things. I’m not an explainer (explicator?). I’m not good with the words. I’m a tinkerer. I wear sweatpants to nice restaurants and talk to myself in public…loudly. I just try stuff and keep what works. I’m not even good with the tinkering, but I do it. I am stupid enough to actually try ideas. I am that idiot who read that book and did the thing the author suggested.

I use songs considerably more than I let on and use movies/cartoons slightly (only slightly) less than I let on. Earlier in AJATT (website) history, when the validity of songs/music was called into question, I didn’t push the issue because it was just an argument I didn’t want to get into, that I couldn’t get into…

…All of which makes me sound like a whiny victim, which is accurate…but beside the point. My point is that it was brought to my attention that I use music a whole lot but talk (well, write) about it a whole little. I only give it passing mentions. But a lot of my SRS cards are either lyrics or were inspired by words found in lyrics. A lot of my exposure time is to music. Songs I like. Over and over again. These are facts.

That movies have linguistic/pedagogical value seems to be obvious to most people. Songs, on the other hand, seem to require faith. But songs are just poetry 1, and no one would argue that poetry has no pedagogical (is that even the right word?) value — especially non-rhyming confessional poetry by suicidal, upper-middle-class women with too many consonant clusters in their names and, no, I am not bitter as a Tea Party member that Sylvia Plath’s work was summarily rammed down my throat at skewl. Nuh-uh.

People kill themselves trying to read abstruse, derivative, boring haikus, but suggest that they bust out a rap song and suddenly it’s the end of the world. They’re really the same thing. Really good music, especially hiphop, is like a pretty picture of an already pretty girl taken at a flattering angle — it seems to have the ability to make you fall in love with a language, its sounds, its rhythm, its possibilities.

If you stop caring about being right and even knowing why, maybe you can have fun and learn something, too. Do like the immigrants and ethnic minorities do: turn up that hiphop 🙂 .

Parting shot: Examples of highly educational ( 😛 ) song lyrics. It is no laughing matter to be able to read these words, and these songs, with their awesome beats and rhymes, make learning how to read them words that much faster and easier:

  • K DUB SHINE 頭脳旅行 LYRICS 가사,歌詞 “今自然に自分の興味に より呼び起こされてく 好奇心高める 情報處理能力 データ元に分析 高速脳全體に均等に浸透 少し時間差で屆く心臓つぎ思考回路の核に到達 前より広角 開く網膜”
  • 時代特急 / Flick – YouTube “AY-YO! 未來永劫 新たに命の火 燈す子供達には PEACE を願いたくし描いてる絵 スタンガン、暴力ない世界へ戀焦がれたら晴れた日には 見ろ お前と並んで見る陽は空 紅く 染めて 優しく 西の山深く沈んでくどうぞ、これからもよろしく 末永く二人仲良くと戀をした男が優しく 差し出す手に女うなずく”


  1. Indeed, it’s interesting to note that poetry seems to have dominated much of literature in much of the word for most of history; if I am not mistaken, the dominance of prose is a relatively recent phenomenon…someone please correct me if I’m wrong; I never bother to fact-check any of these claims! 😛

  46 comments for “Music Is Underrated

  1. gay richard stallman
    May 29, 2012 at 00:42

    Rap music is the best. If you don’t  like rap music, you need to get off this planet.

  2. ☻ イエムピ ☻
    May 29, 2012 at 01:12

    Thank you for posting this. I been using the MCD method recently with songs. I am trying to listen to Japanese at all times but refuse to give up my love of music to listen to radio talk all day. Didn’t even want to bother with audio form movies and anime. I find this works best for me and I even have a friend who is dam good in Japanese. I believe a lot of his abilities have come from his passion to sing cantonese songs. Do you have any recommendations outside of the example you used. I will check that out also. I listen to M-Flo (a little to much english at times), ET Kings, Rip Slyme, Miss Monday, and Dragon Ash

    • ☻ イエムピ ☻
      May 29, 2012 at 10:42

      Typo! He is dam good in Cantonese.

    • May 29, 2012 at 11:02

      If you’re into Japanese rap, check out ‘Ken the 390’, ‘Rhymester’, and ‘Kreva’. Many of their videos provide Japanese lyrics on-screen to follow. Alternatively, adding 「歌詞」(lyrics) will sometimes return helpful results.

      Ken the 390 / ガッデム!! ||
      Rhymester / Once Again || 
      Kreva / C’mon, Let’s go ||


      • ☻ イエムピ ☻
        May 29, 2012 at 23:43

        Thanks mate. I will check it out. I also dig the punk rock scene. Love the Blue hearts

    • May 29, 2012 at 21:52

      松任谷由実, Vo Vo Tau, オフコース, Orange Range, 宇多田ヒカル, and ZARD, are but a handful of my favourite Japanese artists, right now.

      (I have others, but those came to mind immediately). 

    • Bradley Curry
      July 23, 2012 at 09:03

      I highly recommend スチャダラパー for Japanese hip hop listeners. According to some user’s list on they have two classic albums “5th Wheel to the Coach” and “Wild Fancy Alliance” I found both of them and both are awesome. 5th Wheel To The Coach is one of my favourite rap albums in any language now. The easiest comparison is De La Soul…mostly because they appear on De La Soul’s album Buhloone Mindstate. They make a lot of humourous songs about every day things. Check out this song which is just about how people spend their free time:

  3. Sholum
    May 29, 2012 at 02:55

    Music is definitely awesome for learning. I mean, who would want to bombard their ears with newscasts all the time? That would be depressing. Music has all the things required for an awesome language learning tool: it’s catchy, has rhythm, repeats itself, doesn’t get boring for a long time, and you can easily emulate it (a.k.a. sing along). I think the only thing it’s not good at is teaching you how to sound normal when you speak. But who wants to sound normal?
    (By the way, metal is the best)

  4. Jorge
    May 29, 2012 at 03:47

    You are right. The domination of prose is fairly recent. Shakespeare never wrote a novel – he wrote plays (not to say that he didn’t write in a prose style, he did, it just wasn’t dominant, he used prose as the language of the wealthy b/c of its “formalness”) That was only 400 years ago. Don Quijote is the first “modern” novel. 

  5. Saram
    May 29, 2012 at 05:01

    I’dont like rap music. I prefer V系

  6. 名前
    May 29, 2012 at 05:43

    Music has really pretty much been my only input for a month or so now and I’ve still noticed my vocabulary and sense of grammar improving. I have it playing most of my waking hours and all of my sleeping hours (it actually helps me sleep as my roommates make some pretty strange noises at night…). While I still wouldn’t recommend a music-only immersion environment, it is certainly much better than an environment with little or no Japanese in it.

    • Kimura
      May 29, 2012 at 14:22

      I’d say that the best benefit of using music for immersion is that it’s the easiest to passively listen to. TV and drama and stuff like that all require you to pay attention to find out what’s going on (as well as the visual component keeping you from looking at something else or you miss the context). With music, the audio IS the entire context, so you only have to tie up one sense instead of two. You should still pay attention to it, but it’s also easier to just have in the background. I also find it’s more likely to keep the “eh, just leave it on” momentum that’s vital to passive immersion.

  7. May 30, 2012 at 05:55

    To be honest, as a musician, I feel like I don’t get as much out of music as others when it comes to learning Japanese. I’m taking a guess at this, but I think it’s because if you know how to play a certain instrument, you tend to shift your focus from the lyrics to that instrument, or maybe just listen to different elements of the song.

    I don’t know, hopefully I’m not the only one that feels this way :/

    Regardless, I still listen to Japanese music and think it’s a great immersion tool – I just have to focus on only listening to the lyrics!

    • gay richard stallman
      May 30, 2012 at 12:32

      if you can’t master ur focus, u need to meditate japanese zazen to gain concentration power. with this technique you can eventually learn to light yourself on fire to get on the cover of rage against the machine covers. it’s really cool. google it

  8. hikyoumono
    May 30, 2012 at 07:50
  9. May 30, 2012 at 11:37

    I really need to listen to more Japanese music but…I’m too obsessed with Kpop! I find myself watching more Korean music videos and checking more Korean artists to add to my iPod instead of Japanese artists. Even a lot of the Japanese songs I do have are the Japanese versions of Korean songs. But I have noticed that by listening to Japanese music over the years in general I have picked up more words, and am slowly beginning to understand the lyrics to some songs. So yeah…I got to try and listen to more Japanese music. Darn Kpop!

    • June 1, 2012 at 17:00

      Why not learn Korean then?

      • June 2, 2012 at 01:36

        I am, but just the bare basics like the writing system, pronunciation and some words. Japanese is the main language I’m focused on so I don’t want to fully commit myself to learning any other language until I get to the point I want to be at with Japanese.

      • June 10, 2012 at 22:53

        For what it’s worth, this resource from the SJC seemed like an interesting application of Khatz’s laddering technique; and I suspected that it might be a vaguely useful way of testing your Japanese knowledge/skills – even if it doesn’t quite help you learn Korean.

        I’m primarily interested in learning Japanese to a decent standard, and stopping there for the interim as far as additional languages are concerned – although I’ve very briefly listened to some Korean music (which seemed nonsensical to me), and looked at some related resources.

        That said, like many other British students, I was forced to learn a second European language (French, in my case) during my time in secondary education (I’m 20, and currently studying CS at university) – and felt it to be a fairly pointless exercise in learning a skill that I’ll never use, then. I also spent several years trying to study Japanese on-and-off, in various different ways – but nothing really “stuck”, unless a few Kanji and Kana from song titles/artist names, and a fairly small lexicon of common words counted.

        I’ve forgotten most of that French knowledge, since – but I feel that I’ve learned (and retained) more Japanese, after beginning a variant of AJATT, at the start of the year; and actually found practical use for that knowledge. (Mostly understanding technical blog posts, podcasts, and TV shows; and having short discussions – although I’ve found myself occasionally either dropping in English words, or resorting to continuing in English, when I hit the limits of my Japanese vocabulary).

    • Bradley Curry
      July 23, 2012 at 09:06

      I’ve got a bad K-Pop addiction, too. Like you I’ll listen to the Japanese versions of K-Pop songs. One thing I do is that I’ll always search on youtube for ex. “2NE1 Fire 日本語” that way I can find japanese subtitles to a lot of k-pop songs to keep learning japanese. 

  10. Ed
    May 30, 2012 at 15:01


  11. May 30, 2012 at 21:01

    Some of the truest stuff you’ve ever written, my brother.  Music has a hook to it that touches a primeval part of the brain.  It’s awesome for helping to remember things.  (There’s a reason that the ABC’s are sung as a song–it gives some structure to remembering 26 random things.  BTW, I used a similar method for hiragana and katakana.)
    I’ve often said that karaoke is a good way to learn Japanese, with one caveat.  You’ve got to do a bit of translation work up front, so you know what the eff you’re singing about.  Once you know the meaning of the words, the song will help you remember them.  It’s an easy way to expand your ability–and impress your Japanese friends.

  12. Tommy Newbhall
    May 31, 2012 at 17:05

    Unrelated to the topic, but here’s an interesting video on using SRS for language learning: (sorry, like the post, it’s in English)

  13. Tiles
    May 31, 2012 at 18:02

    Obsessively listening to Makihara Noriyuki taught me several fun and colorful vocabulary words.
    He’s easy to listen to, very good vibe, and the way he writes is very interesting! 🙂

  14. endoKarb
    May 31, 2012 at 21:51

    Music really could be a very powerful tool for learning a language.
    A lot of eastern european immigrants I’ve met here in Italy learned the language through songs, and they generally know it really well.

    I noticed a couple of interesting things after listening to the same japanese song for more than two days straight:

    — It hasn’t bored me yet. (which is pretty cool since boredom is one hell of a problem when you are a total beginner)

    but at the same time:

    — I STILL havn’t memorized it.

    My guess is that passive listening alone doesn’t work if you don’t stop and tell your brain that that stuff is actually important.
    With some effort toward imitating and memorizing though, I think it might work really well.

    • June 2, 2012 at 14:54

      You’re absolutely right.  Passive listening, while better than nothing, doesn’t yield good results relative to the time investment.  Spending a few minutes to translate key words will enable you to memorize the song, and it meanings, much more readily.  If you sing it along with the kanji (as in karaoke), you’ll learn that as well.  It’s a win-win.

    • June 8, 2012 at 01:11

      Lately I’ve taken to adding unknown words from song lyrics to my Anki vocab deck. I tag the words with a phrase unique to the song (e.g., “UtadaHikaru_InMyRoom”), which enables me to use Anki’s Cram feature later to study the words specific to that song. It’s working pretty well so far.

  15. Pingfa
    June 1, 2012 at 06:26

    Just a shame I haven’t come across a lot of Mandarin songs I find appealing (doesn’t help that I’m not into singing in general. I listen to music but don’t usually listen to songs). Any recommendations Khatz?

  16. endoKarb
    June 4, 2012 at 03:46

     I just had a pretty sweet idea. Cloze deletion for songs!

    The way it works is really easy: simply PAUSE the song every once in a while, continue singing the song in your head, then resume and see if you hit the lyrics right.


  17. hikyoumono
    June 6, 2012 at 06:58

    For those of us with Asperger’s syndrome, here’s some encouraging research:

    “As far as handling language is concerned, many of those diagnosed as having Asperger
    syndrome have good general language skills from an early age, and will have coped

    competently with work in their first language in primary school, before coming to another

    language. They may well have been good, even precocious, readers and can have an excellent

    range of unusual words within their conversational speech. Quite a few adopt a non-local

    accent for their everyday speech – frequently an American one, although there can be some

    surprises. Interestingly, this phenomenon also exists in the USA also, where, it is said, a city

    kid may adopt a ‘hillbilly’ accent. These pupils tend to be good ‘literal’ mimics of the foreign

    accent and lack the self-consciousness of their peer group in trying to copy a foreign accent

    accurately from the teacher or tape. They have the potential to have the best accents in the


    One of the things about AJATT I like is that it seems to work well for someone like me who has Asperger’s syndrome.

  18. June 6, 2012 at 14:00

    Music is basically why I learn languages. My motivation to learn a language is directly tied to whether or not I have some good music to listen to in that language.

  19. June 7, 2012 at 20:23

    It’s like cross-training.  You’ve got to use different modalities.  If it’s fun, it’s a double plus.  I want to defend haiku–not that I read them–yet.  I watched “My Neighbor the Yamadas” with my Japanomania class and I loved the Basho haiku inserted there.  Also, I love it when Chibimarukochan’s grandad busts into haiku.  Have I gone outta my way to “read” haiku?   Nope.  but I’ve been MCD’ing wikipedia articles on Zen.  But guess what, I’m interested in it. 

  20. June 9, 2012 at 01:02

    Hm, I never really thought about learning sentences and grammar from music but it makes total sense. I focused on vocab and such, but missed the grammar side of it. Good advice. 🙂

  21. Eastwood
    June 9, 2012 at 15:14

    Degree-holding, licensed and certified teacher here. Pedagogical is the right word.

  22. kris
    June 11, 2012 at 21:39

    I wonder if anyone could recommend to me any sources for tagalog (real, native, natural, not-sucky-learning material). I’ve had trouble trying to find material for my language journey. I haven’t been able to find any electronic dictionaries with example sentence and Monolingual dictionaries, for the ones that I found were pretty rubbish.

    I would be eternally grateful to those willing to help a struggling language learner. 

    • ahndoruuu
      June 27, 2012 at 19:35

      Take this with a mine of salt but from what I understand Tagalog is another one of those languages, like Cantonese but probably even worse, that isn’t really catalogued.  If you watch some of the Filipino channels on TV (dunno if you have but they’re easily accessible in my area) they tend to mix different languages in A LOT.  Like they’ll be speaking paragraphs of Tagalog and then you’ll hear two English sentences then back to Tagalog then sometimes into other dialects like Illongo or something, not to mention sentences in one language with emphasized words in other languages.  I have never actually seen any sort of Tagalog dictionary other than Tagalog-English phrasebooks and about 75% of my friends at one point were Filipino.  Not saying they don’t exist but what I am saying is that you probably will not find any sort of “complete” or even semi-complete dictionaries like there are for well-catalogued languages like English and Japanese.  As for media…maybe you can try finding a stream of TFC (The Filipino Channel) online or something.  Or see if you can get it in your area through your TV provider, if you have one.  Also there was this one band called Slapshock I think that I found pretty alright.  There’s this song called Misterio by them that I had stuck in my head for weeks.  Sorry for my lack of help! T^T  But good luck!  Make lots of friends.  With languages like Tagalog building relationships with native speakers is going to be more or less essential and probably the difference between success and failure.  With languages like Japanese or Chinese we can become fluent without stepping outside of the house but I don’t think everyone has that convenience available. 

  23. lisbet
    June 13, 2012 at 00:39

    Music really, really works for me, but I under-use it. A few songs that I’ve become either obsessed with, or had to memorize for a language-school talent show (really) have helped me learn more grammar than most textbooks. Man….  after I get past the bilingual stage of MCDs maybe I’ll use some song lyrics. It’ll make me more successful at karaoke too, and not limited to the English language stuff. 

  24. OObey
    June 13, 2012 at 23:21

    I will be honet. Khatz!! Thanks for this post. I have been doing Alljapaneseallthetime for about 8 years and really, the only thing that has kept me in the game is music from artist like KREVA, Shimizu Shota, Daichi, Atsushi from Exile, Toshinobu Kubota, Tameoka Sonomi and Sonomi(R&B and Hip but also listen to Remioromen, Hata Motohiro and others). But I wrote this post no to brag about who I listen to per say,, but to state that alot of people, both my american friends and japanese native friends, say that I am fluent in Japanese. I am not talking about the generic “jouzu, jouzu!” pharse that Japanese people say to you when you say Hajimemashite. Im talking about the surprised, baffled look I get after a long 40 conversation about why I am studying Japanese, who I like to listen to as to music and and dramas on tv and also what i would like to do with my japanese. Even as I am writing this I feel like (WHAT DOGG! 4 REAL?! YOU CAN DO ALL THAT). All of this came form srsing, reading a page or two of japanese watching japanese dramas and anime and listening to alot of music. I kill the music but I always felt that this method, although it works SO WELL FOR ME, was kinda stupid because I didnt ram my head with Japnese haikis and newreports and boring stuff like that. Its when I listened to music I like is when I would pick phrases and words that I would look up and them use the next time I had the chance to speak japanese with my friends. FOR REAL!!! Music helps a whole lot. If any of you are curious about music(that is, if Khatz hasnt reminded you of these artist all ready) check out these artist and pick and choose which songs you like. And then kill the song; listen to is repeated so that you can rock the house at kareoke night like I did last weekend sing Kazumasa Oda’s Tokyo Love Story song(Again, NOTBRAGGING, just having fun) Later. Here are some artists that I like…KREVA, Shimizu Shota, Daichi, Atsushi from Exile, Toshinobu Kubota, Tameoka Sonomi and Sonomi(R&B and Hip but also listen to Remioromen, Hata Motohiro and others). Peace.

    • zaynah
      June 27, 2012 at 06:03

      Hi OObey, thanks so much for writing this post, it has motivated me to keep on going when i was about to slack off a bit! 😀

  25. September 4, 2012 at 07:31

    Yup, music can create wonders when learning a language…totally agree with you. Now you said that you are not quite sure why this is right? Now let me tell you a few reasons why music is one of the best language learning tools out there.
    -Memorizing vocabulary is much easier because of the melody that accompanies the words.

    -Specific parts of the song are repeated, making it even easier to memorize new vocabulary.

    -It is scientifically proven that the brain is able to absorb information at a much faster rate when involved in an activity that you enjoy.

    -You will not only learn new words but also how these words are used in sentences at the same time.

    For more information visit:

    However, when I was learning Chinese I found that watching movies was also a great way to improve my language. Now, watching was not really enough, you had to work and analyze them.
    Once your language is at a decent level there is so much you can get out of movies.

    For example:
    You can observe the body language of actors who find themselves in different emotional situations. People of different cultures all have slightly different ways they react to the circumstances they find themselves in. You will find out how the actors use intonation to express their emotions when speaking.
    With this method you will really get the native flow of the language.

  26. Jamie
    September 12, 2013 at 16:59

    Probably been mentioned here and about but I found it really good to make MCD’s out of songs – you can pick up a fair few kanji readings doing this, as presumably you will already know all the words from massive over listening.

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