When Paula de Santiago watches the music video for the song “5 Sentidos” by Spanish boy band Dvicio, she hears more than just an ear-worm chorus of “solo contigo” and sees more than just a wedding party that escalates into a cake fight among the bandmates and actors.
Instead, de Santiago sees a vocabulary lesson her college-level Spanish language classes won’t soon forget, bringing new context to terms like “borracho” (drunk) and the chorus (which translates to “only with you”).
Dvicio's version of a wedding in the video for "5 Sentidos"
Her students use an app called Lirica to watch the videos and lyrics translations, and answer quizzes during the song to make sure they understand the words and verb tenses. The tool has avid listeners among investors as well, who recently provided the eponymous company with $1 million in seed funding. Sony Music, Veridian Ventures and a group of private investors participated.
“If [students] get bored, it becomes very difficult to learn, to get their attention,” says de Santiago, a 37-year-old instructor at the London School of Economics and King’s College London. “It’s a great motivation, music. It shows language, it shows emotions.”
Based in London, Lirica is not alone in its approach to turning pop songs into educational lessons. Across the Channel, Paris-based Studytracks raised about $1.2 million this week. In the U.S., other technology startups that incorporate songs into lessons, including Lingokids and Roybi, have won over investors.
What could give Lirica a leg up is a partnership with Sony, which helps it navigate licensing issues that can emerge when it comes to repurposing billboard hits for the classroom, says Lirica founder and CEO Paul Custance.
Screenshots of Lirica app.
And his company comes at a time of popularity and innovation in Latin music. Music data firm BuzzAngle reported in January that consumption of Latin albums and songs has surpassed those of country, electronic dance music and religious music. Especially strong are video streams, behind only hip-hop and rap.
Custance, 34, came up with the idea while working as a finance director at Sony Music. He wanted to learn Spanish for his work with those artists in Sony’s roster, but couldn’t find a product he liked. But he could still remember French nursery rhymes like “Frere Jacques” from his school days, and believed in the power of repetitive choruses to help students learn.
For example, the Nicky Jam and Enrique Iglesias song “El Perdon”—about someone missing a loved—becomes a lesson in present continuous tense with phrases like “estoy sufriendo” (“I’m suffering”) and “esto me esta matando” (“this is killing me”), Custance says.
"El Perdon" is an example of using the present continuous tense in Spanish.
Launched in 2017, Lirica has grown to six full-time employees, over 50,000 downloads and 32 songs on the app for now—though Sony Music has a catalogue of thousands of Spanish songs. Custance declined to say how many educators use the app currently but said a Lirica for schools version should launch in January with age-appropriate music in Spanish, French and German.
Six songs are available with a weeklong free trial. After that, subscribers pay $4.99 a month. The company expects to increase the price as the catalogue grows.
Currently, all the songs on the app are in Spanish. The funding rounds will help the company add songs in French and German targeted for native English speakers, as well as titles for users who are learning English as a foreign language.
For de Santiago, the Spanish language instructor from London, using the app has brought some energy to her classes of about 16 students. Plus, once her students understand what artists are actually singing in crossover Spanish-language songs like “Despacito,” they become better fans. “They no longer have to pretend to know the songs,” she says.