I like music. You probably do too, especially if you’ve decided to read this post based on the title. There are plenty of resources, tools and methods to use music for language learning, but in this post, we’re going to focus on one tool in particular: Spotify. Here’s how to use Spotify for language learning.
I remember Spotify from waaay back around 2009. Someone recommended I try it to listen to more music. I did. And meh, I didn’t stick around long.
But Spotify has come a long way since then, and now there’s plenty of features for you to take advantage of when it comes to language learning. We’ll go through them one by one. But first, if you’re new to Spotify, here’s a quick intro to it for you.
What is Spotify?
Spotify is a music streaming service that allows you to listen to music wherever you are via your computer, tablet or phone. The free version plays adverts every 30 minutes or so and limits certain features such as downloading for offline listening and playing out of shuffle mode on a phone, which you get when you join on Premium.
Within the app, you can browse music, search, create playlists, and save your favourite music for later. But how can you use those features for language learning?
The first place to look is ‘Browse’.
Most of what you see here will be determined by your location and native language but there’s a couple of useful features to note.
Number 1: If you’re learning Korean, Spanish or Portuguese, sometimes K-pop and Latino are already listed as genres when you scroll down on the ‘Browse’ screen.
Number 2: And this one is the most useful for learners of other languages, click ‘Charts’ and then take your pick from ‘Top 50 by Country’ or ‘Viral 50 by Country’.
The charts were difficult to find on desktop, but they’re in plain sight on a tablet or phone under ‘Browse’.
Now, of course, your Ed Sheerans and your Chainsmokers are gonna be there, but if you’re lucky, you’ll also get a handful of songs in the native language too, which is a good place to start for the next tips.
If ‘Browse’ hasn’t been too successful for you, it’s time to go a little deeper with the ‘Search’ feature.
Firstly, if you know absolutely no artists that sing in the language you’re learning yet, try by searching for the name of the language – both in English and in the language itself (for example, ‘Spanish’ and ‘español’).
Spotify will bring back search results of ‘Songs’, ‘Artists’, ‘Albums’, ‘Playlists’ and ‘Profiles’. When you’re searching the name of a language, your best bet here will be playlists. These are playlists that people have already created with ‘Spanish’ or ‘español’ (or whichever language you’re learning) in the title and can act as a great springboard to finding music you love in the language you’re learning.
Search by country, again in both languages. Sometimes, there’s playlists or albums with the country in the title. This can be particularly useful if you’re looking for traditional music.
Finally, if you’ve got one artist or song to work with, perhaps as a result of a little luck with using ‘Browse’, try by searching the artist name, or even song names, which might bring up cover versions as well.
The next thing to do once you’ve searched or browsed and found a starting point is to click the artist.
Now you’ll see plenty more songs to choose from by this artist, but the best bit for finding more is the ‘Related Artists’ tab. Prepare yourself to dive right in to a musical rabbit hole here.
Click one and another, and another and you can just keep going for quite a while.
Make sure you’re also adding to playlists as you go so that it’s worth it and you’ve got something to go back to and listen to.
Create Your Own Playlists
Now we’ve got music to add to playlists, it’s worth going into a little more detail, as it’s a key feature you’ll want to be using to make the most of Spotify for language learning.
Depending on how many languages you’re learning, your personal music tastes etc, you may want to order your playlists differently.
For example, I have just one playlist right now for each language (labelled with emoji flags!) but you may also want to get more specific and sort by genre, era, or even verb tense too.
Go to Radio
Another option once you’ve found a band you like is to take advantage of ‘Go to Radio’. This will play a selection of songs and artists that people who like your new found favourite also listen to on the regular.
There’s no guarantee here that you’ll only get music in the language you’re looking for but what you can do to play with the algorithms is click a little thumbs up or thumbs down to help tell Spotify what you like and therefore what they should tweak next time around.
Your Daily Mix
Much like how I imagine Spotify curates the Radio feature, (aka the more you listen, the more Spotify picks up on your taste eerily well) one of the features that is created based on your listening habits is the Daily Mix. There’s 6 at any one time and I normally have one Daily Mix each day with songs in different languages.
Perfect for when you’re not feeling much like picking something to listen to but you do still want a little language. Another option if that describes you is that once you’ve listened quite a bit, your options in the ‘Discover’ tab will begin to bring up ‘Similar to…’ or ‘Suggestions for you because you listened to…’.
Language Learning Courses
The quality isn’t exactly Pimsleur, Glossika or Assimil but if you’d like a little word or two mixed in with your music, there’s a small selection of language learning courses on Spotify, some set to music too.
At first, it seemed to be just for French, Spanish, German, Italian, and English. However, after a bit of digging, I found tracks in Japanese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, and even one series that has tracks in languages to excite any polyglot such as Swahili, Turkish, and Lingala. The most thorough ‘artist’ for these is this one here.
To make things easier, Spotify have handily created playlists of the audio content for various languages. There’s not one for every language, but there’s a good range:
There’s also a small(ish) selection of audiobooks available on Spotify too. Sometimes the availability of these varies depending on your region but the best way is to search the word ‘audiobook’ in the language you’re learning. Here’s a few to get you started…
German = hörbuch
French = livre audio
Kim Thuy has some audiobooks in French with really nice cover art. Yes, I’m judging an audiobook by its cover.
Spanish = audio libro
Eduardo Galeano has a good selection of audiobooks in Spanish, Jorge Luis Borges reads his poems, and Federico García Lorca has a few albums including this one with a collection of his songs and poems and I also found a reading of Yerma.
Italian = audiolibro
They’re a little harder to find as not all comedians are on Spotify, and you might need to research elsewhere to get some names first, but this can be a great way to use Spotify for language learning. How ridiculously rewarding is it when you understand a joke in a foreign language?!
I’ve found a couple to get you started in French, Spanish and German below.
Multilingual Disney is always a firm favourite with language learners, and Spotify kind of delivers on this. Again, your location will mean you get different things offered.
When I was researching for this, a lot of the albums in different languages were visible but not playable, whereas some such as The Little Mermaid or Aladdin hardly came up beyond English. With that in mind, I’ve done my best to save what I found as soon as I found it for fear of never finding it again, and put together some Disney playlists for you. I added songs that were available for me to play in the UK, there may be more or less where you are in the world.
A new-ish feature to Spotify is the addition of Podcasts. Sounds great considering how useful podcasts can be for language learning.
However, in my opinion, it’s not rolled out great just yet. The podcasts available are easy to find and search on phones, not so easy on desktop, and pretty much non-existent on tablets.
For a much wider choice and ease of use, I recommend iTunes (even if you don’t have an Apple computer/product, you can still use this) or your favourite podcast player.
And for podcasts in a ridiculous number of languages to help you learn, click here for the Ultimate Guide to Podcasts for Language Learning.
Spotify doesn’t currently have this feature, but they say they’re updating it..maybe…?! In the meantime, apparently you can use Genius lyrics integrated that appear on a phone as a little tab above the album cover in ‘now playing’ mode, but I’ve not seen this pop up recently.
However, you could definitely listen and head across to Lyrics Translate to take things up a level.
As you can see, you could spend hours, days or even weeks using Spotify for your language learning with little need for much else! There’s so many ways to use Spotify for language learning beyond just listening to music.
Do you use Spotify? If so, how do you use it for language learning? Share in the comments!