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How to Learn Spanish from Music Videos: My Step-by-Step Guide

Shakira can teach you Spanish!

Today’s post is a guest post by Andrew, who has been writing about learning Spanish over at his blog How to Learn Spanish for a while now. Today he explains how he uses music videos to learn Spanish, and how you can do the same.

Hi, I’m Andrew, and I’ve been teaching myself Spanish for about the past four years or so, and over that time I’ve made a lot of mistakes and learned a ton of useful techniques and tricks, and one of the most important things I’ve learned is something that Ramses has repeatedly banged into your head on this blog: you must expose yourself to your target language as much as possible through popular media, preferably things that you enjoy listening to, watching, and reading, such as movies, TV shows, music, etc.

Because of this belief, I started doing a series of posts on my site, called How to Learn Spanish (very creative name, right?), where I featured a music video in Spanish and then took you through it, step-by-step, using it to teach you Spanish (grammar, vocabulary, idioms, little regionally specific sayings and phrases, and many aspects of the culture that the song referenced or originated from). I started off with Shakira’s very popular La Tortura because I knew it would have a very wide range of people who would recognize it and like it or at least be able to tolerate it and it turned out to be a huge success with my readers. I’ve since done four more (three of which used a Shakira song, and one recently that used Juanes’ Yerbatero) and they have easily become the most popular posts on my blog.

Today, I’d like to show you precisely how to go about ‘learning’ one of these music videos (pick something you like): what I mean by that, is I want to show you how to learn a ton of your target language from the video and how to get to the point in just an hour or so where you can listen to the whole song from start to finish, without pausing, at full speed, and be able to completely understand all of it, each and every word and the meaning behind them, even if you’re a beginner and know very little of the language!

Step 1: Pick Something You Like

This is massively important because if you don’t, you’ll have a hell of a time focusing on it and this will be 10 times harder than it would have been if you had picked something you liked, and consequently it’ll take a lot longer to do, it’ll be unpleasant, and you’ll be far, far less likely to do this again thereby making it much more likely that you’ll give up and stop learning the language. That’s no good, now is it?

Pick something fun that you really want to be able to understand when you hear it–come on, everyone’s got one of those songs in Spanish (or whatever language they’re learning) that they’ve heard and wish they could understand what the singer(s) was saying: what’s yours? What’s that one song in Spanish that you always liked and wished you could understand? That’s your winner (because you actually want to learn it!).

Step 2: Find The Lyrics and a Good Translation of Them

Google. Seriously, I know you’re wanting me to direct you to a specific lyrics site, but the thing is that in my experience who has the best quality lyrics will vary from one song to another, it’s very random and I actually don’t have one particular lyrics site that I’ve found to be consistently better on average than the rest. Just google “[name of the song] lyrics” (e.g. “la tortura lyrics”) as well as “[name of the song] translation” and look at about a half dozen of the top results, frequently the site with the best translation will have the lyrics right along side the translation so you won’t need one site for the lyrics and a separate one for the translation. Here is a fantastic example for Shakira’s Te Aviso, Te Anuncio and it’s the one that I used when I did that song recently.

Please note that these translations (and sometimes even the lyrics) aren’t always dead-on accurate and I almost always end up modifying them and fixing little things here and there, so if something seems a bit off then look the words up in a dictionary or run the whole verse through a translator or post a question about it on a language-learning forum like HTLAL and see what you get.

Step 3: SpanishDict.com and, If You Like, Your Favorite SRS (e.g. Anki)

Ok, now we need to get our reference materials in order and, if you prefer to learn vocabulary this way (many do, many don’t, many, such as Ramses, have advocated it, and many have condemned it), your SRS system (most people use Anki).

I’ve tried many different dictionaries and translators and conjugators, etc., and I’ve found that by far my favorite one of each of those is, luckily, all on one site: SpanishDict.com. Their Spanish dictionary is one of the best if not the best that I’ve tried, their translator is the best because it not only uses the best current translation engine out there (Google Translate) but it also runs whatever you give it through two additional translation engines so you can compare the three and pick the one you want to use, plus the best one (Google) is the first translation you see which is perfect because it’s the one you’ll want 95% of the time, plus the translator is situated right there immediately below the dictionary search bar: how convenient! Their conjugator is also the best one I’ve used, to get to it from the homepage just go up to the ‘More’ menu in the upper right and click ‘Conjugation’.

And, like I said, if you’ll be wanting to enter any new vocabulary you learn into your SRS, now is the time to start it and have it ready.

Step 4: Learn the Lyrics FIRST

That means that you are now going to read the lyrics and look up every single word, expression, idiom, and phrase that you do not know, and you are going to learn it.

This is the tedious part that will take you the next hour or so (the first 3 steps should’ve only taken like 5 or 10 minutes), but it’s also very simple.

You read the lyrics and, using SpanishDict.com (or whatever your favorite tool is), you learn what they mean, you look up all the words you need to look up (and enter them in your SRS if you like), if you encounter a phrase or bit of slang you don’t know, Google it. If that doesn’t work (and it will 99% of the time, it’s extremely rare that I can’t find out what a particular bit of Spanish slang or an idiom or phrase means in 5 minutes between Google and another awesome resource I’m about to mention below) then you can post a question about it on a language-learning forum or Spanish-learning forum (there are many, like I said above I recommend HTLAL, they’re awesome and very polite and helpful)–if you do that you’ll probably have an answer inside of an hour.

Also, I’ll give you a little tip concerning slang: the best ‘Spanish slang dictionary’ in the world is… ready?… Urban Dictionary. I’m not kidding. I’ve tried everything that calls itself a ‘Spanish slang dictionary’, hard copy books and online, and none of them compare to Urban Dictionary. You’ll be amazed how much is in there, try looking up any Spanish slang you can think of, in all likelihood it’s in there–there’s Colombian slang, Mexican slang, Argentinean slang, Spanish (i.e. Iberian, from Spain) slang, everything.

Step 5: Listen

Ok, now you actually get to listen to your music. This won’t take long, but we need to do it right. You want to be able to comprehend it perfectly at full speed without having to pause, right? Ok, well to do that we’re going to need to sort of get our ears accustomed to hearing the lyrics in the way that they’re spoken in this song, we’re going to need to ‘learn’ the sound so to speak.

The way we do that is to pull up the lyrics on our screen (or printed out if you like–regardless, you need to be looking at them and reading along while they’re being sung) and we’re going to play the song at the same time that we read the lyrics and we’re going to pause whenever we hear something and don’t immediately recognize and understand it, got it? What you do is listen to the song and the second that you hear something and think “Wait, what was that? I didn’t catch that. I didn’t understand what she said.” you need to pause, rewind, re-read the lyrics and play it again–do this as many times as is necessary for you to be able to ‘hear’ it (you probably won’t have to do this more than a few times with each word or phrase you hear but don’t quite catch). Do this until you’ve got that particular verse (do this verse-by-verse, that’s my preferred method) down cold, then you go on to the next one and wash-rinse-repeat.

You learn to hear and understand the whole song verse-by-verse until you’ve gotten to the end, at which point, guess what???

Now you can play the whole thing, right from the beginning, all the way through, at full speed, and understand everything you hear perfectly without having to pause it!! Ta-da! :D

I know it’s a bit of work (couple hours) and a bit tedious, but look, here’s the deal: learning Spanish or any other language is going to take consistent, persistent work, would you rather do it with something boring and dull like a textbook, or would you rather do it with your favorite song? Exactly. And you just learned a ton of Spanish for the relatively short period of time you invested in doing it: you, in all likelihood, just learned dozens of new vocabulary words, a half-dozen or so new expressions/colloquial-phrases or idioms, several new expressions or ways of saying things, and several new tidbits of information about the culture the song is from (Colombia in the case of Shakira, or Latin culture in general) that you didn’t know before. Even if you don’t bother looking up the specific grammar that was used (which is fine, you don’t need to), you still learned how to use that grammar, didn’t you? You learned by example, the best way!

It’s fun, you learn a ton, and you can just keep on doing this indefinitely due to the limitless amount of free media available online in Spanish (and most other languages) in the form of music videos, MP3s, TV shows, movies, random YouTube clips, etc. I really hope you give it a shot and please feel free to tell me what you think in the comments. Also, I’d like to ask that if you enjoy this sort of thing that you please come on over to my place and check out some of the stuff I’ve done–I’m going to continue doing the music video dissection and learning thing forever, people love that stuff and I keep getting really positive feedback about how much they’re learning from it. I’m currently working on Shakira’s Lo Hecho Está Hecho and that should be up in a week or so. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Cheers,

Andrew

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A Spanish teacher by trade, Ramses is a true language learning addict. He started Spanish-Only.com and The Language Dojo, and isn't even thinking about quitting language learning; it's in his blood!

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12 Comments…

niall May 29, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Thanks for this post I can now know the lyrics of a song in french! But one question remains what to do when theirs not a translation? You see there wasnt one for the song i wanted so i had to post ask if someone could translate it on Unilang! But i dont think they are going to want me pestering them if i want to learn more songs in the future! So what to do?
Thanks
Niall

Reply

Andrew May 30, 2011 at 7:44 am

Actually, that’s precisely what I would do if I couldn’t find a translation: I’d either do it myself (going to take a while, but oh well) or I’d get on some language-learning forums, some music/lyrics forums, whatever, and I’d ask for help. You should definitely be able to get at least the lyrics for the great majority of songs out there, especially if they’re at all popular.

I’m really glad you found the article useful, thanks for reading.

Cheers,
Andrew

Reply

niall May 31, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Dear,
Ramses in my effoerts to learn french i want to become as fluent as possible! Since i want to achieve more in as little time as possible. Mainly because i want to be able to communicate in chat rooms. So I was wondering if you would have any suggestions on what to revise so i can communicate in chat rooms as soon as possible!
Thanks
Niall

Reply

niall May 31, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Thanks Ramses! I just installed the Lingro firefox plugin so I can now look up a word at the click of a button!

Reply

Niall June 1, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Ramses,
I know your probably sick of me by now but: I recenly got a penpal from france and I chat to her alot on msn messenger and she has said one of my main problems is french grammar and word order! I also have very little vocabulary and always end up using the wrong words! You know using the third person when it should be the first! One of the major problems is I am using the sentence method and it may be months before I notice any pattern in the sentences! So what should I do? Should I anki lots of grammar rules?
ps. I am hopeless at grammar I hardly know what the third or first person is! Infact I probably could'nt tell you a noun from a pronoun
Thanks
Niall

Reply

Ramses June 1, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Don't rush it. Yes, it takes months to start noticing patterns, but you didn't learn your native language in a few weeks, did you? Also, watch loads of television, but NEVER do grammar exercises. I know you want to be fluent NOW, but if you're doing artificial stuff like studying grammar it'll only take you longer to become fluent.

Just shut up and enjoy the journey. And to keep frustration levels low, stop practicing French for now. I know that it sounds weird, but you simply don't learn from practicing bad French, and it'll only frustrate you.

Reply

Niall June 1, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Does that mean I should stop talking to my penpal? Its just I help her practise English and also I talk a break from learning french a couple of months back and didnt write to my penpal for a while so they would be probably be mad if i stopped and came back to them.
Thanks
Niall

Reply

Igor June 3, 2011 at 11:35 am

Not at all!
Use "Combo", everybody speaks its own language but listens to the target language.
Great input source, stressless.

Reply

Niall June 3, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Thanks Igor!

judy kariuki December 11, 2011 at 6:47 am

Dear andrew, thanx i hope this article will help me.the only spanish i know is:buenos noches & gracias.i have spanish speakin pals in facebuk n i become frastrated coz we cant communicate.i realy want to learn spanish as fast as possible. Thanx,judy

Reply

Call Of Duty Ghosts Multiplayer Crac February 10, 2014 at 2:11 pm

You are so cool! I do not think I’ve read something like that before.
So great to find somebody with a few original thoughts on this topic.
Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up. This web site is something that is
required on the internet, someone with a bit of originality!

Reply

difference between present and imperfect subjunctive Spanish September 15, 2014 at 1:43 pm

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