As a Mandarin student, you may have heard the phrase "KTV" or "卡拉OK" (kǎlā ok) at some point in your studies. Whether you heard it from your native friends or your teacher, you'll know that KTV, or karaoke, is a big part of Chinese culture. Singing karaoke songs is one of the few ways that Chinese locals love to unwind, relax, and cool-off at the end of the day. It's also a great way to reconnect with old friends or socialize and bond with new ones. As a Mandarin learner, using music will help you break the mold of studying the books and flashcards and give you a fresh way to learning a language.
Why Music is a Great Way to Learn Chinese
You may be thinking, "Is singing CPop really one of the best ways to learn a language?" Yes - it is! Music is a catchy way to learn, remember, and utilize new vocabulary or grammar phrases that you may never have known about. It also helps you practice proper pronunciation, proper phrase usage, and gives you something to talk about with Chinese friends. Additionally, words and phrases used in music tend to be colloquial and relevant to the social culture at the time. This is another avenue for you, as a Mandarin student, to expose yourself to local Chinese culture. While singing in front of people can be terribly frightening, let alone in a language you're not quite confident in just yet, there are ways you can prepare to have fun at your next KTV hangout.
How to Prepare Before a KTV Session
Before giving you some tips, we must point out that yes, Chinese karaoke songs are tough if you're just starting! It'll feel like the words are passing too quickly and you don't understand anything at all. But don't fret - there are steps to take to overcome this frustration.
Essentially, as silly as it sounds, do your research. Take the time to sit at home and look up lyrics to your favorite CPop songs, dissect the meaning of the words, and practice singing in the privacy of your own home. A great way to learn through music is by actually understanding what you're singing. This not only helps you memorize the song faster, but it also helps expose you to new vocabulary used in the right context. If you have the time, write out the characters to the song and highlight/underline any words you don't understand. Find the definitions, practice singing, and watch as you begin to retain and use new vocabulary casually.
If you're worried about sounding well, don't! KTV is a place to let loose and sing as well or as poorly as you like. Most likely as the night goes on and the booze continues to flow, you won't even be worried about sounding like Beyonce anymore. All of this will prepare you for your next KTV party and you'll feel more than ready to sing along.
Follow the Proper KTV Etiquette
Like any good Chinese cultural activity, there's always going to be some necessary etiquette to keep in mind.
Don't go to a KTV session and not sing at least once. Unless your friends know you very well, others may feel worried that you're not having fun, especially those who invited you to join. Avoiding participation will most likely lead to a less enjoyable time for the whole group, so try to sing at least once, even if you're a bit shy. Remember to practice at home to build up that confidence!
Don't be a 麥霸/麦霸 (mài bà), or mic hog. This is a big faux pas in the KTV world. Avoid having the mic at all times and let others have fun. Unless your friends are tired of singing, give everyone a chance to belt out some tunes.
Remember to socialize, not be mesmerized! Of course, it's natural to pay attention to the singer on stage, but don't forget to socialize with the friends around you. KTV parties are meant to be a place where people relax. Think of this as a time to unwind on the couch and sing some songs, chat with friends, and eat snacks. There's no need to focus your undivided attention on the singer with the mic. Keep it casual and have fun with your CPop karaoke songs!
5 Classic & CPop Chinese Karaoke Songs To Learn
Like any music genre, everyone has their preferences. This list is a jumping point for some classic songs to try. If you're feeling adventurous, go on a journey and discover some of your own favorites. Keep in mind, some of the classics are older songs, but most Chinese natives know them by heart. After all the preparation and etiquette lessons, here is a shortlist of five classic (and CPop) songs for you to practice.
Classic Chinese Songs
- 小薇 (2002) (xiǎo wēi) by 黃品源 (huáng pǐn yuán)
- 甜蜜蜜 (1979) (tián mì mì) by 鄧麗君(dèng lì jūn)
- 紅豆 (1988) (hóng doù) by 王菲 (wáng fēi)
- 月亮代表我的心 (1977) (yuè liàng dài biǎo wǒ de xīn) by 鄧麗君(dèng lì jūn)
- 朋友 (1997) (péng yǒu) by 周华建 (zhōu huá jiàn)
Modern CPop Songs
- 小幸运 (2015) (xiǎo xìng yùn) by 田馥甄 (tián fù zhēn)
- 告白氣球 (2016) (gào bái qì qiú) by 周杰倫 (zhōu jié lún)
- 流星雨 (2004) (liú xīng yǔ) by F4
- 勇氣 (2020) (yǒng qì) by 棉子 (mián zǐ)
- 後來的我們 (2016) (hòu lái de wǒhmen) by 五月天 (wǔ yuè tiān)
Go Sing Your Heart Out!
Now it's your turn to put these tips into action and try singing some songs on your own. Once you learn these Chinese songs and understand their meanings, you'll definitely feel less intimidated to join the next KTV session. If you want to brush up on your pronunciation, check out these Speechling tips on mastering pronunciations. Or if you simply want a break from singing, check out these top 10 best Chinese movies for learning Mandarin.
Whatever your preferred method may be, singing Chinese karaoke songs is definitely one of the best ways to learn a language!