Using Music Videos To Learn Spanish

This is a guest post by Andrew, the handsome man behind How to Learn Spanish Online for Free. But enough from me…let’s let Andrew tell his story! By the way — unlike me, Andy actually answers his comments, so feel free to bombard him with questions 😛 .

Hey guys! This is Andrew! Let me tell you a little bit about me: I’ve been fascinated with learning languages since I was 12 and got ahold of a Berlitz French book from the 1950s. Since then I’ve worked on, to varying degrees: German, Swedish, Japanese, Spanish, and now French (again). I’ve been mostly focused on Spanish over the last 4 years and about a year ago I decided to start a blog where I shared what I’d learned about how to teach yourself languages (I primarily focus on Spanish but a lot of what I post is applicable to any language) using mostly free online resources because it seemed like that’s what most people wanted to do but did not know how. You can check it out here.

You know the primary reason that most people who try to learn a new language fail?
They give up.

Weren’t expecting that, were you? Yeah, ok, but why did they give up? Primarily because they got bored, that’s why. It just didn’t interest them anymore, not enough to keep going anyway. A large part of this problem is the learning material they were using, trying to force themselves to plow through boring workbooks or courses or memorize words they didn’t want to or what-have-you. Now, I know that Khatzumoto’s explored this topic in depth many times before: use media (TV shows, music, movies, anime, whatever) that’s actually FUN. I want to make it clear that I’ve found precisely the same thing to be true, I completely agree with him, but I wanted to be a bit more specific right now and tell you why I personally really like using music videos to teach and learn Spanish and why you should consider using them to learn whatever language it is that you’re learning.

How could you be bored?

You’re listening to music you like–you better be, whatever your tastes it’s just about guaranteed that you can find an endless supply of music videos in that genre for free online–so it’s interesting and pleasant for you, and the fact that you’ve got an artist you like performing in a music video for you is even better, you can see their mouth moving as they speak, you can see their facial expressions and body language, and all of these things not only add context to the words that you might not have gotten from just the audio track alone, but it also serves to entertain you and make it that much more fun.

When I started my blog about how to learn Spanish I got a little bit of interest from people, I did good research and was good at explaining things, but it was a couple months of just sort of…meh. I just felt like I really wasn’t saying anything insightful or bringing any type of new value to the table that you couldn’t get elsewhere. It was only when I did my first post on learning Spanish with Shakira where I used one of her music videos to teach people Spanish that I really got honest excitement from people in response to what I was writing, I mean people just went nuts over that one, it exploded. Which, of course, resulted in me doing another 5 such posts and I’ve got another one I’ve had in the works for a while that I need to finish and will be putting up shortly. This was when I realized just how much of a difference using something fun and interesting made to people.

A single song has more useful information in it than anything else of similar size

A MAJOR plus of using music videos is that you can almost always get a precise transcript for every single thing said and you can frequently get some backstory-type information on what the song was about so you can get even more context to learn from. No guessing about what was said (as in a TV show or movie that you can’t get a transcript or the script for), no misunderstandings or misinterpreting one word for the other.

In addition to this, musical lyrics tend to be very heavy on slang, idioms, and colloquial sayings which is precisely what you want to learn if you want to be able to talk to a native speaker like a native speaker (and you do if you’re here), plus that sort of stuff is so much more memorable than “days of the week” or “how to say you’re allergic to shellfish”, isn’t it? It’s fun and cool and interesting and…therefore: really easy to learn. Why? Because you’re enjoying it, because you want to.

Speaking practice is fun!

You sing. You sing a song you enjoy, after an artist you like, how could that not be fun? Look, I didn’t say you had to do this in front of people. Also, you’ll get the pronunciation down pat by doing this and you’ll never forget what you learned, you can’t really ‘forget’ a song that you once learned how to sing.

A few quick tips…

1. Check to see if you can turn on English subtitles, on a lot of music videos on YouTube now you can do this and they’re almost always correct, this is the easiest way.
2. If you can’t do 1, then google “[song name] english translation” and “[song name] english lyrics”, I don’t have a favorite lyrics site I use (people have asked me this) I just do what I described above, go through the top 5 results or so, and pick the best one.

3. If you have any questions on what a particular expression means and Google can’t tell you, just get on a language learning forum and ask someone, a native speaker will gladly tell you and you’ll have an answer in short order, that’s really the easiest way to do it.

4. When it gets old, when it’s no longer fun, DITCH IT. Go on to the next one. “But I haven’t figured out what everything means, I haven’t learned everything I could from it!”: doesn’t matter, you’re far better off in the long run just going on to the next one because if you don’t and you keep forcing yourself to grind through every single little thing in that video until you’ve got it all then guess what? You get sick of it eventually and give up. Remember what I said at the beginning? Don’t let that happen.

I really hoped this has helped some of you, please let me know if you have any questions.


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  17 comments for “Using Music Videos To Learn Spanish

  1. Vika
    January 22, 2012 at 01:51

    Hey, nice post. (First commenter by the way? yayz?) Anyhoo, I totally agree. Also, since I am also a workout buff, I double my workout time as language learning time by listening to my TL music. As so it happens to be, my favorite music has become that in my TL(s), making it all that much easier to learn. Keep it up!

  2. January 22, 2012 at 03:05

    Yup, I frequently listen to Spanish podcasts (I like Notes in Spanish, definitely check it out if you’re learning Spanish–the podcasts are free, the worksheets aren’t) while I go for my morning walk around the neighborhood.  That’s actually one of the side benefits of not going to the gym anymore: no way could I listen to something like that and concentrate on it while I was lifting, but just walking? Sure.

  3. Vika
    January 23, 2012 at 02:16

    That’s a good, idea, Andrew. Have you listened to maybe just Spanish songs while lifting? In my experience (YMMV), TL songs that you like give you that boost in workouts while giving you something to sing to and learn TL from.

    • January 23, 2012 at 07:15

      No, I haven’t tried that, that might work, but I’m not sure that I could really concentrate on the lyrics while working out like that, it really depends on how good your Spanish is–if it’s very good, you could probably do this.

  4. January 23, 2012 at 09:31

    Great post! Too bad I’m not really a fan of music videos >.<

    ..I’m strange, I know…

    • January 26, 2012 at 08:46

      Thanks, and that’s fine, this technique can be applied to any music, really, it doesn’t need to be a music video, or more broadly even a TV show or movie (I talk about this in my post on the Telenovela Method, it’s one of the most popular posts on my site).

  5. OObey
    January 24, 2012 at 00:16

    I tottaly agree with this post. I have been I love learning languages and right now I am working on japanese, spanish, portugese, and currently relearning my native tongue haitian creole and french. I am now re learning the latter because for years I had no interest in the language or the culture. Really, I understood the language and the culture fluently but just wasn’t interested in Haitian creole or french until now. My interest in this language is so strong now that I am now speaking it at home with my family(which my parents are SO SHOCKED cuz they thought I would only learn japanese). All of these learns are interesting and fun. The fun factor has to be present because if it isn’t there, you will give up. Its like second nature. If you are hugry, you satisfy your hunger until you are full. But when you are full, you dont keep eating(well, you are not supposed to…lol) untill you get hungry again. Its the same with language. When the fun feeling is there, its easier to pick up the language, but for whatever reason the fun feeling is gone, don’t do what I’d for years, give up and ridicule the language and culture, but rather, embrace it when you are ready for it(the fun factor). I dont mean to preach to the choir, but its all true. If its fun, it JUST WORKS. Thanks Andrew and Khatz.

    • January 26, 2012 at 08:55

      Absolutely!  You just nailed the very core of it, the foundation, right there!  That was a really great explanation, too, the whole hunger thing.  It has to be fun and interesting, when it stops then you end up giving up–maybe not right away, but it’ll happen.  This is why I keep advocating people use things like music they enjoy, TV shows, movies, etc.

  6. Freddy
    January 27, 2012 at 10:43

    Re: the Telenovela method. NOTHING could be more precise in the language of Spanish than learning from Mexican telenovelas. Why those ones you ask? Well because it is no secret that Mexican telenovelas are amongst the highest rated and acclaimed in the world, of telenovelas. But also because, and more importantly, Mexico’s telenovelas are made up of many Spanish speaking cultures, not just Mexican. Little do some people know that a majority of actors in Mexican telenovelas are from all walks of Hispanic life. Spanish, Argentine, Venezuelan, etc. The benefit to you is that these peeps all speak a slightly different form of Spanish, giving you an idea of what all types of Spanish sounds like meshed together.
    You might be saying “but don’t these actors just speak Mexican spanish in Mexican telenovelas, NO! They don’t. They speak the very and most common words known to all types of Spanish speakers. After you’ve honed some skills you’ll notice some slang thrown in there from all types of Spanish.
    ~ fv

    • January 31, 2012 at 16:06

      That’s VERY cool, Ken, I honestly did not know that, thank you!  I’ll be sure to use that when I’m trying to sell people on this method.
      Also, I’ve heard that Colombians get hired a lot as radio announcers and news anchors and such because their Spanish is the cleanest and most neutral in Latin America and therefore everyone can easily understand it.  Your comment just reminded me of that.

    • January 31, 2012 at 16:07

      Oops, sorry, I got your name mixed up with someone else’s, fv.

  7. January 28, 2012 at 14:56

    Great idea, Andrew.  Plus for Japanese, there is a huge additional benefit.  Karaoke.  People in Japan do karaoke all the time.  Like sometimes we go once a week.  And if you can sing Japanese songs, people go nuts.  They just lose their minds.
    It’s really fun and easy to do.

    • January 31, 2012 at 16:08

      Oh yeah, I know, I’ve always thought that if I really get serious about learning Japanese I’m going to HAVE to learn to sing so I can do karaoke.  I’d love to go to Japan and do that, seems like it’d be a great way to pick up girls, too 😀

      • January 31, 2012 at 22:47

        Don’t worry about learning to sing.  Learn to adjust the 3 knobs on front of the karaoke machine and you’ll have the voice of Elvis. 
        As for picking up girls, yeah.  It is. .

        • February 1, 2012 at 04:56

          Niiiiiice 😀

  8. kokage
    February 7, 2012 at 17:09

    Great post – I haven’t touched Spanish for years, but still know the lyrics of “Mi musica es tu voz” from the first Operacion Triunfo by heart. I heard them when I was in Spain for a student exchange and it’s sooo super cheezy… Our teacher in school back then often used spanish songs from Shakira or Loona (Hijo de la Luna)
    Would be great if they had ‘mi musica es tu voz’ in a japanese karaoke machine:

    • February 9, 2012 at 03:37

      Thanks, Kokage.  I’m not surprised to hear others have done this way before I have, language teachers have been using music for centuries now because they know it works.

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