Top 10 Foreign Music Genres to Supercharge Your Language Learning

Have you considered you might learn a language through music? Using foreign music is a fun and effective way to immerse yourself in both the sounds and culture of a new language. Learning songs helps you pick up new vocabulary1, improve your pronunciation, and understand grammar in a natural way.

Singing along helps you practice listening and speaking, making it easier to remember what you learn.

The catchy tunes and repetitive lyrics make learning enjoyable and memorable, turning language study into an engaging experience.

In this way, you can both learn a language to listen to music … and listen to music to learn a language!

Check out these ten foreign music genres for inspiration with your second language learning!

1. K-Pop (Korean Pop Music) – Korean

  • Country of Origin: South Korea
  • Description: Characterized by a wide variety of audiovisual elements, K-pop is a blend of pop, hip-hop, R&B, and electronic music. It’s known for its catchy melodies, complex choreography, and visually stunning music videos.
  • Notable Artists: BTS, BLACKPINK, EXO

2. Reggaeton – Spanish

  • Country of Origin: Puerto Rico
  • Description: A fusion of Latin rhythms, dancehall, and hip-hop, reggaeton features a distinctive beat known as “dembow.” It’s widely popular in Latin America and has made significant inroads into the global music scene.
  • Notable Artists: Daddy Yankee, J Balvin, Bad Bunny
Daddy Yankee is attributed as bringing Reggaeton to a global audience with ‘Gasolina’.

3. Afrobeat – English, Yoruba, Pidgin

  • Country of Origin: Nigeria
  • Description: A genre that combines traditional African music elements with jazz, funk, and highlife. It’s known for its energetic rhythms, brass instrumentation, and socially conscious lyrics.
  • Notable Artists: Fela Kuti, Burna Boy, Wizkid

4. Flamenco – Spanish

  • Country of Origin: Spain
  • Description: An expressive art form that includes singing (cante), guitar playing (toque), dance (baile), and vocalizations (jaleo). It’s deeply rooted in Spanish Gypsy culture.
  • Notable Artists: Paco de Lucía, Camarón de la Isla, Sara Baras

5. J-Pop (Japanese Pop Music) – Japanese

  • Country of Origin: Japan
  • Description: Similar to K-pop, J-pop covers a wide range of musical styles but is distinctly influenced by Japanese culture. It often features anime and manga aesthetics.
  • Notable Artists: Hikaru Utada, Arashi, AKB48

6. Fado – Portuguese

Learn a language through music of Amalia Rodrigues, 'Rainha do Fado'
Amália Rodrigues,
Rainha do Fado’
  • Country of Origin: Portugal
  • Description: A traditional Portuguese genre of uncertain heritage, Fado appeared in Lisbon in the 1820s.

    The word ‘fado’ is thought to come from the Latin ‘fatum’ meaning ‘fate, destiny’, and is characterized by its melancholic and soulful melodies… the Portuguese version of ‘Blues’! It typically involves a singer accompanied by classical guitar.2
  • Notable Artists: Amália Rodrigues, Mariza, Ana Moura

7. Samba – Portuguese

  • Country of Origin: Brazil
  • Description: A lively and rhythmic genre associated with Brazilian Carnival. Samba incorporates African rhythms and is often performed with elaborate dance routines. Not only can you use it to learn a language through music, but you can learn a language with dance too!
  • Notable Artists: Carmen Miranda, João Gilberto, Elis Regina

8. Kizomba – Portuguese

  • Country of Origin: Angola
  • Description: A genre of dance and music characterized by a slow, insistent, and sensuous rhythm. It’s popular in Portuguese-speaking African countries and has spread globally.
  • Notable Artists: Anselmo Ralph, C4 Pedro, Nelson Freitas

9. Chanson Française – French

Edith Piaf
  • Country of Origin: France
  • Description: A genre that emphasizes lyric-driven songs, often focusing on poetic and storytelling aspects. It’s a staple of French cultural heritage.
  • Notable Artists: Édith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, Jacques Brel
Sample of Chanson Française by Edith Piaf – Hymne a l’amour (Source: Wikipedia)

10. Cumbia – Spanish

  • Country of Origin: Colombia
  • Description: A folkloric rhythm and dance style that blends Indigenous, African, and Spanish influences. It’s popular throughout Latin America and has various regional adaptations.
  • Notable Artists: Carlos Vives, Totó la Momposina, La Sonora Dinamita

These genres not only showcase the rich diversity of global music but also highlight the cultural exchanges that influence and shape contemporary music trends.

References

  1. Medina, S. L. (1990, March). The effects of music upon second language vocabulary acquisition (Report No. 143). Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, San Francisco, CA. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED352834.pdf, last accessed on 7 June, 2024.
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fado

Featured image source: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2023/02/23/business/kpop-battle-shareholder-activism/

Cate is a language enthusiast sharing her language learning journey here. Apart from her native English (albeit 'Strine'*!), as an adult she has also learned Auslan (Australian Sign Language) to approximately a C1 level, Dutch to around B1/2, French to around A2, and has a smattering of other languages.

B.A. (Anthropology/Marketing), Grad. Dip. Arts (Linguistics), Grad. Cert. Entrepreneurship & Venture Development, (CELTA).

Auslan Interpreter (NAATI), and general Language Nut.

*For more information on 'Strine', visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strine