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In my almost 4 years of living in China, Chinese music has just never really done it for me. My one love is 小苹果 by the Chopstick Brothers because it is one of the most cheesy, and addictive songs I have ever heard. Plus the music video is awesome and pretty original.
Recently however, I’ve heard more and more people talking about using Chinese songs to learn Chinese from. But, if you do some digging around on Youtube, Youku or even Kougou (China’s music streamer) and look past the generic pop music that is common in China, you CAN find some music that you might actually enjoy (even if it’s a guilty pleasure) and learn Chinese from it. In fact, researching for this blog post and listening to recommended songs has really educated me on the different kinds of Chinese music out there.
Learning a language from music is not revolutionary of course, back in my teaching days I was always using songs to teach vocabulary and dialogue. A friend of mine from Macedonia is a big Arctic Monkeys fan and has sometimes asked me about lyrics, that were maybe culturally specific, and because of it, she uses Manchurian slang and Northern colloquialisms (and I think this is great!)
Not only is Chinese music a great way to learn Mandarin, but you’ll definitely impress your Chinese friends at KTV if you belt out a number in Mandarin. KTV is a massively popular past time in China. You can hire a room with your friends, get some beers, peanuts, choose a 90s pop song and you’re ready to rock and roll. No one feels embarrassed singing, you could be tone deaf and everyone will cheer you on and clap afterwards.
So, to start you the path of appreciating Chinese music (even if it’s just to help you learn), here are 10 Chinese Songs to Learn Mandarin With:
Chopstick Brothers – Little Apple (小苹果)
By far my favourite Chinese song, the Chopstick Bros are actor, director, producer duo Wang Taili and Xiao Yang, who used the song 小苹果 as a promotional song for their movie Old Boys: The Way of the Dragon (老男孩之猛龙过江). It’s cheesy, its fun and it’s so addictive you won’t want to stop singing this song. You can pick the chorus up quickly enough and you’ll be dancing around the room dressed like a mermaid in no time (watch the video to understand this reference!). Follow the pinyin using this video.
Teresa Teng (邓丽君) – The Moon Represents My Heart
Teresa Teng, a Taiwanese pop star known for her soft ballads is probably known best for ‘The Moon Represents My Heart.’ Her songs are often slow, soothing and quite easy to translate. The language she uses is simple but sweet and perfect for learning Chinese.
Jay Chou (周杰伦) – Obviously
Recently married Jay Chou has probably broken hearts of many a Chinese girl with his romantic pop songs. Known as the King of Asian Pop, his music has become popular all over the world. Check out this page: for an explanation and translation of his lyrics into pinyin and English.
Tong Li takes the lyrics of an old song and combines it with romance and a hint of sadness. The stringed instruments and Chinese melody makes it an easy and enjoyable listen and it’s slow speed will help you understand and learn the lyrics quickly.
Phoenix Legend (凤凰传奇) – When You Cry
Nice KTV number here from musical duo Phoenix legend. Their folk inspired lyrics are simple and easy to listen to, along with with Mongolian, Yang Wei’s edgy voice.
Faye Wong (王菲) – I’m Willing (我願意)
Known widely for her Cantopop, Wong has also recorded many of her songs in Mandarin. ‘I’m Willing’ is one of her biggest hits in Mandarin.
G.E.M – Love You
Young singer, Gloria Tang Tsz-kei has made a name for herself in recent years with western influenced tracks such as this one also known as A.Y.N.I. It’s pop music, but her lyrics are simple enough to listen to and learn from. You can check out the lyrics with both pinyin and English here.
MC HotDog is a Taiwanese rap artist and although I’m not personally a huge fan of this kind of music, same line is repeated 100 times, so it’s definitely a good one to learn from. If nothing else you’ll remember ‘差不多’
Cui Jian (崔健) – Nothing To My Name
Cui Jian is known as the ‘Father of Chinese Rock’ and just listening to this track you can hear Western influences in his music. The particular track was extremely influential in China, especially during the late 80s…You can read the English translation here.
Wang Feng has quite an appealing voice that reminds me of British singer, Sting. It’s rock music, but easy listening and quite enjoyable. His lyrics are clear and interesting and great as a song to learn Chinese from.
Don’t forget to check out GAS, the Spanish band who sing in Mandarin! You can watch their music video and learn the lyrics to their song ‘The Everlasting Freshman’ here
You can also take a look at our NEW Music Vault full of Chinese songs recommended by Written Chinese users. If you know of a band or artist I haven’t mentioned, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll add it to the list!