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Lyrics Over Vocabulary Lists, Any Day


You need to encounter a word 75 times to memorize it. Ready to read a word list 75 times? Swedish pop music is a spellbinding alternative to traditional lists.

For a moment, I'm stepping back to October 2016. I'd jumped into learning Swedish just the month before. My only prior attempt was with one of the book-and-cassette combinations back when they were the best thing on the market. One of the worst things about that old method, as with traditional textbooks, was the dreaded vocabulary list. A parade of loosely related, unmotivated words, dead on the page, out of context with little to bind them. The lists were at the ends of the chapters, which I read as a clue to skip them and go onward to something better.

Learning Swedish this time around, I'd already found one "hook" -- see my upcoming post "Real Humans" -- and now I was on the hunt for another. Something I could reuse many times that wouldn't get old. Something portable and easy to access. And something that I'd love working with, that would be compelling, memorable, emotional -- gotta have a "hook", right?

What if the words were embedded by design in a matrix which was motivated, emotional, active, and intentionally structured to make the whole thing memorable?

Music is all those things. Full stop.

"It's been a while since ABBA or Ace of Base. I wonder what's coming from Sweden nowadays," I thought. Cue the Internet.

I set aside my geeky notion that nothing is good if someone else likes it, and reasoned that the Swedes surely had their own pop charts. Behold http://swedishcharts.com/weekchart.asp

I found that Swedes have lots of US and UK acts on their charts, along with a lot of unfamiliar names. So I made a note of each performer whose hit song had a Swedish title. I did this for a few weeks in a row. Now I check in more or less monthly.

Build a list from the current hits, or borrow my shortlist of favorites, and set out to find the music. You can use YouTube to find the artists and songs for free, which I've done. I also use Amazon Unlimited Music, which runs about US$8 per month. Amazon has every artist I've looked for except one. iTunes probably has them all, or Spotify or whatever Microsoft or Google offer.* Finding the music is probably cut and dried for most people in 2017.

Here's where it gets really good. Point your browser to http://musixmatch.com, and search for the artists you've heard and liked. Print out the lyrics to a few songs you like -- or paste the Swedish somewhere you can annotate it -- grab a dictionary** and have at it. Musixmatch can even display synchronized lyrics while you listen to songs on your phone or tablet.

Start out with songs which aren't too wordy. It doesn't matter whether you can translate on-the-fly. Musixmatch usually has an English translation available, but it's better if you figure it out on your own. I'll pick an example in an upcoming post and try to show how my understanding developed, along with points helpful when Swedish phrasing typically doesn't closely track English.

Now you have a constantly renewed source of Swedish vocabulary that's vibrant and engaging. Your vocabulary lesson has feeling; the words convey ideas and emotion. There's a point to all of it, and each "list" is performed by someone of amazing talent who would also be glad to know that you are singing along.

* Disclaimer: I work for Microsoft.

** Coincidentally, I have an upcoming post on Swedish dictionaries.


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