December 21, 2017

What Do Learning Japanese, Karaoke, and Relocation Have in Common?

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What Do Learning Japanese, Karaoke, and Relocation Have in Common?

 Posted by: Katherine Dipple, Language Network Specialist

Learning a language can be difficult. It’s often an unappreciated skill and can take hours and hours of practice and studying before you can even have something resembling a conversation. But learning a language can support international assignees in achieving success with their assignment goals, and help them form strong relationships while on an international assignment. However, there is another path to success that may help international assignees trying to learn a language.

I was once what you would call a “typical” language student. I memorised vocabulary and conjugation lists, wrote out Chinese characters thousands of times until my hands cramped, and I aced all of my exams. However, put me next to a native speaker and I froze up, hardly able to muster a comprehensible sentence.

Then I discovered karaoke.

Learning a Language Through…Singing?

In Taiwan and Japan, karaoke is everywhere. It’s a bit different to karaoke in the West, where you stand trembling or inebriated on a stage in front of everyone. In Japan and Taiwan, you have cosy private rooms with the latest in karaoke technology. Karaoke for me was a life-saver, as it made me break away from textbook Japanese/Chinese and allowed me to start producing authentic language (as well as being a lot of fun!)

Learning through singing can be overlooked in the classroom, but here are a few reasons why you might want to consider downloading some music lists:

  1. It’s based on science
    A recent study carried out by Edinburgh University tested an adult’s retention of Hungarian vocabulary. Splitting them up into two groups – one group learned through rote memorisation and the other group learned the vocabulary through songs. The group who sang the vocabulary while learning were twice as good at using it later, having retained the vocabulary more effectively. Musical ability and aptitude in foreign languages learning have often been linked, one of the benefits being that it helps learners distinguish pitch (especially important in languages like Mandarin).
  2. It’s authentic
    Music is worlds away from textbook language in that it is authentic, phrased in the way that people actually speak. Many foreign language learners fall into the trap of parroting vocabulary lists without actually learning how native speakers use it, which results in speaking…well, like a foreigner. Learning through music means that you get to learn how words are used in a real life context, which is often more interesting and meaningful for you.
  3. It allows you to connect to a country’s culture
    Music is widely recognised as an integral part of a nation’s culture, but not many people think about the emotional and cultural meaning many songs have. For instance, the song 朋友 (Friend) is often sung at Taiwanese and Chinese high-school graduation ceremonies, and singing it will bring back those memories in a flash. Also, just like in your native language, people will drop references to songs in their everyday jokes and conversation, and understanding this element of their culture is essential for getting the punchline.
  4. It helps you make friends
    Singing is a social activity at heart, allowing you to connect with people even if your language skills aren’t advanced. When I first sang karaoke with my (now) Taiwanese in-laws, it really helped break the ice and made them realise that yes, I can actually read Chinese!
  5. You can do it anywhere 
    With the advent of smart phones and Mp3 players, you can take your language learning through music wherever you go – on the bus, on the plane or even while walking around in everyday life. There’s really no excuse for not doing your 10 minutes a day.
  6. It’s fun!
    I am a firm believer that doing what you love helps build motivation to learn. When you’re doing something enjoyable, time seems to fly away from you and you can spend hours learning new vocabulary and grammar patterns without even realising it.

Learning through music and singing is a really valuable tool in your language-learning arsenal, and can help make that transition between textbook language and real life language. Try learning Latin through listening to Carmina Burana, or German through listening to Schubert or Rammstein, or, like me, Japanese through karaoke. Pick songs/genres that you have a genuine interest in, and watch as your language skills grow.

For more information on intercultural support, and other matters that impact your relocation program, be sure to visit our Resource Hub on

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Posted By

Katherine Dipple

About Katherine

Katherine is a SOAS graduate who works in Cartus’ Intercultural and Language Solutions department. She coordinates with language trainers and suppliers across the globe in order to arrange language training for international assignees and enjoys the varied nature of her role.

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