Homeschool Chinese: Language Learning with Pop Music

Last week, the kids and I read a post written by a young man, Timothy Doner, who has taught himself 20 languages. In his post and a subsequent interview we listened to, he stated that his journey began when he "would listen to the same album every single morning. At the end of a month, I had memorized about twenty of their songs by heart." We talked about his success and reflected on our own journey of learning Mandarin. What we hear most often from hyperpolyglots is that the key to language learning is to practice speaking the language. While you may not live in an area that provides opportunity to practice communicating in your target language, learning songs can help you to feel more comfortable speaking aloud phrases as well as pick up new vocabulary. This morning, I discovered in my Facebook feed that in preparation for his upcoming tour, Jon Bon Jovi has delivered a special surprise just in time for Chinese Valentine's Day (August 20th) - singing the classic romantic Chinese song The Moon Represents My Heart in Mandarin. Hearing the lyrics brought back many fond memories of when we first began learning Mandarin ourselves. We learned this song years ago with Shawn. It is a song I often catch myself singing - proof that language learning with pop music is a powerful teaching tool. We first listened to a recorded performance of a duet by Hayley Westenra and Shin at the 2009 World Games. As we listened, we followed along with the lyrics Shawn had typed out for us (including the pinyin). We listened several times and when we were comfortable, we began to sing along. For homework, he asked the kids to continue practicing and to record themselves singing it - together, as a duet, or individually was up to them. Sadly, I don't have a recording of them singing but you can download a PDF of the lyrics here, 月亮代表我的心 / The Moon Represents My Heart . Learning Chinese through music or song is a fun method that intermixes language and culture. You do have to learn grammar eventually but music is absolutely key in learning languages. Music activates more parts of the brain than language does, on both the right and left sides of the brain. If you remember something to a tune, you are more likely to recall the information than if you just read it or heard it spoken.

"Language is about being able to converse with people, to see beyond cultural boundaries and find a shared humanity. And that’s a lesson well worth learning." ~ Timothy Doner

Here are few other songs that you may enjoy learning:

Where Are We Going, Dad? (爸爸去哪儿/ bà ba qù nǎ’er) is the theme song for a Chinese reality TV show broadcast on Hunan Television. Based on the original South Korean reality show Dad! Where Are We? It features five celebrity fathers and their children as they travel to rural places and go on camping missions. This one is a lot of fun and features the voices of both the dad and the children. Heart of the Sword (剑心/ jiàn xīn) is the theme song for a popular TV series called 古剑奇谭. Derived from a video game that shares the same name, it is a fun ballad. Do you have a favorite song? What songs do your children enjoy singing?


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