How To Use Music To Improve Your Japanese Language Level
By Andrew Smith
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.
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.
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. 😉
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.
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!