Music from other countries was a big early draw to foreign languages for me. The lyrics seemed magical, if only I could memorise and sing along to them.
As a wee young thing, I would sit rewinding and replaying CDs, tapes and videos (largely Eurovision, as that was the best multilingual source in those pre-web days) trying to transcribe what I heard. If I really liked a song, I’d get hold of a dictionary in its language, and try to match those rough transcriptions with a translation.
It was a labour of love, and often a labour in vain – like trying to climb Mount Everest before I could walk.
But those early games with lyrics prepared me more than I realised for all the language learning I went on to do. I not only learnt vocabulary and grammar, but accent, intonation, differing phonologies, relationships between languages, differences between language groups, other writing systems… The list goes on.
These days, of course, it’s a whole lot easier to get hold of lyrics to foreign language songs you love. Not that transcription isn’t still a great exercise for all the reasons above. But for when you just want to sing along, your hymn sheet is just a search away.
The thing about lyrics sites is that they have often not been the best examples of friendly, cutting-edge web design out there. You still find plenty of examples of clunky, basic sites, often peppered with ads to make them financially viable to run. But there are some gems amongst the chaff. Here are some of the best I’ve found for language learning!
As you’d expect from the site that bagged that URL, Lyrics.com is a pretty comprehensive lyrics search engine. It boasts a wealth of international lyrics, as you can see by their hefty catalogue of Gigliola Cinquetti’s hits, for example.
Genius.com likewise has an impressive number of non-English language songs included in its banks. I was particularly impressed at the number of Norwegian titles they had, as you can see from their page on norsk star Anita Skorgan. For me, that’s a good barometer of how many ‘mainstream’ language songs they must have, too!
While not quite as slick as its two cousins above, SongLyrics.com is nonetheless a good place to go if you have little luck searching elsewhere. They have a great list of tracks by French singer Alizée, for example; you’ll be warbling along to Moi… Lolita in no time.
Last but not least, and it’s one I’ve sung the praises of before, it’s Diggiloo Thrush. Dislaimer: this is all about the vintage Eurovision lyrics. It’s been lovingly maintained for years now, and has original contest lyrics as well as other language versions, translations and transliterations for many non-Latin scripts. Basically a goldmine if you dream of singing along with Edyta Górniak.
For the non-initiated, this is the least transparent site name of all. If you’re wondering, it refers to Sweden’s winning entry of 1984 (Diggi-loo, Diggi-ley) and the Eurovision 1992 mascot and national bird of Sweden, the song thrush.
Singing from a Different Sheet
So there you have it; four sites to go wild with foreign language lyrics. It’s also worth nothing that the Spotify app now includes lyrics that scroll along with many popular songs. I was very chuffed to find they’d given that treatment to a favourite French pop song by a favourite French band recently, Coma Idyllique by Therapie Taxi. Merci, Spotify!
If anything is missing in the mix, though, it’s a resource to browse for lyrics – and new songs – by language. Webmasters, if you’re reading this…