Malmö Arena, venue for the Eurovision Song Contest 2024. Werner Nystrand/imagebank.sweden.se

Eurovision of Languages – 2024 Edition!

It feels like we only just said goodbye to the last one, and another Eurovision Song Content has rolled around again. Once a veritable garden of languages, all competing broadcasters were re-granted a free choice of song language in 1999. Sadly (for linguaphiles) that’s meant English lyrics for the most part.

But linguistic diversity has found a way, too, and not just thanks to those hardy regulars like France, Italy, Portugal and Spain that almost never disappoint with home-language lyrics. The 2023 edition saw the welcome return of tongues long-missed on the Eurovision stage, like Finnish and Russian.

So how does 2024 measure up against that pretty high bar?

The Eurovision Language Contest 2024

Big Firsts

Notably, we have two language debuts at this year’s contest. Azerbaijan, entering since 2008 without a word of Azeri, finally treats us to a few words of this beautiful Turkic language in the entry Özünlə apar (take me with you). And from Australia, a competing member of the family since 2015, we have the uplifting song One Milkali (One Blood) featuring lyrics in Yankunytjatjara, a Pama-Nyungan language from Western Australia. Azeri and Yankunytjatjara may not feature as their full entry texts, but it is a beautiful thing to celebrate new languages on the Eurovision stage!

As an aside, as one commenting fan dubbed it, it’s that moment when Yankunytjatjara makes it to Eurovision before Scottish Gaelic and Welsh. We UK fans live in hope…

There’s a first for Armenian, too. While we’ve heard the language in previous entries, 2024 is the first time it will be the sole language of an Armenian entry. Jako has a world music fusion vibe, and a simple message of be yourself, which is a noble sentiment in any language.

Many Happy Returns

The it’s been TOO long! prize must go to Norway this year. Norway has sent a song with Swahili lyrics (2010) more recently than it has one på norsk (2006). The latter, Christine Guldbrandsen’s Alvedansen, didn’t even do particularly badly, so heaven knows what put them off.

This year, though, Norwegian folk metallists Gåte were the surprise vanquishers of fan favourites Keiino, pipping them to the Norwegian ticket with the song Ulveham and breaking the Norwegian drought. Its beautifully haunting arrangement builds on traditional Kulning calls from the mountain herds of Norway, featuring lyrics drawn from Telemark dialect.

While the return of Finnish was last year’s joy, its loss this year is tempered by the return of its close cousin, Estonian. The collaboration between 5miinust and Puuluup will present (Nendest) narkootikumidest ei tea me (küll) midagi (the crazily-titled We (sure) know nothing about (these) drugs), the first time Estonia has presented its national language since back-to-back eesti keel in 2012 and 2013. Incidentally, it wasn’t all English for Estonia in the interim – they achieved a solid top ten in 2018 with a song in Italian, of all tongues.

Going Dutch, Again

Dutch had fared similarly poorly in the anglophone takeover too – until recently. After one of many mid-noughties semifinal failures, the Netherlands ditched its national language following the 2010 contest. It took until 2022 for Dutch to pop up again, with considerable success – De diepte ended up of the left side of the scoreboard in the Torino contest. Two years later, Dutch is back again, this time with Joost Klein and Europapa.

Lithuania has also shied away from using its home tongue on the Eurovision stage. It took 21 years for the language to be heard again after a mediocre result in English and Lithuanian in 2001. But that return made the 2022 final, with Monika Liu scoring a solid result just outside the top ten. This year, Silvester Belt is aiming to do even better with the catchy Luktelk (Wait).

Greece will be looking to mirror that national language return to success, too. Greece’s last two attempts with full or partial Greek lyrics ended in very rare semifinal failure for the country, in 2016 and 2018. Marina Satti aims to be the first Greek-singing finalist since 2013, with a self-ironising, catchy, ethnopop banger.

Doubling Up

French and Spanish fans have an extra bite at the language cherry this year, and from perhaps surprising sources. Thanks to the return of Luxembourg to the contest – after an incredible 31 years away – we have a song with mixed French and English lyrics in the tally. As for Spanish, we can thank the Sammarinese win of Spanish rockers Megara for the fact that this year’s entry from the microstate will be in Spanish, not Italian or English.

Mixed Bag from the Balkans

We can always count on the Balkans for some non-anglophone fun at Eurovision. This year, we have, interestingly, two proper-name songs in Serbian Ramonda and Slovene Veronika. Only Albanian and Croatian lose out to English entries (although Croatia is doing very well for that as a pre-contest bookies’ favourite!).

The Hardy Annuals

And of course, we have our stalwarts, our indefatigable linguistic champions – France, Italy, Portugal and Spain. They’ve kept the national language flags flying almost without fail throughout the modern free-language era, and we should celebrate each of them for that. Italy in particular is a veritable feast of lyrics, with the hugely talented Angelina Mango firing them out in a fast-paced three minutes. Little wonder that she is also one of this year’s hot favourites for the top.

We might almost add Ukraine to this list, having not only sent, but won in Ukrainian in recent years. Ukraine opts for a cool mix this year with the duo Alyona Alyona and Jerry Heil.

And for the Germanists…

No consolation for the Germanists, this year – again. 2012 was the last time German – or at least a dialect of it – formed part of a Eurovision song lyric. That honour goes to Austria’s Woki mit dem Popo (pretty much shake your bumbum in Upper Austrian dialect), which failed to make the final that year.

Can you believe it’s been that long? Me neither. But there’s small consolation in the fact that Germany had a stonker of a song in their national final this year. Galant’s Katze (cat) may have fallen at the final hurdle, but it has all the makings of a cult classic.

Which are your favourite non-English entries this year? And which language do you yearn to hear again on the Eurovision stage? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

Neon musical notes

Target Language Pop Music on tap! Meet Suno.ai

Pop music can be a really good route in foreign language learning.

Target language pop has long been a great way to practise listening. Diction tends to be slower and more deliberate, and you often have rhyme to help as an aide memoire. Learning snippets of song lyrics give you reusable phrases, as well as a feel for the sound shape of the language.

Up until now, it’s been a case of hunting down artists whose lyrics resonate with you. Easier said than done if you’re new to the target language culture. But now, thanks to a new AI-powered site, you can create music in a language and style of your choice, simply by asking for it!

Instant Music, On Demand

Suno.ai has emerged from obscurity in recent weeks to a flurry of excitement. It takes a musical prompt and transforms it into a fully threshed out track, vocals and all. And the best bit?

It works in multiple languages!

It’s incredibly simple to use – you don’t even need any actual lyrics to start with. In simple mode, you just describe, in simple terms, the song you want:

Using the simple mode to make foreign language pop music in suno.ai

However, I’ve found it even better when combined with another platform to customise the lyrics. I used ChatGPT to create the text first, here, manually tweaked a little, then pasted into suno’ai’s Custom Mode for the music:

Generating better song lyrics (without music) in ChatGPT
Using custom mode in suno.ai to make music with pre-written lyrics

Here’s my rather jolly track “Der fröhliche Gorilla” from the above prompt, complete with album art. Sound quality is middling right now, but it’s exciting to think how much this will probably improve over the coming year. The free account also tends to chop tracks off suddenly, but for a free resource, it’s pretty great!

With a pretty generous 10 free tracks a day up to 1:20 long, you can get a lot out of the free tier. I may well upgrade in any case, as it’s so much fun, and so useful, that I’d love some longer, more polished tracks.

Created any tracks you’re proud of in suno.ai? Please share them with us in the comments!

Teach Yourself enhanced ebooks plus audio for Kindle

Teach Yourself Enhanced eBooks : Bargains Hiding in Plain Sight

I had a bit of Amazon credit to spend this week (from TopCashBack, no less), so I decided to treat myself to a couple of Kindle books I’d had my eye on for a while: the enhanced ebook + audio editions of a couple of Teach Yourself Complete titles.

As Greek and Polish seem to have lodged themselves firmly in my heart as big life language projects (did I choose them, or did they choose me?), it seemed only right to install both of them on my device. Although they’re hardly brand new editions, the ebook + audio range being available since the early 2010s, they’re my first in that format. They’re cheap, too – most are just £3.99 right now, with the odd one, like Cantonese, even cheaper.

Of course, I already have both of these books (in several versions, vintage and otherwise, as you’ll know if you’ve been following my recent compulsion!). But even though I’ve completed them both in other guises, I still love these titles for revision. I’m also stoked by the idea of a one-stop-shop mobile library – a single place for all that content, with no need for app-switching for listening material.

Teach Yourself enhanced ebooks plus audio for Kindle

Teach Yourself Complete Greek and Complete Polish on my Kindle app

Teach Yourself… To Be Compatible?

Confession: I almost didn’t bother with them at all.

The reason was the not insignificant number of negative reviews left for those products on Amazon. The big bad mark against them was the charge of incompatibility, particularly the audio. A number of users frustratedly left their one-star slaps-in-the-face stating that the audio simply didn’t work on their devices.

Thankfully, it seems like an issue on older Kindles, rather than the content itself. I’ve had no problems at all running them on the Kindle app for iOS on my two-year-old iPad. Audio prompts appear as little speaker icons, and a mini player pops up at the bottom of the screen when you tap them. There is full scrub / pause functionality too, so you don’t have to listen to the whole thing from start to finish.

Teach Yourself… to Read Non-Latin Scripts?

That said, there was another frequent review gripe that put me off plumping for them even more than the potential audio issues. Several users mentioned a lack of support for non-Latin characters in the dialogues. Instead of letter characters, some only saw blank boxes – clearly a font fail. Now that would be a deal-breaker for languages like Greek, Hindi and Russian!

Again, it seems to be a case of device support, not product support. Greek characters display perfectly on Kindle for iPad. Not only that, but they’ve used a really nice, readable font for the Greek.

If there’s anything to be said in the way of constructive criticism, it’s just a question of layout. Sometimes, vocab lists can look cramped, for instance, although that’s easily fixed by rotating to landscape. Elsewhere, some exercise tables are obviously images rather than text, with instructions to ‘fill in’ despite not being editable (as the image above illustrates). Nonetheless, they’re tiny quibbles given the convenience of the format.

If In Doubt…

All in all, my experience with the Teach Yourself Complete ebooks has been tiptop. It all goes to show that you can’t always trust reviews out of context.

If in doubt, though, you do have one tool at your disposal for a definitive answer on compatibility: the free sample. There are free samples – usually just the first chapter or so – available for all Amazon Kindle books. I made sure to download both the Greek and Polish samples above before spending my hard-earned (yet still bargainous) £3.99.

If you want trusty Teach Yourself content on your devices, these are a really good punt. They’re not available in all the Teach Yourself Complete languages, but most of the major learning languages are available (French, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese, for starters).

A teddy sitting on a sofa with headphones on. Possibly listening to Audible. Image by MediaLab on FreeImages.com.

An Audible Plus Language Learning Stash

I had a nice surprise this week, although it took me a while to finally notice it. Audible subscribers have access to a whole load of material for free as part of the Audible Plus catalogue. And that includes a nice little stash of language learning resources!

I’ve sung the praises of Audible as a study buddy before, and not just for language learning. Audiobooks really helped me to smash an Old Norse literature assignment last term.

There’s naturally plenty of language learning proper on there, too. In fact, the bulk of the free-access Audible Plus material comes from the team at Innovative Language Learning, which you may well know from top-charting podcasts like GermanPod101. They were amongst the first really big language learning podcasts, and for that they’ll always have a special place in our hearts!

I Got The (Word) Power!

The highlight of their selection has to be the Word Power series, including titles in Chinese, Spanish and Russian, amongst others. The Word Power resources are like speaking frequency dictionaries, presenting common words in isolation, then in a phrase for context. While not the most interactive resources, they can form the basis of your own active techniques, including DIY mass sentence drilling. They’re also chunked into short-ish chapters, so you can spend a few, targeted minutes a day with them very easily.

Another huge plus point is that most of these series are available in a lovely, wide range of languages. I found materials in all the likely mainstream culprits like French, German and Spanish. But there is also a pleasing cache of lesser-spotted offerings like Greek, Hindi and Persian.

Other Audible Goodies

Of course, it’s only a fraction of Audible’s catalogue that is open for free access. The plus selection doesn’t include, for example, premium titles like Olly Richards’ brilliant easy readers series. On the other hand, that’s what subscribers’ monthly credits are for. I’ve very happily used a couple of mine on those (namely, Icelandic and Norwegian!).

Saying that, there are lots of other free titles, which, if not strictly language learning resources, are only a side-step away. This goes particularly for those with an interest in the countries and cultures of their target languages. Returning to Iceland, for example, Jackson Crawford’s Saga of the Volsungs – translated and narrated by the internet’s favourite silver-tongued Old Norse expert – caught my eye.

In short, it’s definitely worth checking out what’s available on Audible Plus. Even though a lot of premium content will still cost you credits or cash, there’s a treasure of freebies waiting to be trawled through.

Vintage TV set for franchise hopping! Image by FreeImages.com

Franchise Hopping for Fun Televisual Language Learning

This week I’ve been practising my languages alongside tuneful trolls and celebrity sambas – all thanks to a bit of franchise hopping.

International rollouts of TV franchise successes are nothing new. I remember my excitement in the early noughties on discovering that the UK’s Pop Idol had a German version. Yes, it had the slightly unwieldy name Deutschland sucht den Superstar (Germany is looking for the superstar). But it was the same glitzy, shiny, melodramatic format that I loved in the UK.

Back then, of course, it was still pretty difficult to find clips online to watch (28.8k modem, anyone?). Needless to say, I came back from a trip to Cologne that year with both the series CD and DVD. I still have them somewhere, in my piles of foreign language authentica.

Nowadays, of course, it’s a completely different story. With whole shows widely available through national broadcaster platforms, there are few barriers to enjoying overseas versions of your favourite shows.

So what’s so great about franchise hunting as a language learner?

Franchise Fun

Franchise exports are excellent language learning resources for a number of reasons:

  • the format is familiar, so you can guess a lot of vocabulary from context
  • they are fun to watch, especially if you are already a fan of the original
  • franchise exports are often some of the biggest shows, so are both really easy to find, and have lots of supporting material on social media channels
  • transplanted shows often include local twists that give an insight in your target language culture
  • they can be a stepping stone to get to know well-known personalities in the target language country, which you can then track down in more home-grown shows

‘Easy to find’ is always a winner for language learning resources, of course. The simplest way to track down a particular franchise in a foreign language version is to locate its entry on Wikipedia. For instance, on the entry for The Masked Singer, you can find out local names for the show’s incarnations, and marvel at just how far the show has travelled.

The online encyclopaedia can throw out some quite surprising facts, too. Before my franchise hunt, I would never have guessed that the Masked Singer started life as a South Korean series. Now that’s a great excuse for Korean learners to watch some gloriously silly TV – not to mention further temptation in my way to learn Korean some day!

Local Twists

Another thing to look out for in franchise exports is how they are adapted to the local audience. There are often some lovely cultural twists; Norway’s 2020 edition of Maskorama, for example, featured the staple Nordic troll as one of the singers. And that’s not to mention the cultural crossovers. Looking up China’s The Singer (another South Korean export), UK learners can enjoy watching home-grown talent Jessie J storm to victory in the 2018 series.

Once you’ve located the show itself, you can then follow its social media trail for even more authentic material. Instagram is great for short texts and videos. For example, Skal vi danse– or ‘Norwegian Strictly’ to UK viewers – features bite-sized interviews and behind-the-scenes presentations which make for great listening practice. Likewise, the comments are great for reading some often very colloquial language (if you can handle the barbed tongues of irate viewers!).

Franchise telly might be as far away from highbrow as you can get with authentic material in the target language. But it can punch well above its weight as a bit of fun practice content!