Thursday, June 13, 2013

Using music to improve a language that you're not currently focusing on

The main thing that has always made me reluctant to add another language to those I've already started is that, with work, a brood of rambunctious offspring, etc., the amount of time I have to throw at language learning tends to be limited. Well, what with me getting all gung-ho on Korean lately…

I thought it was time that I came up with some kind of systematic way to continue growing my vocab in the languages that I'm not really focusing on at the moment. Given my time restrictions, the system would have to work with a minimum amount of time but pack the strongest punch possible in that time.

I know that Susanna Zaraysky would approve when I decided that music was the answer.

I listen to music (all of which of course is foreign-language music) pretty much every day. I often play music in the background while I work. I throw some tunes on when I hop in the shower. I try to get some up-tempo songs on when I'm running to help me pick up the pace. And on and on. Given this kind of built-in exposure to music on more or less a daily basis, it seems like an obvious platform to build off of to improve the languages that aren't currently my focus, namely Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and German.

However, just listening to those songs isn't enough. In fact, I've been listening to many of the songs for years and, although they do serve as reviews of things I already do know, it's not all that often that I can pick up new words from them. Either I can't make out clearly what they're saying (an issue that would be resolved by having the lyrics) or I can't figure out what they mean from the context of the song (an issue that would be resolved by looking up the words I don't know).

So that gets us to the basic contours of the system… I find the song's lyrics, look up anything I don't know, and listen to the song.

The first step is getting the lyrics to a song. Once I've got that, I copy and paste the lyrics into the "Lyrics" tab of the song's info window in iTunes and into Learning with Texts. I then look up the words I don't know in Learning with Texts, export them to Anki, and automatically add the audio for the word and for the source sentence in Anki. I review the words in Anki when I have the chance. I continue listening to the song as usual, but also like to listen to it whenever a chunk of vocab from the song comes up in Anki. And whenever I do that, I read the lyrics while listening to the song on my iPhone. (As an aside, I've found that listening to the music while using Anki doesn't work very well, as I'd rather clearly hear the spoken version of the words and the source sentences from the audio that I add to Anki.)

That's the basic process. To try to keep it manageable, my current plan is to do three songs a week, which means I'll do a new song in each language every other week. So far, this goal has worked for a few weeks, but if at some point I get swamped and can't keep up, I can draw things back further. So far I've found that the songs have at most a couple dozen new words, so the additional Anki burden has been light.

To pick the songs, I'm unsurprisingly starting with my 5-star songs in iTunes, and among those I'm prioritizing those songs that I can sing in karaoke here in Japan so I can get some extra exposure whenever I find myself in karaoke (and I live in Japan, so you know that happens with some degree of frequency).

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