Everyone knows the key to language learning is immersion, but upping sticks and moving to the country where your language originates from is a huge commitment and not always possible.
However. There are a few things you can do to help your learning along. Watching films (with or without subtitles, depending on how brave you are), reading an online magazine or newspaper entirely in the language you’re trying to learn, and if you’re really fearless, try changing the language on all your devices – phone, tablet, computer and so on. Just be sure you know enough words to change it back.
My personal favourite way though, which I actually use myself when I am learning, is to listen to music. There is no quicker way to immerse yourself in a language, learn pronunciation, subject word order, vocabulary, colloquialisms, hidden meanings and double entendres, and so on. The list is technically endless and completely adaptable to whatever level you are.
Here are my five favourite English songs that I use in class with my students; what would you add to the list?
Passenger – Let Her Go
This song is perfect for learning English. The song is played just about everywhere so it’s instantly recognisable, the pace is not slow enough to make you feel daft but not so quick as to make you feel lost, and the most important thing is that Mike Rosenberg, the singer and face of Passenger, has a beautiful, clear voice that not only is nice to listen to but easy to understand.
Coldplay – The Scientist
Another really good song for learning. Clear lyrics, slow pace, understandable voice, (thanks, Chris Martin), and an interesting video to talk or think about once you know all the words. Resultant group discussions have included trains, drinking and driving, graffiti, and the environment. Watch the video if you’re not sure why.
Snow Patrol – Chasing Cars
What is good about this one is not so much the pace of the song but the simplicity of the lyrics. The verses are really short, and Gary Lightbody’s pronunciation on this one is a gentle exposure to the Irish accent in song. If you choose this song as one of the first to learn with, you’ll feel a real sense of achievement quickly because it’s such a simple one to learn.
Muse – Feeling Good
Music trivia for you first: did you know that this song was first written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for the 1965 musical The Roar of the Greasepaint and has been covered by, amongst others, Nina Simone, Sammy Davis Jr and Michael Bublé? I have chosen the Muse version because I personally love Muse, plus Matt Bellamy’s voice on this one is slightly harder than my previous suggestions. Why is this a good thing? Well, the song is very recognisable and most people have heard at least one version of it, so when you hear this version you’ll likely know some of the lyrics already and will be exposed to yet another accent – and you’ll understand it. Bonus!
Maximo Park – Acrobat
I am a mean teacher. Or I can be. So when I am presented with a student who says they can understand all English lyrics and I know otherwise, I give them this track to try. Because all the verses on this track are spoken, which sounds easy, doesn’t it? It’s not. The beautiful Paul Smith is from Teeside, so firstly we have the exposure to the accent and secondly, he doesn’t speak slowly at all. By the time you get to the first chorus you’ll probably throw your pen down in relief and look at your paper in alarm with the five words you’ve managed to scribble down. But it’s worth it. I promise.
If you’re not sure how to use music to learn a language, here’s my ‘how to’:
- Choose a song and listen to it a couple of times.
- Listen again and start writing down the lyrics that you recognise. Repeat as often as your patience allows.
- Look up the lyrics, either with something like AZLyrics or Lyric Translate, the latter of which will actually have your lyrics and the translated version side by side.
- Watch a lyric video so you can see the words whilst you hear them. Singing is optional but hey, why not?
Sound easy? Give it a go!
This Saturday is the final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2014 in Denmark, with 125 million people expected to watch across Europe and beyond. The contest, now in its 59th year, has become known for its wacky performances and tends to divide opinion; while some people love it (although maybe not as much as this man), others claim to find it tacky. But I think most people can agree that whether you take it seriously or not, Eurovision is good fun. (Even if sometimes you need a drink or two to help you through it.) Here are our ten favourite things about Eurovision:
1. Russian Grannies
I had to put this first because it was one of my favourite ever Eurovision moments. The song on its own is fairly forgettable, but what made it amazing was the elderly ladies who managed to incorporate baking into their performance at the 2012 contest. I’m still not sure what it had to do with a Party for Everybody, but it was brilliant, and I’m still disappointed that it didn’t win.
The Irish dance act were first discovered when they performed during the interval of the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994. Known for its amazing synchronicity, energy and rhythm, Riverdance went on to become a worldwide phenomenon. So if you’re not a fan, now you know who to blame.
3. Romanian rivalries
In the UK, it’s not seen as very ‘cool’ to enjoy Eurovision, but some other countries take it incredibly seriously. In Romania, for example, it’s a really big deal and apparently it’s traditional for the acts to try and win a place by discrediting their opponents.
4. The voting
How could I not mention the political voting? Half the fun of Eurovision is predicting who’s going to give points to who. Greece and Cyprus usually vote for each other, as do the Scandinavian countries and the Balkans. If that sort of thing interests you, this is a useful summary. Unfortunately, the political voting tends to leave the UK in a precarious position; we often get votes from Ireland, and sometimes Malta, but not very often from anyone else…
5. The UK
While we’re on the subject, let’s take a look at the UK’s Eurovision record. It’s hard to believe looking at recent history, but apparently it’s one of the most successful countries, winning five times since our first appearance in 1957. The last win was in 1997, with Katrina and the Waves, and since then we’ve not been doing so well, finishing last three times. The first of these was in 2003, when we scored an embarrassing ‘nul points’. Apparently this year’s entry, Children of the Universe, by singer-songwriter Molly, is expected to do well. I’ll believe it when I see it.
It’s not often that a Eurovision act goes on to have a successful long term career, but one exception is Swedish group ABBA. Not only did they win the contest for Sweden in 1974, they went on to sell over 380 million albums worldwide. Their music also featured in the hit film Muriel’s Wedding and the award-winning musical, Mamma Mia! (And the movie version, which introduced the world to the singing ‘talents’ of Pierce Brosnan.)
7. Alcohol is Free
Regardless of your views on drinking, it’s hard not to tap your foot along to Alcohol is Free, by Koza Mostra and Agathonas Iakovidis, a.k.a. the Greek answer to Madness. They finished sixth in 2013.
We love Finland; they always come up with something memorable. Last year was the catchy Marry Me, which ended with that kiss, but nothing beats 2006 entry Hard Rock Hallelujah, by Lordi. Eurovision isn’t known for its heavy metal, preferring to stick to happy songs about how we should all love each other. But the alternative approach seemed to do the trick; the band won that year’s contest.
Warning: this video contains flashing lights and monster masks!
9. Language rules
Eurovision used to have a very strict rule about countries only singing in their native language, which has been lifted and restored a few times over the years. These days, many of the competing countries choose to perform in English, but some remain loyal to their own language; France and Spain are two examples. When I was growing up, there were more songs in other languages than there are today, and we used to enjoy turning on the subtitles and watching them struggle to translate the lyrics. Songs in English have won 28 times, followed by French, with 14 wins.
This was a popular choice in the EuroTalk office. Every now and again, Eurovision does actually produce a good song, and Fairytale was the one that we all thought of. The Norwegian entry for 2009 featured violinist Alexander Rybak, and won with a record-breaking 387 points out of a possible 492. For some reason, Alexander and his dancers were also a bit of a hit with the ladies…
Have we left out your favourite thing about Eurovision? Let us know in the comments!