What do you think - can listening to songs in German be helpful when learning the language? Can it improve listening comprehension and understanding of speech?

  • 5
    It cannot hurt ;) I wonder if this question would be a better fit for languagelearning.stackexchange.com – Carsten S Jun 14 '16 at 6:45
  • 7
    Some bands do hurt... – Alex Jun 14 '16 at 7:38
  • 4
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is more suited on language learning. – Jan Jun 14 '16 at 9:19
  • 2
    Related question on Language Learning. – Jan Jun 14 '16 at 11:31
  • 4
    A warning for your next question: Starting with "What do you think?" invites closing it as primarily opinion-based ;) – Carsten S Jun 14 '16 at 18:19

The lyrics in classical music are often stilted, frequently concerning religious topics and in modern popular music they are often full of puns, revolving around romantic topics. Also, rhyme and rhythm are usually more important than pronunciation and grammar, which could make the language better resemble the one actually spoken than in most other written texts (incl. theater and film), but often it doesn’t.

I’m a native speaker of German and on proficiency level C2 for reading and listening comprehension of English, but as soon as it’s sung (even rapped) my understanding plummets in both languages unless I intentionally try to concentrate on the words. I may be able to hum the melody and perhaps can recite the chorus, but have not the least of an idea what a song was all about. I don’t think I’m alone with that.

Therefore, I would suggest listening to songs as a learning device only to those beginners and intermediates for whom music and poetry provide an inherent motivation to learn the language in the first place. If, as an advanced learner, you really want to understand a language and the culture associated with it, you will need to know some of its musical canon. This doesn’t mean you’d need to know or understand the lyrics to Ode an die Freude, for instance, because that’s more of a melodic heritage than a textual one, but it won’t hurt (your language proficiency) to get to know some of the modern classic. There are popular compilations like Fetenhits to get you started.

  • 4
    Interesting, I always thought I was the only one who has incredible difficulties understanding words once they are sung (even for relatively clear songs). – Jan Jun 14 '16 at 11:29
  • 2
    "Es tobt der Hamster vor meinem Fenster" (youtube.com/watch?v=61VKL5MUfS0 , in the refrain) and "Wann kommt die Sahne" (youtube.com/watch?v=_QltRS3NrTI refrain as well) were famous examples of mis-interpreted song lyrics even by native speakers in past years here – tofro Jun 14 '16 at 13:32
  • @tofro And I just can't stop hearing "Hallo, Lieblingshemd" – Hagen von Eitzen Jun 14 '16 at 18:49


Crissov's answer is a very good one, but I will give a contrary answer based on my own language learning experience. Your mileage may vary.

I learned both German and Japanese to a high degree of fluency as an adult, and memorizing poetry and song lyrics was a major part of my process in both languages. It's important not to just start memorizing whatever you hear on the radio, though. You want music that is interesting to you (so that you'll be motivated to learn it), but also that is written in grammatically correct German, ideally in complete sentences, and not sung in a strong dialect.

A good example of a German artist that I found helpful is Reinhard Mey. He's a singer-songwriter with beautiful, grammatically correct lyrics that don't contain a great deal of slang, and his pronunciation is very clear Hochdeutsch. I can also recommend the Wise Guys, an acapella group from Köln, that also have a lot of songs I found to be good practice.

  • That sounds like you disapprove of dialects D= But probably dialect songs already fail when it comes to understanding at all … I needed forever and two days to understand what Hubert von Goisern’s Brenna tuats guat. – Jan Jun 14 '16 at 16:43
  • I disapprove of learning multiple dialects at the same time. If you want to learn Plattdeutsch, then I highly recommend Torfrock, but if you are interested in Hochdeutsch like most non-native speakers, then you should avoid making an already difficult task even harder by trying to learn multiple dialects at the same time. – AmericanUmlaut Jun 14 '16 at 17:22
  • If you can follow Reinhard Mey's "Ankomme Freitag den 13.", you are really good! – Hagen von Eitzen Jun 14 '16 at 18:53
  • @HagenvonEitzen Hah! My wife (who is German) helped me learn that when I had only been learning German for a few months. Soooooooo hard to sing :-D – AmericanUmlaut Jun 14 '16 at 19:51
  • I don’t think you’re contradicting me at all. You found German music that motivated (and helped) you to learn the language. That’s great! and it’s what I meant. People who enjoy poetry and music in general may benefit from selective listening to German lyrics. It’s hard to find the right songs, though, hence I believe there should be courses designed this way, e.g. “Hörverständnis verbessern mit der Neuen Deutschen Welle” or ”Deutsche Grammatik lernen mit Kinderliedern”. Sailing and Morning has broken were featured in my English textbooks, but didn’t really motivate me or my class mates. – Crissov Jun 14 '16 at 20:18

Yes, some singers like Helene Fischer have their songs with clear pronunciation. They helped me grab some words.

  • 7
    You seriously hear Helene Fischer music? I don't know anyone who would do this voluntary. – palsch Jun 14 '16 at 12:09
  • @palsch I started with her music for the words and ended up liking the beat as well. – srina Jun 16 '16 at 9:45

Have at it, but choose carefully. My high school German teacher brought beer hall songs in December instead of christmas carols. That was in 1982-84 and I can still remember most of them (unfortunately he didn't bring German beer too). We also knew the full lyrics (and meaning) of Nena's 99 Luftballons, a huge hit at the time.

Nena also has a lovely voice, and you can repeat anything you learn there in polite company. Better to remember "singe ich ein Lied für dich" than "Horst Wessel Lied" when you want "song".

Rammstein would be a rather poor choice here, unless you plan on going to some of the unmarked basement bars near the Reeperbahn and can handle yourself in a fight.

  • Not sure what’s wrong with Rammstein, except for them only being lightweight metal. Of course, you could always go for the more heavy metal counterparts ;) – Jan Jun 14 '16 at 12:28
  • That said, hi and welcome to German Language Stack Exchange. Feel free to take a tour of the site. Visit the help center for unanswered questions on how it works. – Jan Jun 14 '16 at 12:29
  • 2
    Regarding Rammstein - especially in their earlier work, Till's pronunciation is quite exaggerated (those rolling R's...) – Klaus Draeger Jun 14 '16 at 12:46
  • This will date me considerably, but... when I was in high school, our teacher played us Blümchen and Falco songs, and (IMHO) they definitely helped me get a sense of how native speakers might pronounce words or how different phonemes might be easier or harder to hear. Plus, I'll never forget the lyrics to "Piep Piep Kleiner Satellit" or "Der Mann Mit Dem Koks," so there's that. – Jazz Jun 14 '16 at 16:42
  • @Jan any recommendations? – Peter Jun 14 '16 at 23:41

Yes, listening to music in a foreign language can improve listening comprehension and understanding of speech.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.