Who doesn’t love discovering a new song that’s catchy, speaks to you on an emotional level and something that you can listen to multiple times. Especially if you happen to be a lyricist, poet, writer, artist, etc. They express the feelings of the author in an eloquent manner. One cannot help but be either enchanted or repulsed by the combination of words strung together. I find that lyrics help uncover ways for us to create our own poetry or lyrics in our new language(s). Wouldn’t that be fantastic to be able express ourselves fluidly without having to worry about whether what we said was correct or not. That’s where I feel you can get away with breaking the rules a bit. But should we break the rules of our target language to do? Absolutely! How else are we going to discover how your target language(s) work(s)?
It depends on the song itself. Some lyrics have very useful vocabulary that you can use in your everyday life. Others could be obscure or even outdated. What could be interesting thing to look for are questions used in the song itself. Which parts of the lyrics have questions in them? Are they complex or something one could say in an everyday scenario? If you like the song enough to where you can sing along to them. Sing along to the song with just the lyrics and no translations whatsoever. Then look up what the lyrics mean individually. Don’t visit sites like LyricsTranslate until you have translated the lyrics yourself first. If you’re still having trouble translating the lyrics then use a site like LyricsTranslate to help you. Which words or phrases do you hear in the song that you hear native speakers use all the time? Or perhaps in many other songs as well. Look at the sentence structure of how sentences are formed in the lyrics. Do they sound natural, poetic or a bit too odd.
There are lyrics out there where the lyrics are so out there that even native speakers don’t understand what the lyrics are trying to say. Sometimes this is because the singer is a non-native speaker of the language and either isn’t fluent enough in the language to recognise their error(s) or they don’t speak the language at all and just want to appeal to a larger audience. As infamously seen in Eurovision every year. If that’s the case, you may find that these sorts of lyrics don’t serve a purpose with your language learning.
There comes a point in your language learning journey where you come across lyrics that are heavily copyrighted that you cannot find them online. This has more to do with the singer/band themselves and their production companies. Sometimes it simply cannot be helped. My only tip for this is to try to write down what you hear. Although, this can just as easily lead to misheard lyrics. Which can actually be both hilarious and hinder your ability to comprehend the song. It might be a fun experiment (assuming videos are available of course) to find a sing with misheard lyrics and compare it with its original lyrics. Anyway, if you cannot find lyrics despite your efforts you may to move on to a different song. Or at least until they are available online or you’re able to obtain them in some way or another. If you can’t find what you’re looking for you move on to the next thing.
Example Song- Kent- Berlin
Let’s a look a song by a Swedish band called Kent with a song called: “Berlin”, which doesn’t actually have anything to do with Berlin, Germany about from refering to distance. You can find the full lyrics here along with an English translation if you’re interested in learning Swedish or like the song. Let’s have a look at the first verse of the song:
Visst är natten svart
Visst är marken kall
Men vi fryser tillsammans
Två benrangel skrallar i takt
Du står utanför
Jag står utanför
Ur besvikelsen, skammen
kom långsamt en känsla av makt.
Here you can see that a few words have repeated themselves here: “Visst”, “står”, “är” and “utanför”. What do these words mean? Well, “visst” means “certainly” or “surely”, “står” is the present tense of the verb: “Att stå” which in this context means “to stand”, and finally “utanför” means “outside”. “Är” is the present tense of the irregular verb: “Att vara”, which means “To be” in English. As you can already see, one has already learned 3 useful aspects of the Swedish language: conjugating a verb in the present tense, the adverb “visst” and the word for “outside”. From there we get “står utanför” which means “stand outside” which is actually people do on a regular basis (for the most part anyway). Before “står utanför”, you will notice two different words before them: “Jag” and “Du” which mean “I” and “You (singular)” in Swedish. Now you have two complete sentences: “You stand outside.” and “I stand outside”.
Now let’s look at the words that come immediately after “visst är” in the first two sentences: “natten” “svart”, “marken” and “kall”. “Natten” means “the night”, “Svart” means “black”, “marken” means “the ground” and “kall” means “cold” in Swedish. From both Natten and Marken you can see the common gender ending -en which is the equivalent of the word: “The” in English or “El or La” in Spanish. Together we get the sentences: “Surely, the night is black. Surely, the ground is cold.” We already learn a colour, time of day and a word that not only describes the temperature outside but a feeling too.
“Men vi fryser tillsammans”- This sentence includes a useful preposition that one would use frequently and that word is “Men”- which means “but” in English. “We” is the next word followed by the present tense of the verb: “Att frysa”, which means “freeze” followed by the word “tillsammans” or “together” in English. “But we freeze together/but we are freezing together” is what we get from this sentence.
“Två benrangel skrallar i takt”- This sentence has a number that you hear all the time in Swedish. That word is “Två” or “Two”. Since it’s indicating a number you know that it’s describing two of something from the next word. “Benrangel” means “bag of bones”. So there’s two bags of bones. How scary! What are the bags of bones doing or being done to the bags of bones? Let’s have a look at the verb: “Att skralla”, which is “skrallar” in present tense. Now we get the phrase: “Two bags of bones rattling.” The two words following it “skrallar” is “i takt” which means “in step” or “in time”. So “Två benrangel skrallar i takt.” would mean “Two bags of bones are rattling in step/time.” But wait a moment? That doesn’t quite make sense. When this happens try to find a word that flows better with the intended phrase. Such as “at the same beat” or “along”. Since lyrics and poetry don’t translate well and the powerful meaning of the song or poem could be deleted upon translation. Sometimes, you can get lucky and it will translate just as dynamically as it does in it’s original language. That is usually quite rare.
In fact, you’ll notice that for singer and bands who sing in multiple languages, you’ll notice that they have different lyrics. Even though the song is essentially the same. The song needs different words and phrases in the new language in order for it to flow and give off a similarly powerful message like the original lyrics do. Laura Pausini is a fantastic example of this. Compare her songs: Una Storia Che Vale (Lyrics) and Dos Historias Iguales (Lyrics), the song is exactly the same but the lyrics differentiate from each other. One title means “A worthwhile story” and the other title means: “Two identical stories”, which obviously carries a different meaning than “A worthwhile story” but it’s still a compelling alternative.
What do you think? Do you use lyrics to help you learn foreign languages? What are your favourite songs in your target languages? Have any singer/band recommendations for people learning your native or target languages? I would love to hear from you! 😀