Music is a huge part of my life. I grew up taking piano lessons and I always took music classes in school. I even went to sing with the all-state choir in high school. And when I moved out to San Diego after college, I took voice lessons.
But as I studied languages, I’ve always used Spotify to find new music in that language. And then I learned and sang along.
In this post, I’m going to show you exactly how to use Spotify as a language-learning tool.
(And sign up for a Spotify account if you don’t have one already.)
Finding Foreign-Language Tracks on Spotify
First, you have to actually find your tracks. But Spotify doesn’t surface foreign-language tracks for you. And looking for them can be a little difficult.
Not to mention, if you have specific tastes, it can be even harder.
Fortunately, we can take advantage of Spotify’s roots as a recommendation system to help us find exactly the kind of music we want.
Top/Viral 50 per Country Lists
Spotify keeps its own charts per country, which is a blessing and a great place to start with. And the best news? Not all of it is your typical Top 40 American music. For example, Brazil really likes traditional country music, so you’ll encounter a lot of that if you search for Brazil. China likes softer songs and ballads, so the China Top 50 playlist is usually full of those.
Here’s how to find them.
In the upper-left corner, click “Browse.” Then, in the navigation across the top of the new screen, click “Charts.”
From here, scroll down until you see “Top 50 by Country” and “Viral 50 by Country.” These are what you want!
What’s the difference? Top 50 is what gets played the most. Viral 50 is what gets shared the most.
(So if you want to be a hipster, obviously you go for the Viral 50.)
When you click on either, you’ll get a list of countries in alphabetical order.
I’m looking to brush up on my Chinese and I have a few friends in Taiwan, so I’m going to scroll down to Taiwan.
Now, there’s a LOT going on here, but it’s really not complicated.
First, click on the green Play button to listen to the playlist. You can also click on any specific song to play it.
If you like the song, click the 3 dots on the right to add it to your library, or even to a specific playlist! I like to keep a playlist of songs specifically in the language I’m studying—here, you’ll see I have a Chinese-language playlist (中文).
But I also add songs I like to my regular playlists that I listen to when I’m not deliberately practicing. Remember when we talked about passive listening?
The Top 50 and Viral 50 playlists are nice…but notice that there’s a good bit of English here. (I mean, Ariana deserves to be here, but we’re not looking for Ariana right now.)
Quick Spotify Playlist Power Tips
Click the triple dots next to the playlist name to open some more options. This is where you find the good stuff.
- You can tell Spotify to save this Playlist to your favorites. This creates a shortcut so you can always have quick access to it. Super handy.
- You can also ask Spotify to play a “radio station” based on this playlist. It’ll play a bunch of other songs based on the contents of this playlist.
Unlock more Music by Searching for Playlists
So now you know what’s currently trending in your country of interest. But that’s not the only way to use Spotify to find music in your foreign language.
Spotify is, after all, a search engine. And you can search it for playlists other people have made.
That’s right! Plenty of people, (like me), create playlists specifically of music in a foreign language—or even of a specific genre—and you can search and find and listen to and use those to curate your own playlists.
Find the genre you want.
So, confession. Right now I’m really into female Chinese rappers. I don’t really love American rappers, so I dunno how this happened. But it did. (Like if you’re not Nicki Minaj? Plz don’t make guest rapping appearances. I know. My gay is coming out.)
I also have a soft spot for R&B, so I’m going to search for some of that:
Click that “SEE ALL” text to see more playlists. I find that user-generated content (that’s the technical term—UGC) is better than the albums somebody at corporate something packaged together for the mass market, but that’s just me.
If you’re lucky, you’ll see a LOT of different playlists.
Yeah, no shortage of music to get through, right? Let’s click into one the one with the Spirited Away house.
And…yikes. 27 hours of music! And it’s curated.
Yeah, no shortage of music to listen to.
Use Your Own Playlists
Now that we have some songs we like, let’s make a new playlist. (If you haven’t already.)
I’m going to make my own Chinese R&B, lo-fi, and rap playlist.
Once I’ve added some songs to this playlist, Spotify automatically suggests more songs it thinks I’ll like.
And I can listen to these and add them to the playlist!
Get Recommendations from Spotify with “Similar Playlists”
Here’s a super cool tool that you probably didn’t know about.
You can click on the menu for your playlist and tell Spotify to make a similar playlist.
And when you do that, you’ll get a new playlist full of songs that Spotify thinks you’ll also like.
Some of this is in English because Spotify knows that I also listen to English music. But the majority of it is in Chinese…and they’re songs I’ve never encountered before.
So I can add these news songs to my original playlists and continue growing it.
Listen to the “Radio”
Let’s say you have a song that you really, really love. You want more stuff like it. Like, you’ve found your song.
You can tell Spotify to play a radio station based on that specific song.
Let’s make a radio station based on this song that Spotify’s similar playlist suggested for me.
I click on the 3 dots to the right of the song and choose “Go to Song Radio.”
And Spotify takes me to this playlist:
Notice the 166 followers? That means Spotify has already created this playlist and 166 people have added it to their shortcuts.
That also means you can’t modify this playlist. But you can mine it to add the songs to your playlist.
Here’s some Chinese-language music I added to my playlist:
Good stuff, right?
Music Tip: Indulge Your Curiosity
Probably the biggest thing I’ve gotten, as a person, from studying foreign languages, is that openness to experience. You’re familiar with the OCEAN (or CANOE) personality traits, right? (Tangent, but Meyers-Briggs was debunkedyears agoand please stop using it.)
The O stands for openness to experience. How curious are you? How big is your imagination? How many unconventional ideas do you hold? Learning a new language inherently requires cultivating this trait.
Anyway, I want you to indulge yourself here and sneak through some of the other countries and see what they’re listening to. I found this bop in Japanese and I listened to it on a loop all weekend. (And I don’t even speak Japanese.)
…but do you know why else this is important?
You’re going to encounter a lot of types of music that you don’t jive with but that your target language’s countries love.
For example, I really don’t love American country music. But when I studied abroad in Brazil? Country music is huge there. In the Northeast, where I was, it’s called farró. And it’s a big deal.
Do you have any idea how rude and wasteful it would have been to outright reject farró because it’s country music, and I don’t like country music?
There’s a difference between having a specific taste—I still don’t seek out farró—and outright rejecting something. And I found common ground when I encountered musicians like Paula Fernandes, who was a lot like Taylor Swift before she went full pop.
Not quite farró—just like how Swift wasn’t always quite country—but closer. And I adore Paula Fernandes. I can still sing that song, Pássaro de fogo, from memory, nearly 10 years after I learned it.
I never would have found her if I wasn’t open to it.
Music is such a universal human experience. When I was in Brazil, I bonded with some of my classmates and my host family over music. Just being able to talk about it and sing together is powerful—even right now, in a socially distanced world.
Give it a try. Let yourself be surprised.
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