Language Tools for Short-Term Missions, Part 2: Spotify

This is the second installment of a three-part (so far) series on digital tools available for people interested in short-term missions opportunities. In the first post we covered everyone’s favorite language app, Duolingo. Now we will move to another app that has proven very helpful to me: Spotify.

Spotify? Really?

Yes, and here’s why. With apps like Duolingo you get words and phrases designed to help you learn vocabulary and usage. But an essential part of language acquisition is training your ear to hear the language.

There is a famous example (one I’ve seen mentioned in a number of sources) that illustrates this point. Consider the following conversation:

Person 1: Did you eat?
Person 2: No, did you?
Person 1: No, let’s go eat.

Read the above conversation out loud, pronouncing each word distinctly. Then, read it again, but pronounce the words as you would in everyday speech. Chances are good that the second time you read it, it came out something like this:

Person 1: Djeet?
Person 2: No, djew?
Person 1: No, squeet.

That difference between formal and everyday language can make the process of learning a language somewhat frustrating.

Enter Spotify.

Spotify, for those unaware, is a music streaming app. You can create playlists of songs based on preferences for musical style, favorite artists, time periods, or, in my case, preferred language. There is a feature included with most songs on Spotify that lets you follow along with the lyrics, and in the case of foreign language songs, there is often the option of translating the words into English. But the main benefit is listening.

Listening to music in your target language can help to make the transition from the formal to the spoken language.

Here is how I made Spotify work for me.

1. I started with songs I know.

For me, it was the French versions of well-known Disney songs. Since I know the general theme of the songs (the exactness of a translation will vary) I was able to piece words and phrases together. An added bonus is that there are some Disney songs that actually work better in French. (The French version of I Just Can’t Wait to be King contains references to elements of French history, and Be Our Guest…I mean…it’s sung by a French candelabra and it’s about French food!).

I also found a playlist of hymns and choruses in French, which has helped with my theological vocabulary.

2. I branched out to other songs and artists.

This came naturally, as Spotify will helpfully suggest related songs and artists. So after adding Under the Sea, Spotify recommended other songs by singer Henri Salvador (including a delightful French version of this song). I also turned on a feature that will play new songs while I am listening. I have found this helpful as it lets me gauge how well I understand something I am hearing for the first time. And some of the new songs find their way into my permanent playlist.

Over time my French playlist has become quite extensive.

3. I listen regularly.

Finding time to listen can be daunting, but for me the best time is while in the car. Hence, I divide my driving time between Spotify and Audiobooks. I also will play my French playlist in the background if I happen to be able to doze off for a few minutes in the afternoon.

4. I sing along.

As mentioned in the previous post, forming the words and speaking them is an essential part of learning the language. Once I become familiar enough with a song, I start to sing along. So it’s not uncommon to see me driving in downtown São Luís, belting out Les Champs-Elysées at the top of my lungs.

5. Bonus feature for Duolingo users.

You can also stream podcasts with Spotify. Duolingo currently has four podcasts available: Spanish for English speakers, French for English speakers, English for Spanish speakers, and English for Portuguese speakers. The podcasts usually contain a story narrated in the target language, at an intermediate level, with the host adding context in the learner’s native language.

Using Spotify in the above manner has been a great help to my French learning project, and I believe it can be a help to those looking towards foreign missions. If you try it, let me know your experience!


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