On Songs and Language Learning


At 16, I listened to Austin’s Latino pop station on the radio. When I heard a song I liked, I would listen intently for the song’s keywords and cement them into my memory. As soon as I got home and had internet access, I’d Google them with the hope of discovering the song title and its lyrics. Although I couldn’t really speak Spanish yet, I was usually able to find the song I was looking for.

Next, I would print the lyrics and try to decipher what the song said, looking up any unknown phrases or words on FreeTranslation.com. But because there was still so much Spanish I didn’t know, it was almost always impossible for me to figure out the meaning completely. That didn’t stop me from studying the lyrics until I knew I would be able to sing along the next time I heard this song. Using this method, I discovered “Tocando Fondo” by Kalimba, Reik’s “Noviembre Sin Ti” and “Que Vida la Mia, and possibly my favorite, “Tardes Negras” by Tiziano Ferro.

Recently, we were eating at a restaurant and “Tocando Fondo” by Kalimba started to play. And unlike when I was 16, I heard it and I understood every single word. What used to be a beautiful, foreign language, dangled in front of me, always just a bit out of my reach, has become something I just understand. Without Googling, without FreeTranslation.com, without even really trying.

I think it’s time for me to learn a new language. I’ve wanted that language to be Italian ever since I went on the whirlwind tour of Europe with Melinda and Sophie after college graduation and one day, our tour guide introduced us to his favorite Italian song, “Con Te Partirò” by Andrea Bocelli, as we were driving from Italy into Switzerland on the tour bus. It was the most beautiful song I’d ever heard.

My Italian-learning was forced to take a sideline when I moved to Mexico. I figured that simultaneously learning two romance languages would be confusing and overly ambitious. But last year, on a trip to Rome with my sister, my desire to master Italy’s mother tongue was reignited. Because of its similarities to Spanish, I found myself understanding bits and pieces of conversations around town and even successfully placing an order at a cafe (never mind that I only ordered two cappuccinos) and understanding when the employee told me the price. Yes, Italian it would be.

After not worrying about it for the first few months of Sophia’s life, I’ve started to learn. Even if I did have time, formal Italian classes are a little bit out of the budget right now. So I’m learning it the best way I know how: through songs. Did you know that  the original version of Tiziano Ferro’s “Tardes Negras” is in Italian? It’s called “Sere Nere,” and it just somehow feels fitting that the same melody is helping me learn another language. By my calculations, I’ll be speaking Italian sometime around 2031.



One Comment Add yours

  1. Jill Douglas says:

    The whole being able to understand every single word–isn’t that great? For years (OK–it still is) my favorite song is . . . shoot, I don’t even know the name, but I think it’s Mejor Amiga by Polo Montañez (I consulted the CD . . . still not positive that’s the right song). Anyway, before I could understand the words, I let Mario know that I LOVED that song, and he just looked at me like I was crazy. “That’s the saddest song in the world!” But it’s so upbeat. And even now that I understand the lyrics, I still love it. Being upbeat in the midst of unrequited love . . . yeah, that makes a good song! And life philosophy. 😉 Anyway, thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.