In the last post on cool tools and gadgets to give your language learning a boost we looked at recording your own voice as a way to improve your language skills. There is often no fiercer critic than yourself; and having the cold, hard light of day shone on your dodgy pronunciation is a great way to improve, I hope you all gave it a try?
Today’s tip is slightly more nerdy, but still free and simple if you stick to the basics. A great way to learn a language; and particularly improve your listening skills, fluency, muscle memory and pronunciation is by listening and singing along to music in the language you are learning. There are a load of studies on how music can improve memory and focus. I won’t go into those now but I think intuitively we know that music can change our mood (for the better and worse) and for most of us remembering large chunks of a chorus is inherently easier than a paragraph from a book.
So today is all about using music to help your fluency, but following the theme of tools and gadgets we’re going to focus on a great free tool called Audacity. Audacity allows you to slow music down while maintaining close-to-the-original pitch and tone, so you can master the lyrics at a pace you can manage without having to distort the words.
First things first, we’re going to be working with MP3 files in this example (though if you have music in other digital formats it will probably work), this is a standard music format and is likely what you have on your digital player (unless you have an Ipod in which case read this tutorial). If this is all Greek to you (and you don’t happen to be learning Greek) see the bottom of this article for links to more information.
- OK, so we’re assuming at this stage you have a supply of MP3s in the language you want to work with (otherwise try Amazon), so now go to the Audacity web page http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/ and download and install the latest version (currently in BETA) for your system. For licensing reasons you also need to install a separate MP3 encoder/decoder called Lame, instructions are here.
- Once installed you will see a screen looking like this – don’t be intimidated by it, you can do a million things but we only want to do one for now.
- Next you need to open the MP3 file to work with so go to File > Import > Audio and find the file on your hard drive, then click Open
- If you have done this correctly it will look like this:
- Go to Effect > change tempo (NB specifically “change tempo” not “change speed”)
- From this screen you can set the amount of speed change you want. There is no right or wrong setting, if the song is naturally slow you may not need to reduce it much, but start with a small amount (say 5%) and increase as you go, use the preview function to give you an idea of how much it has slowed down.
- Once you have clicked ok, you will notice the wavy lines look like they’ve been pulled apart a bit, click on the play button at the top:
And there you have it. If all has gone well you should hear the song in good pitch (this will deteriorate somewhat the more you reduce the tempo so you need to find the balance), go through the song a few times and then try speeding it up. You can then either export the slowed down version back to MP3 for your music player, or just keep it in Audacity.
As part of the process it is well worth writing out the lyrics as you go as well it will only add to the value you will get from this exercise, use it as a fun listening test and have your tutor or a native speaker friend check it out.
Oh, as promised here are some additional links: