Music is a universal pleasure. We all have some artists, albums or genres we listen to on repeat. Sometimes we feel deeply connected to the words and stories of certain songs. But what if those lyrics are sung in a language we don’t speak?
A common complaint I hear about listening to non-English music is the language barrier prevents you from connecting to the song. But there is so much more to a song than its lyrics, and there are many benefits to listening to music in languages you don’t speak.
Music is universal
A 2019 study conducted by Harvard University found music can in fact be universal. Through gathering music from 315 societies and analysing responses from listeners, the researchers found anyone could understand a song’s meaning (regardless of the language) through its acoustic features, such as accent and tempo.
What can we learn from this study? Well for one, we should take a chance on listening to music in different languages because it’s clear music can help you get in touch with your emotions. For example, maybe a strong guitar riff makes you feel excited, or a soothing harp makes you relaxed. You can connect with a song through its non-lyrical aspects.
A good example of music breaking language barriers is K-pop (or Korean pop music), which is a hugely influential music genre around the world. Many K-pop songs are catchy and uplifting due to their upbeat tempos. You don’t need to understand the lyrics to become a mega fan.
That being said, it can also be fun to do research into the meaning of lyrics you don’t understand. Take the phenomenon of BTS, one of the biggest K-pop groups around today. While their music is generally uplifting and fun to listen to, there is also important meaning behind their lyrics, which often explore serious themes like loss, mental health and the pains of growing up. While translations may not convey the same depth of emotion as the original words, unpacking the meaning of lyrics you don’t understand can be a valuable experience.
Non-distracting study songs
Some people find it helpful to listen to music while they study, while others find it distracting. We’ve all had this debate before with our friends, but ultimately it depends on the person’s personal preferences.
One primary reason I find music distracting while studying is because I feel the need to sing along to the lyrics. When working on an essay the night before it’s due, it’s not helpful to get into your feelings with some Taylor Swift tune when you’re supposed to be writing about the French Revolution.
So, one advantage of listening to study music in a language you don’t speak is you won’t distract yourself by singing along. Just listening to the melody and emotion of the song may be enough to keep you in the zone.
Listening to music in languages you don’t speak can open up whole new worlds. It may be hard to get out of your comfort zone, but I promise you it’s worth it. Get out there and really push yourself to experience all the music you can. It may be the start of an appreciation for a particular culture, artist or style of music.