March 12, 2009

Karaoke your way to a good accent

Yesterday, I was recording an interview for the New America Now radio show and the interviewer asked me a question about my book, Language is Music, that really surprised me.

(Language is Music is about how to learn foreign languages using music, TV, radio, movies and other low-cost resources. Since all of the aforementioned media helped me to successfully learn seven languages, I wrote this book so that other people could use media and entertainment to improve their vocabulary, accent and comprehension when learning foreign languages.)

“So, if music can help people learn the melody and rhythm of a language, why is it that my Japanese friends can sing music in English with no accent, but speak English with heavy Japanese accents?” asked the journalist.

I came up with this answer, “It’s because those who learn English songs for karaoke may not necessarily make the connection between the music of the English language and the actual process of speaking English. They have to first recognize the links between music and language for them to be able to transfer what they are learning from singing into their spoken abilities.”

Afterwards, I talked to a friend who is also in the language learning business about this and he conferred. When someone is speaking in another language and their brain is translating their thoughts from their native tongue to their target language, they are using the methods that they learned in their language learning classroom that most likely involved memorization and not musical association. They are not using the parts of the brain that they use to copy sounds for a song.

I realize that the more outreach I do about my book, the more questions such as this one will come to me. Our educational system has made language learning into something systematic and almost math-like. While, language, math and music do have their common roots, a great deal of language acquisition is not linear. We have to listen to the sounds of a language before we are able to pronounce the words correctly and reproduce them well. Some people may remember song lyrics better than others and some words may be more memorable to some people than others.

Language learning is a process and it can be fun if you tell yourself that it will be enjoyable.

Make sure to put music into your curriculum and daily life and you will see that languages will come much easier to you!


Susanna Zaraysky is the author of the Create Your World Book Series.
Read Language is Music for free at until April 5, 2009. You can contribute tips to the book and enter to be published in the book and win prizes from contest co-sponsors.

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