Tactics

How To Learn Japanese Through Songs in 4-Easy Steps

Have you ever noticed that you tend to learn the lyrics to songs without even trying? And have you ever considered trying it to increase your Japanese speaking and listening abilities this same way? Today I’m going to show you how to learn Japanese through songs, so that you can do exactly that!

While I don’t recommend that you only use songs to learn Japanese, I think there are some incredibly powerful benefits when you add it into an existing routine and engage in it a little each day.

Let’s go over why it works, and then we’ll get into the 4-step process you can use.

Why Learn A Language Through Its Music?

The first reasons why learning Japanese through music is a good idea is because it makes the learning process a lot of fun.

One of the things that’s been revealed in studies is that the human brain takes in new information more easily when it’s in a state of relaxation and enjoyment. It’s that “zone” where you are totally engrossed in an activity while having a blast at the same time.

The opposite situation of this is where you are bored, or under a lot of stress. When you’re not enjoying the work you are doing, you mind tends to wander and your attention becomes scattered. This is one of the reasons why people hardly remember anything they “learned” during boring classes in school.

The second reason why you want to learn (at least a little) Japanese through music is because of what’s called “whole-brain learning.”

As most people know, the neocortex part of the brain is divided into two hemispheres – a left half and a right half.

The left half takes care of things like logic, processes, and words. The right half takes care of things like colors, creativity, and music.

This means that when you are only learning Japanese words from a book or course, you only engage the left half of your brain. But when you learn Japanese with music, you engage both halves of your brain and the information gets encoded at a much deeper level.

This is the reason why people are able to learn the words to new songs easily, without putting any effort into it!

The third reason why it’s a good idea to learn Japanese through music is because most people listen to music each and every day anyway (usually in their car), so you can take a daily routine that already exists and turn it into one that promotes learning more Japanese.

Just think of how much time you’ve already spent driving in your car alone, and imagine how much Japanese you would know if you had been listening to Japanese the entire time!

The 4-Step Process To Learning Japanese Through Songs

ゲスの極み乙女 is one of my favorites!

| Image credit: 株式会社スペシャネット |

Of course there is more to it than “just listening” to Japanese songs. Let’s take a look now a process you can use to get the most out of it.

Step 1: Pick A Song You Enjoy

This goes back to the notion of “having fun” or “enjoying what you are doing” when it comes to learning Japanese.

Rather than picking songs that contain the most useful words, I would recommend that you strive to find really good songs and musicians in genres that you currently listen to and enjoy.

Sometimes it can be tough to learn a new Japanese phrase or sentence, but as long as the music is enjoyable, you typically won’t mind listening to it again and again in order to really memorize the words.

Step 2: Listen To It A Few Times

The first thing you will want to do is listen to the song a few times and get a good feel for it.

Learn the melodies of the lyrics first, but don’t worry too much about the actually words since that part will come later.

When you listen to the same song over and over again, you begin to notice the more subtle parts of it that were constantly being drowned out before by the dominating musical themes.

You want to really get all of those “main” parts of the song into your long term memory before trying to learn and memorize the words, since you can only focus your attention on so many things at once, and once you’ve “got the music part down” you can then focus entirely on what the singer is saying.

Step 3: Get The Lyrics In Japanese

Next you will want to look up the lyrics of the song online. You can do it a few different ways by seeing an English translation, seeing it transcribed in Rōmaji, or full on Japanese kana & kanji.

I would recommend that you find an English translation of the song and use that alongside a kana & kanji transcription.

This way you can understand what they are saying and therefore learn new Japanese, and you can see how to say it yourself, which is helpful since people tend to change the sounds of the language a little bit when they sing it instead of speak it.

If there are any individual words that you’re not sure about, it is a simple matter to look them up in a good dictionary in order to ascertain their meanings.

Step 4: Follow Along Yourself

Here’s where the majority of the work happens. Having gone over the both the English and Japanese lyrics a few times to help get an overview of it, you can then listen to the music while following along the kana & kanji simultaneously.

Do this a few times so that you can understand what the singer is saying at each part and really “unlock” the words and phrases in your mind when you hear them.

After you’ve heard it a few times, try singing along yourself with the words in front of you. This ought to be like when you were a kid and you got to enjoy all of those sing-along songs for classic Disney songs and such.

What’s pretty cool is that it is common to see this sort of “sing along” thing with Japanese anime, as the lyrics are on the screen for the opening and closing songs quite often.

The next step in the process would be to listen to the song without any visual aids to guide you, and just sing along from your memory and what you are hearing at the moment.

This will really help to increase your listening comprehension, intonation, and overall rhythm with Japanese.

And finally, if you’d really like to, you can sing it without the music as you will no doubt have it memorized by heart at this point!

Where Can You Find Songs and Lyrics?

I would recommend that you check out Japanese songs and artists on YouTube first since you can often hear the entire song and see if you like it or not.

Simply type in the name of the genre that you enjoy and then the words “Japanese songs” and you should find more material than you have time to enjoy.

As for finding the lyrics, there are several different sites dedicated to posting the lyrics to Japanese songs, but unfortunately they each tend to specialize in a certain genre or type. So just because you can find Doraemon lyrics from one source, doesn’t mean that you can also find Babymetal lyrics there too.

I would recommend that after you’ve found a song that you want to learn and memorize that you then type the name of the song and the word “lyrics” into a search engine. You will probably be able to find what you are looking for right away.

So as an example of myself, I’ve been watching a lot of School Rumble lately and this video below it on YouTube has the opening song, the lyrics in Japanese, and also the English translation all in one place. What a deal!

But even if it was just the music itself, I could always hop on over to AnimeLyrics.com to get the words to the song.

Use This As A Fun Supplement To Your Study

Like I mentioned before, I wouldn’t recommend that you use songs as your primary method for learning Japanese.

That being said, I think that any time you can increase your exposure to the language, especially when it’s done in a way that will naturally lead to memorizing words and phrases, it is a very good thing.

And if you’re going to be singing along in the car or in the shower anyway, then you might as well do it in Japanese!

What are your favorite Japanese songs and artists? Let me know what you’re listening to in the comments below!

2 Comments

  • Win Bill

    I believe that learning Japanese through music is effective because it really triggers our emotions. I am a Chinese person that is born in America, and my parents have always been too busy to teach me anything. However, I listened to the same music, and watched the same movies that they watched. Slowly, and steadily, I began to “absorb” Chinese into my system without truly trying. Eventually, I became curious enough to fill in the gaps of what I informally learned. Before I knew it, I became fairly fluent with Chinese and English. Listening to Japanese music sounds like a lot of fun. I would start with Anime intro songs. Those excite me more. I used to try to learn the Naruto intro song (the one where they were taking the chuunin exam was the most exciting to me). I will give your techniques a try. Thank you. Is that how you learn Japanese also?

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah, I tend to listen to a lot of Japanese songs when I’m driving to and from work every day. It’s kind of like you said, the sounds and words get absorbed and eventually you pick out what they are saying. 

      Although it’s not the primary way that I study the language, I feel that any time you can increase your expose to Japanese, the better off you’ll be!

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