Learning with Music (An Unintentional Essay)

Japanese music is what got me interested in learning Japanese in the first place, so it seems appropriate to make a thread about how I use it as a learning tool. I wasn’t sure what subcategory to put this thread in- listening seemed obvious, but I know I’m going to talk a lot about reading/writing as well.

Anyway, I’m sure a vast many of you guys already listen to Japanese music. And some of the benefits of using music as a learning tool are fairly obvious! It’s listening practice, for one. You get exposed to a variety of speech patterns and slang. It’s just straight up more fun and less exhausting than many other audio mediums, especially early on when trying to follow spoken Japanese takes every ounce of your concentration (I can’t wait until I’m out of that phase, dear god). It’s a great way to passively expose yourself Japanese and start to develop a feel for how the language flows! You’ll be amazed at how much you pick up just from having Japanese music playing in the background during your day to day life. Even if you’re not actively looking up works and picking up vocab, developing an intuition for what “sounds right” will make your learning process MUCH easier and more rewarding. And for what you DO look up and want to retain, you’ve got your method for repetition right there- just keep listening to your music. It’s a way of practicing pronunciation (sing along!), and it is often much slower than spoken Japanese, which makes it more manageable for listening and speaking/singing.

So, if those are the obvious benefits, what are the not-so-obvious benefits? Lyrics. Not just listening-to-the-song lyrics, I mean looking up the written lyrics, reading along to the music, sitting down and writing out a translation in your native language if you’re so inclined. Lyrics are GREAT for reading practice- they’re bite sized to begin with but can be further broken down into verses and lines, which is a huge help when you’re starting out and struggling through a few lines of a book feels like it takes a whole afternoon. The sentence structure tends to be fairly simple, because of the obvious length constraints. You will still be exposed to all kinds of interesting grammar points- relative clauses and conjunctive verbs immediately come to mind. Lyrics frequently lack punctuation, which can feel like a nightmare at first, but you’ll be surprised at how much this helps you develop an understanding of where a sentence naturally ends. In a language where a verb form can either be a conjunction or an imperative based on (often seemingly ambiguous) context, developing a feel for sentence structure without visible punctuation is incredibly useful. I’m looking at you, て-form.

All that said, are there difficulties that come with using music this way? Certainly. Sometimes lines will be weirdly written to fit the music better, making them extra confusing for a language learner. Sometimes musicians will write lines that sound cool but don’t really make a lot of literal sense. Sometimes they throw in English words that make the Japanese MORE confusing because the tenses don’t line up right or the English is just straight up wrong. Sometimes they get flowery and poetic and use particles weird (へ… it’s always へ) The lack of punctuation might drive you insane. (Again, I’m looking at you, て-form, you make my life so difficult.) But is music overall a fantastic tool for supplementing your learning? Yes, I think so!

On that extremely long-winded note, do you guys also use music like this? If so, what are YOUR favorite Japanese musicians? (Mine is L’Arc~en~Ciel, but that could be a whole other essay :laughing:)


I use music a lot to learn, but I don’t really study grammar much.
If I am being totally honest, I don’t think I’ve learned anything at all from passive exposure. I have to pay attention, otherwise I won’t get anything out of it at all. I think that I have been able to steal phrases from songs and learn from them, but I really hate grammar, haha. I usually just talk to people and let them correct me when it comes to grammar.

I listen to Japanese music every day, and I have a lot of Japanese CDs and I am always finding new songs on Spotify and YouTube. I genuinely know a lot of songs, and I go to karaoke a lot to sing them. I have never translated a song by myself, but I have looked up the words to the point that I can understand the meanings. I think I have gained a lot of vocabulary from music. If I go to karaoke either alone or with Japanese people, it is easy for me to sing for hours straight in only Japanese. I know a lot of songs from the 1970s until today. I think it has really helped with my pronunciation and ability to speak. I love to read the lyrics when I listen to songs too. I’m often surprised that the more I listen to songs and the more I study, the more I am able to understand each song as it is. There are so many times when I think, “oh! I finally understand what this means!!” That is a really fun thing to experience.

There are so many Japanese artists I like, but here are some of my favorites: Takeuchi Mariya, Akina Nakamori, Hayami Yuu, Matsutoya Yumi, Ohashi Junko, Anri, Spitz, Daoko, Morning Musume, AKB48, Hoshino Gen, and Sakanaction.


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