Song and music is a part of our everyday life. We hear it everywhere we go whether that’s on the radio, via our favourite playlist on our commutes, background music on an advert and so on. We even have more access and exposure to music from all across the world than ever before. So when learning a language, I have often turned to songs and music in my target language and immersed myself in that.
Using my own example, I’ve found Punjabi songs to be a great help in improving my spoken Punjabi. There have also been proven studies on the relationship between songs, music and language learning. Below are seven reasons why and how songs and music can be a helpful addition to learning or improving your Punjabi too.
1. Learning a language through music is easier
Polyglot and author of Language is Music, Susanna Zaraysky, believes, ‘learning a language through music...in part is easier because it activates more areas of the mind than language alone.’ Listening to music can feel like a passive experience, but it can activate our mind. With the addition of lyrics, we can find ourselves actively participating, singing along to our favourite songs. Or easily picking up the chorus of a song, with little effort. Even if we’re not big fans of the song!
2. Listening to music increases language retention
‘Music calls on both the left and right sides of the brain to work together, and that leads to higher comprehension.’ (Zaraysky)
Songs enable the language learner to grasp words more easily. I can vouch for this! Being trilingual (growing up speaking both English and Punjabi), I also decided to learn Norwegian a few years ago. I have found that songs have enabled me to expand my Norwegian vocabulary. The same goes for Punjabi songs; I never knew what the translation for peacock was until the time Punjabi MC released “Morni”. It’s not often peacocks come up in my daily conversations, and surprisingly having not used the word frequently it’s still one that I’ve never forgotten. I owe this to the catchy line in this song.
Music is also a natural mnemonic device, meaning it aids memory. The melody plays a key role in this. Leadership coach, Wanda T. Wallace’s studies backs this up, as she found that words and phrases are better remembered when listened to as a song rather than as speech. That is if the music or song repeats.
3. Speak, sleep, repeat
One of the keys to learning a language is to practise using the same words or phrases regularly, i.e. repeat. Songs follow a repetitive nature that is required for learning a language, and most songs contain a chorus or a hook which repeats and are designed to be catchy and memorable. How many times do you hear Amar Arshi repeat “Aaja” in “Aaja ni aaja”?
Listening to the same song over and over, you are very likely to pick up on more and more of it. Repetition makes it stick.
4. Songs help with the pronunciation of words
When learning a language, and speaking to a native speaker of your target language, I’ve found that mispronunciation can lead to misunderstandings or...a complete lack of understanding. Therefore, getting the pronunciation right not only makes you sound impressive, but it also helps to avoid some misunderstandings and helps with mastering that fluency level of your target language. This in turn, increases your confidence. This is where songs step in. Listening to Punjabi songs by a Punjabi singer is essential to getting that Punjabi twang just right. I know when I sing along to any song, I really get into it, and I often try to mimic the voice or the pitch of the singer. Apply this same strategy when you are trying to learn Punjabi, and you may find your pronunciation becomes more accurate.
Another helpful thing to focus on is the mouth movement and positioning when someone speaks in Punjabi, (I know, that sounds strange) but this will also help with getting the pronunciation right. To understand this concept, try singing or saying the English vowels slowly whilst looking into a mirror. With each letter notice the shape your mouth makes and how it feels.
5. Songs influence motivation
When we want to learn something or we want something, motivation is a strong driving force. But it’s not always easy to maintain. From experience I’ve found that learning a language can be a challenge at the best of times. That’s why it’s important to use a technique or method that you can switch up so it doesn’t begin to feel monotonous.
There are a plethora of songs from Punjabi singers available for you to choose from, so you can select one that you genuinely enjoy listening to. This way of learning makes it feel like a recreational activity. The enjoyment of it will contribute to sustaining your motivation.
6. Music is easily accessible
Of course, Youtube provides free access to a range of different genres of music. If you have a subscription with a music app such as Spotify or Apple Music, you’ll find plenty of Punjabi songs to pick from here too. You can create your own Punjabi playlist as a resource to learn from. Choose songs that are easy to follow and where the lyrics can be heard clearly.
Another useful tip is to search for the lyrics to the songs, if available and follow through the lyrics as you listen to the song. Try to use a reliable source and listen carefully to the sound to catch the vocabulary. Genius is generally a pretty good source for song lyrics. Here’s an example.
7. Song and music expand your cultural perspective
When we learn a new language, we are already getting an insight into the culture of the people who speak that language. Music is reflective of cultural characteristics, which can help us to understand the culture and the language better. In turn, we are able to connect with those who are a part of that cultural heritage and those who use that language. This can for example, help with having conversations in Punjabi and can increase interest in learning the language, thus keeping that motivation.
To wrap up
Listening to Punjabi songs and music is an easy and fun way to learn. If you are learning Punjabi, then I definitely recommend weaving music and songs into your routine. Using this in combination with other resources for language learning will be a great stepping stone to learning to speak the language.
If you are a beginner to Punjabi why not try out the Happy the Hathi series to get you started with learning basic, common everyday words. Happy the Hathi uses the English alphabet for Punjabi words and contains English translations. Shop here.
Wallace, W. T. (1994). Memory for music: Effect of melody on recall of text. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 20(6), 1471–1485. https://doi.org/10.1037/0278-7318.104.22.1681