As language learners, I think we can all agree that sometimes it’s nice to trade in the usual grammar and reading exercises for something a little more entertaining. Lucky for us, it’s a known fact that watching movies, reading books, or listening to songs in our target language can be extremely beneficial for the learning process.
For one, pop culture material contains useful, fun words and phrases that our formal grammar books might overlook. It also tends to be less structured and more conversationally relevant (i.e., more like something you might encounter if you go to a country where your target language is widely spoken). And the best part is, you can pick up some new phrases without even trying! Here are a few ways you can start to incorporate pop culture into your language-learning process.
Turn on the jams.
Let’s talk music. How many times has a song been so stuck in your head that you could recite the whole thing by heart? What about that ecstatic feeling you get when your favorite tune comes on during a long road trip? We’re willing to bet that many of those well-known songs had some foreign lyrics in them - and you might not even realize. A more obvious example is Spanish pop artist Enrique Iglesias, who has snagged more than 150 number one hits on all the Billboard charts, including those in the U.S. and all around Europe. The Spanglish version of his song “Bailando” has nearly 200 million views on YouTube, and a good deal of those came from people who don’t speak Spanish at all. The great thing about this song is that it combines Spanish and English in the same phrase, so it’s easier to guess the meaning of the Spanish portion if you are a native English speaker.
Check out an example from the song below:
I wanna be contigo
And live contigo, and dance contigo
Para have contigo
You may have figured out by now that contigo means “with you,” and therefore, we can guess that “para” might mean “in order to” or “so that..”. Next time you find yourself addicted to a new song, we challenge you to look up the lyrics — you might just catch a few foreign words in there.
Fire up the DVD player.
Or in this case, maybe a VHS — if those still exist. We’re talking about one of the all-time classics, none other than The Lion King movie. If you’ve seen this (please say you have), you already know quite a few words in Swahili! This African language is a crucial component to the film’s script that helps to connect viewers with the story’s natural environment: the African savanna. Each of the characters’ names are actually common words in Swahili, such as Simba (“lion”), Rafiki (“friend”), and Nala (“gift”). Of course, who could forget the ever-famous song Hakuna Matata (“No Worries”)? We hope it goes without saying - movies, even those from your childhood, can be indispensable tools for aiding healthy language learning. For some other great examples of English films with foreign language influences, check out this list.
Grab a good book.
Our current pick is Dan Brown’s 2013 masterpiece Inferno, which is based almost entirely in Italy and contains multiple references to the Italian language. We love this one because it perfectly embodies our passion for both language and culture, painting a detailed picture of Italian history while sneaking in some language insight at the same time (let’s just say the phrase Cerca Trova [“Seek and Ye Shall Find”] shows up more than once). Grazie to Dan Brown for teaching us a thing or two. Reading in a foreign language allows us to improve sentence structure, learn punctuation rules, and expand vocabulary. Feeling ready to tackle a whole book written in your target language yet?
Get pop culture’d with Mango.
As language-obsessed polyglots, we love to find new ways to bolster the language learning process, and integrating pop culture into our methods was inevitable. Did you know that Mango offers the opportunity to learn a foreign language by watching real movies? That’s right - you can sit back, relax, and enjoy a popular foreign film while Mango breaks down the dialogue for you. Find out more about our process or check to see if your local library offers Mango for free.
What's a great movie, song, or book that has helped you learn a foreign language? Let us know!