Foreign language music

Listening to songs in languages you’re studying, learning what they mean and how to sing them are great ways to practise various language skills.

One of the first things that got me interested in Portuguese, Spanish, Irish and Scottish Gaelic was listening to songs in those languages. This also helps to sustain my interest in them. Since I started learning Welsh I’ve also become a big fan of Welsh language music. Before that I was only vaguely aware that there was a Welsh language music scene – it’s a bit like discovering a whole new country. I quite like some Mandarin and Cantonese music as well.

I’ve learnt quite a few songs in Irish, plus some in Scottish Gaelic and Welsh. I’d like to learn songs in other languages as well at some point. I find it quite difficult to memorise the words, but easier if I understand what they mean and can picture the things and events described in my head.

The other day I looked at my music library and discovered that the language in which I have most songs is Irish, followed by Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Mandarin, Spanish, Portuguese and Cantonese. I also have a few songs in Latin, Taiwanese, Japanese, Manx, Breton, French, Cornish, Bulgarian, Serbian and Tibetan.

Do you listen to songs in languages other than your own? Which languages do you listen to?

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This entry was posted in Language, Language learning, Music.

23 Responses to Foreign language music

  1. Benjamin says:

    Well, since most music, the texts respectivly, is made in English, there’s nearly no way to listen just music in my mother tongue – German. Even most German bands (excluding rap and hip-hop artists) sing in English, though I feel that German lyrics are becoming more popular recently. Most German rappers though, always sang/rapped in German.

    You see, English and German is dominant in German music scene. Personally I also listen to some Japanese songs (X-Japan’s namely) although I don’t understand a word. I use translations made by fans, if I want to know what the song is about, although mostly it’s rather the music than the lyric that makes a song good or bad in my opinion. That’s why I also listen to lots of instrumental songs like background music from video games or films and such or Trance/Techno without lyrics.

    Oh and I nearly forgot to mention Sigur Rós! That’s an Icelandic band that also sings in Icelandic, although the music is much more important in their tracks.

    So, to answer your second question: I listen to English, German, Icelandic and Japanese music, without knowing the latter two languages. Ah, and well, there’re one or two goa tracks with Hebrew lyrics and another two pop? songs with Norwegian as well. ;) But having two songs in a foreign language doesn’t count as “listen[ing] to songs in languages other than your own”, does it? ;) So that’s music in four (six) different languages.

  2. Bill Walsh says:

    German. Russian. Ottoman Turkish.

  3. Laci the Hun says:

    Hi :)

    well I listen to Irish songs and I love them, specially songs from Clannad and Altan. To be honest I barely understand a word, coz my Irish is rather poor :( I also listen to Arabic songs, mainly from Cheb Mami. I do speak some Arabic but intrestingly enough it is very hard for me to follow the words when they’re sung and not spoken, and of course there are my favourite Esperanto songs which, being an ardent Esperantisto :), I should’ve mentioned before… but mostly I listen to Hungarian and English music.
    Oh and there is the apple of my eye, Björk, who sometimes comes up with an Icelandic song, but that’s a language that I don’t speak at all

  4. Chase Boday says:

    Sometimes I listen to popular Hindi songs, and older Russian bands like DDT, Mashina Vremeni (Time Machine), Nautilus, and one current one: B-2 (in Russian its pronounced Bee-dva) like the word for ‘battle’ (or something like that). I also enjoy Buena Vista Social Club. Also, Brasilian Music is always cheerful. If anyone has some advice on good Portuguese Fado, I’d love to hear about it! :-)

  5. Mike says:

    I’m a big fan of Rammstein (a German industrial-metal band), and I listen to a fair bit of Japanese music as well. Only recently have I started listening to music in Hindi and Sanskrit, though I’m not actually learning either of those languages.
    If anybody knows any good Hebrew music, I’d be very grateful if you could direct me toward it.

  6. I enjoy listening to songs in other languages, and the ones I listen to are in Spanish, Latin, Greek, and Irish. I also like the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, which has singing in Sindarin and Quenya Elvish, if that counts!

  7. Joseph Staleknight says:

    I also listened to German Music a few times (Kraftwerk’s Numbers, Die Prinzen’s Deutschland, etc.) It’s kinda wierd seeing the music videos, like as if though you were in another dimension altogether, yet it still has some coherence to English (esp. American) music.

  8. Bob says:

    I live in the Western US where there are several Mexican radio stations. I’ll listen to those to catch up on Spanish. My son is learning Spanish so the two of us will listen together in the car.

    I like Hindi music also, although I don’t understand it.

    I’m learning Ge’ez so I’ve been collecting Amharic reggae songs (not quite the same languages, but still . . .)

    To Mike:

    If you want to find some Hebrew music (which I also listen to) check out Israel Music:

    http://www.israel-music.com/browse/music/

    I’m not affiliated with them at all, just aware of the site. I like to see what the bestsellers are. You can also listen to clips. There’s everything from traditional to modern/urban.

  9. Most of the stuff I listen to is in English. Some of it has guest-appearances or sections in other languages. For some reason, items with Semitic languages come in first place, by far. I just love the sounds for some reason…both the language AND their musical sense, which I think is really impressive.

    Mike: Their work is not entirely in Hebrew by any means, but I would suggest checking out Orphaned Land. There are definitely some extended Hebrew passages in their stuff. The album Mabool is a good one.

    Laci the Hun: Is Cheb Mami the guy who makes a guest appearance on Sting’s song “Desert Rose”? If so, PLEASE tell me what his best work is, because I’d do just about anything for more!

    Another prominent thing in my musical collection is Icelandic, through Sigur Rós.

    And while it’s the only German-language thing I have, I have SUCH a soft spot for Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

    I don’t know why, but I REALLY like the sounds of guttural languages (with the exception of French…sorry). A lot of people find that crazy, but to me there is real beauty in it.

    I do have a little bit of stuff with Spanish, Latin, and Italian on it, but most of that I owe to falling head-over-heels for Andrea Bocelli’s voice than the quality of the languages themselves.

  10. Laci the Hun says:

    Hi Minstrel :)

    yes I’m talking about the same person :) my all time favourite is the album “Delali” دلالي , but to be honest he often uses French or mixes French with Arabic as they do in the Maghreb. So be prepared :D I recommend his site, although not really up-to-date, so it’s http://www.chebmami.net :)worth checking

  11. Steapenhyll says:

    I am a native english speaker and listen to music with
    German, Norwegian, Danish and Icelandic lyrics. I study the germanic family of indo-european on a daily basis , i know a lot of anglo-saxon and old norse vocabulary as well as lord knows how much morphology, and can understand and speak german, danish and norwegian and can understand some icelandic, and ive minimised my exposure to swedish, although i can read, with more success in some of the languages, every germanic language, alive or otherwise

  12. Chibi says:

    Well, I have English, German, Irish, (Mandarin) Chinese, Japanese, Swahili, Russian, Hawai’ian, Finnish, Romanian [Dragostea din tei *hangs head in shame*], French, and Turkish…I might be forgetting some…

    But I found this on AsipiringPolyglot’s blog…SwtVietRose on YouTube has Disney songs in a ton of languages, which is good for beginner vocab and comprehension, etc.

  13. AR says:

    I like to listen to a lot of French chilrens songs and nursery rhymes. It helps me with my extremely limited French skills. Recently, I have been listenig to Arabic music by Khaled.
    I listen to Brazilian samba music. I like the light dancing rhythms.
    I like to listen to Hindi music too. but, I don’t really care for today’s “filmi” music (music from Bollywood). I like the oldies like Raj Kapoor, Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, and the like. I listen to a lot of Rabindra-Sangeet (bengali songs of Rabindranath Tagore). It helps me with my bengali. i like sanskrits chants too if they are done well. But by far, the best modern indian music for any occasion is bhangra.

  14. Esteban says:

    Chase

    Some of the most popular singers of current Fado are Mísia, Mariza, Cristina Branco, and Mafalda Arnauth. Of course, the legendary Fadista Amália Rodrigues set the standard for these younger singers.

  15. Patrick Hall says:

    I love to listen to music in other languages. I listen to a lot of Brazilian music, that’s what got me interested in learning the language. Like you I’m a fan of Welsh. And like Bob I’ve been studying Amharic a bit, but unfortunately my source of music (the excellent “Ethiopiques” series) doesn’t come with the lyrics in Amharic. Sigh.

    But even if I’m not studying a particular language, I love to just listen to the sound of lyrics. I’m a big fan of the Hungarian singer Marta Sebastyen, even tho, for whatever reason, I’ve never been interested in learning Hungarian. Sounds nice, though. ☺

  16. Dennison says:

    I totally relate to you. :] Lately, I’ve been a HUGE fan of Korean pop–crazy enough for it to the point where I actually taught myself the Hangeul (the Korean “alphabet”), and practicing to romanize Korean writing so that I could sing along to my favorite Korean songs. This hobby also sparked my interest into learning the Korean language itself. I hope to actually sit down and learn the basics of it someday to nail down my pronounciation and grammar–and to actually say a full sentence from the heart. Hehe.

  17. Chase Boday says:

    OBRIGADO, Estaban! I look forward to checking thos people out!

  18. Ingrid says:

    Hi, I have recently discovered your blog and it put me in touch again with the fact that I love ‘words’. As someone who grew up in the Netherlands and learned a few languages at school, and listened to music in dutch, english and german and french and understanding most of it, I am sorry to say that I am not so much exposed to it anymore. I have emigrated since to Canada with a brief time in Saudi Arabia (learning Arabic was quite difficult because I had been so used to learning languages fast, that this language threw me for a loop) and now living in the US I miss the exposure of tv shows in other languages (in Holland they were subtitled) and of course, in terms of music I would have to find a foreign radio station somehow to get that exposure. You’ve got a great site and I might just try to learn arabic again..it should be possible!
    Ingrid

  19. WUSSoft says:

    Hi, Music may be efficiently used for learning a foreign language if you use a music player able to show the original lyrics, romanized lyrics and translated lyrics.
    The singer speech clarity and speed are also important.
    Personally I use Chinese pop music for learning Chinese.
    WUSSoft develops applications to help you learn foreign languages and writing systems while listening to music.
    You may be curious to check the website: http://www.wussoft.com

    WUSSoft

  20. New Zealander says:

    For Amharic I suggest Hamelmal Abate.
    I actually learned quite a lot of Italian off Andrea Bocelli, because that was the only Italian music I could get at that time. Now I have added Toto Cutugno, it is a lot better.
    Amharic came from Ge’ez, that’s like learning Latin from Italian… I haven’t done that yet.
    Can’t find any Teddy Afro ANYWHERE in NZ.

  21. Aleesha says:

    I am a great fan of Arabic and Latino. I study Spanish and the music is a great help. As for Arabic, do you know about the recent experimental projects, that incorporate Arabic tunes with heavy metal background& Astonishing! And as for ethnic dancing, there’s a nice site, ‘http://dance-mp3.info/, good collections

  22. Joshua says:

    i love japanese pop and rock especially dir en grey and utada hikaru

  23. kai says:

    http://www.myspace.com/namgyallhamo a lot of rare tibetan songs here