How To Use Music To Improve Your Japanese Language Level

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There’s nothing more frustrating than walking around all day with a song stuck in your head, playing over and over again. It’s enough to drive you and everyone else around you crazy, but why not use this annoying “ear-worm” phenomenon to your advantage and improve your Japanese skills. Instead of walking around unconsciously singing your own version of “What Makes You Beautiful” try thinking of a catchy Japanese song.

While listening to Japanese music can be very helpful in many ways, by itself it is absolutely not a perfect method of completely learning the language. As we all know from listening to the radio over the years, lyrics don’t always use proper grammar.

I only recommend this method to people who already have a good grasp of basic Japanese. Studying through music should be used in addition to studying real Japanese from a textbook or in a classroom. That being said, here is how music can be beneficial in your quest to conquer the Japanese language.

Continuous Exposure

Improving your language skills through Japanese music is great for those music lovers who can’t go anywhere without their MP3 players, because the more you listen, the quicker you will begin to feel a difference. You can listen on the train, at the gym, or while doing homework or any other day to day tasks.

It doesn’t matter if you aren’t giving the music your full attention all the time as long as you are getting as much exposure to Japanese as possible. In the early stages of language development, listening; recognizing; and mimicking specific sounds come first. So any chance that you have to hear Japanese in any form can be beneficial, even if it’s only in the background.

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Pronunciation

At first, on the surface, you won’t notice any huge improvements in your Japanese by simply listening to music, but you are taking your first steps in the right direction. As you are studying, you will be surprised how easily new Japanese phrases roll off the tongue, because you may have heard it several times already in some of your favorite songs.

Also as you’re singing along to your favorite song, you mimic the artist as closely as possible, and you begin to develop a more natural Japanese accent. Be careful what you listen to, though, if you are a guy. You might end up sounding like a teenage girl if you listen to a lot of AKB48, not that there’s anything wrong with that. 😉

Vocabulary

Unfortunately, simply listening to music every day is not going to magically grant you the ability to speak Japanese. Obviously a little bit of work is required, but if you are working with songs that you really love, it can be fun. By looking up the lyrics online, you can begin to learn and memorize the meaning of the words in the song. The more music you listen to, the more Japanese words you are going to hear, so you can build up a pretty decent vocabulary after a while.

Since music and lyrics can get stuck in your head so easily, the words will resonate, and you can immediately recall them after hearing something familiar used practically in a real Japanese sentence. The real beauty of learning vocabulary from music is that you are not only learning the exact definition of the words from the dictionary, but you can also learn how to use your new words.

For example, if you are listening to a dreary song filled with minor keys, you can probably guess that most of the words in the lyrics are probably not going to be used in very many happy situations. The association between the lyrics and music helps you get the real feel of the word.

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Reading

Finally, singing along to Japanese songs can actually improve your reading speed. Even after I completely memorized all of the hiragana and katakana characters, I would still read extremely slowly. I can honestly say that going to karaoke and singing Japanese songs with my friends has greatly increased my Japanese reading skills.

Of course, as I’m singing, the lyrics are scrolling along the bottom of the screen, and I am forced to read the hiragana, katakana and kanji at the same pace as the song. After several painful nights of karaoke, my reading skills improved, but I’m sure my friends were ready to strangle me with the microphone cord.

Even if you consider yourself to be completely tone deaf, I recommend trying this method, but if you are too shy or don’t have access to a Japanese karaoke machine, you can still try this on your own. Just write down the lyrics to the song that you want to sing in Japanese or find an online karaoke site.

Using Japanese music may not be the most practical way to learn Japanese, but it is easy and a lot of fun, and it definitely doesn’t hurt. As a Japanese student, I understand how easy it is to get overwhelmed studying Japanese everyday, so keep practicing and just have fun!

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  • mikesensei says:

    One of the best tools that helped build my vocabulary was buying a Yuzu chord book and learning a bunch of their songs on guitar. That helped me to be able to sing along and understand what they were saying when I was listening to the albums.

  • アディカリ ラズチラタ says:

    Will Someone suggest me to start to listen japanese songs though i like to listen radio talks than songs. Plz suggest me those songs which are 頭に入りやすいlyrics.

    • Paul Seiuchi Winchel says:

      Ayumi Hamasaki is great for that. She sings well, has generally good songs, and they get stuck in your head pretty well.

      • Arbi Irsyad Fikri says:

        if you like clear and beautiful voice, try yanagi nagi (ex-supercell, soloist), something harder and heavir, fuki (fuki commune, light bringer, doll$boxx), in to metal? try hebiishi marina (destrose, mardelas), if you like a teenage girl singing long and high note then go for koeda (ex-supercell, soloist)

  • Tess de la Serna says:

    Very good article.

  • 施六肩 スチュアート says:

    I studied from genki for three years and I continuously listened to CD still I got two Cs and a B. I took one semester of Chinese and I got an A the first time around. I attribute the whole experience to the CD which had background music. I’m going to dub my own versions of the genki CD-ROM and sell them in watts out of the trunk of my Cadillac. You’re all free to come down and buy. Stay emersed and 頑張るよう!

  • Ronald Ivan says:

    Yes. Wholeheartedly agree. I use a similar approach to teach my Japanese students conversation English. It’s worked out great.

  • 8giggles says:

    Whenever I start trying to learn a language I like to find rock music in that language to get used to hearing words/enunciation (I do understand words are often sung a bit differently). Oddly for me was 1st listening to some of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. (Her videos were just SO WEIRD and words easy to decipher.) I like to use music also to get used to hearing phrases that I hadn’t become familiar with yet. (“Honto ni” with “gomen ne” as well as with “arigatou” in Radwimps’ song “me me she”. Also “mondai nai” in Rip Slyme’s “NP”.) Happily there are now some tv shows online to help with seeing times when certain phrases work in everyday situations. But I love listening to music and Jrock is 30% of what I listen to now. Sharing some fav artists: Bump Of Chicken, Radwimps, Andymori, One OK Rock, Alexandros, 9mm Parabellum Bullet, and The Flickers. Love The Bawdies but their lyrics are English. Found a few new ones I am starting to check out that Spotify is suggesting based on my listening to Andymori. Sadly Spotify doesn’t have many of the artists that I love though. I also created a Twitter list just for Japanese artists. I can’t read most of it, but it gives me incentive to keep working at it!

  • Tanja Schwindsackl says:

    Japanese lyrics have really lifted my Japanese vocabulary to the next level. It works very well, especially when you put a word you’ve discovered on a flash card and practice it regularly. (*^^*)

  • Anna Edvardsen says:

    Great article! I listen a lot to songs used in anime, cause there are always lyrics texted (karaoke style). But so far I have only been able to find Japanese music on YouTube… I cannot find any of it on Spotify. Am I doing something wrong? Are there any other places besides YouTube and Vimeo where it’s possible to listen to J-rock?

  • Bernie Low says:

    This article is spot on! My foray into properly learning Japanese was sparked by my interest in Japanese music. I would mull over lyrics to try and understand them and translate them then compare with translations online to see if I was on the right track. It’s more fun than doing worksheets, ahaha.

    Karaoke has been a great way to improve my reading speed. I started with bringing printouts of romaji lyrics to relying fully on my reading skill now.

    Bands/Musicians I love (mainly rock/punk): H”palty, GACKT, THE Hitch Lowke, ALL OFF, ONE OK ROCK, coldrain, Crossfaith, 彼女 in the Display, VAMPS, fade, MY FIRST STORY, LUNA SEA, existtrace (and many more…though I should stop here or the list will get too long)

  • Emmett Duffy says:

    Any suggestions for music? The only Japanese music I know is sickly sweet pop that is too much for my ears. Any decent classic Japanese rock or anything like that?

    • mikesensei says:

      Kazuyoshi Saito is one of my favorite singer/songwriters. A lot of his songs have a much more classic rock/blues/folk feel. Takuro Yoshida is also a great rock/folk singer/songwriter from the 70s forward that I really like. Ulfuls are really good, too.

    • Tanja Schwindsackl says:

      Mr. Children is always suitable. You can try B’z too. Peronally, I’m also fond of Acid Black Cherry.

    • Krissy Balita says:

      Humbert Humbert, Quruli, Aoi Teshima for chill kind of music 🙂 Asian Kung-Fu Generation, Toe, One OK Rock, or Ling Toshite Shigure for J-Rock.

    • Megumi says:

      yeah, One ok rock and Mr. Children 🙂

    • Yuki says:

      May I recommend a rock band called “Buck Tick”… I listen to the most of their songs and recently, as I started to look at the lyrics, I also started to feel a change in my understanding of Japanese. I love them because of their sound (the frontman, Atsushi Sakurai, has great voice), but I love the lyrics, too. I hope you get to listen to some of their songs, and I hope you’ll like them. There are some of my favorites: Gekka Reijin, Kuchizuke, Snow White, Muma, Taiji. 🙂

    • Andrew Smith says:

      These are all good suggestions! I really love the pillows, One OK Rock, Base Ball Bear, Spitz, B’z

    • Batman 1988 says:

      ジン are pretty good. Listen to something like 夢幻の光 (mugen no hikari)

    • Gaijinn says:

      I suggest Nico Touches the wall and Aqua timez

    • Sarah Fong Jin Min says:

      There’s some good Rock/Pop Rock Japanese bands.. Try: One OK Rock, AquaTimez, Uverworld, SID, Nico Touches The Wall, Egoist.. There’s lots more but right now these are some of my favorites that I can come up with at the top of my head. Hope you enjoy their music like I do! 🙂

    • Fangyi ▼ ジュン says:

      Hmm different people have different music tastes, but I’m a big fan of RADWIMPS, ONE OK ROCK and DIV (visual kei)!

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