Learning as many languages as possible is a pretty common theme for me, as you may have noticed. But how does one go about exploring new languages without enrolling in a class or subscribing to an online tutorial?
My favorite method of sampling new languages is through music. At my latest count, I have songs in 14 different languages on my iPod: Japanese, Chinese, Irish, Russian, Swedish, Norwegian, Romanian, German, Hindi, Hawaiian, Latin, Italian, French, and Spanish. I can sing along with at least one song in each language. Can I translate these songs? Most of the time, no. But because accents largely disappears when singing, it becomes easier to imitate correct pronunciation in a song than in a normally spoken sentence. Singing along to foreign songs gives me a very real sense of what it would be like to speak that language fluently.
Listening to music in a foreign language has the same effect as listening to a native speaker talk, because you can hear fluent sentence structure and vocal patterns. Plus, you know that annoying experience where you get a song stuck in your head, and a certain section of it plays over and over for the next few days? That mental repetition is incredibly helpful for learning lyrics, which is a small step towards actually learning the language.
What has been shocking to me is realizing how different a language can sound from how I would imagine it based on a written sample. A perfect example of this is Runrig’s song “An Toll Dubh,” which is sung in Irish. I listened to it essentially on repeat for a couple of days, marveling at the indistinct, rolling rhythm of the lyrics. Try listening to it now.
Then I decided to look up the lyrics and read along with the song–and I realized that Irish is the single most incomprehensible language I have ever seen. It took me several times of listening to the song to even begin to see which stanza the song was on, much less pronounce the lyrics myself! Comparing the sung pronunciation to the written lyrics makes me want to learn Irish, just so that I can understand this fascinatingly different pronunciation.
What about you? Do you see music as a helpful tool for learning a foreign language? What are your favorite non-English speaking musicians?