When I’m curious about a new language, the first thing I do is YouTube search “[language] folk music/folk song.” I love doing this– I feel like old, traditional songs open a small window onto a foreign culture. Here are some of my favorites– beware the deluge of YouTube links!
[Yiddish] (a depressing but beautiful song)
[Xhosa/Zulu/Sesotho– South African national anthem… so not quite a folk song]
Anyways, before I get too carried away with links, I think you can tell how much I love traditional music. Unlike most popular music, folk music uses the culture’s own melodies and tonality (and believe me, I still love modern music, but for much different reasons!). In terms of the languages themselves, traditional songs generally use repetitive, simple vocabulary, which is great for learning lyrics. The melodies are catchy, because these songs were meant to be passed down aurally (or they’re based on older songs that were meant to be rote memorized). I have the first two verses of Katyusha memorized even though I’ve hardly studied Russian 🙂
But honestly, I don’t like to listen to folk music for its practicality. I don’t think we should always be looking for the most efficient way of cramming vocab and grammar into our heads. Rather, I love how the lyrics of these songs reveal a culture’s values, sense of humor, and sorrows better than any essay, better than browsing the internet in the target language, and possibly even better than a trip to the country.
These songs simply make me feel something and make me marvel at the variety of cultures that use the languages I love to learn.