Language and music - the Eurovision 2021 stage. Photo by EBU / STIJN SMULDERS.

Language and Music : A Double Whammy Treat This Week

It’s an exciting week ahead for lovers of language and music. Firstly…

It’s Eurovision Week!

As you’ll know, my polyglot passions and love for the content are tightly intertwined, so Eurovision is a very special treat once a year. Even more so this year, since the 2020 event was cancelled due to the worsening Covid-19 situation. There will be a lot to celebrate in Rotterdam on Saturday the 22nd.

Since the free language rule was reintroduced in 1999, however, the non-English entries have dwindled. Saying that, there are still rich pickings for those eager for songs in other tongues. Italy and France are currently the top favourites to win – and both sung in the countries’ native languages. Malta, while mainly sung in English, is a vehicle for a very handy colloquial French phrase, “je me casse” (I’m outta here). And, admirably, Denmark has elected to sing in Danish this year, and what a catchy little synth bop it is, too. It has been quite a while since we last heard Danish sung at the contest!

I still keep my hand in writing about the contest, and you can follow my regular bookies’ roundup articles at esctoday.com. Have to keep on top of those odds!

The Polyglot Gathering (Online)

Appropriately, Eurovision week coincides with another jamboree of coming together in language and culture: the Polyglot Gathering. It’ll be my first, although I got great vibes from my inaugural Polyglot Conference in Slovenia too, and expect the level of linguistic revelry and ribaldry to be at least as high.

Due to the ongoing Coronavirus crisis, it will be quite a different gathering this year. Originally slated to take place in Teresin, Poland, it would have been the perfect opportunity to practise my Polish. Fortunately, the organisers have planned in a couple of online practice rooms for Polish learners, so I’ll still get my polski fix (as well as all the rest!).

It’s still not too late to register at the official site if it takes your fancy. I hope to see many of you there!

In Other Language News…

Oh – and bookshops are open to walk around and browse again where I am. It has been too long, friends. Absolute heaven. I hope you’ve experienced a bit of a return to the ‘good old days’ where you are, too. Long may things continue to improve!

Eurovision Cyprus 1993 - the song Μη σταματάς

Language Lessons from a Song [Eurovision 1993 : Cyprus]

Bravo, inventor of the three-minute, throwaway pop song. Not only does it provide a little well-needed escapist entertainment, but it also doubles as a fantastic little language learning tool.

I’m far from the first language learning aficionado to use music to learn, of course. Many learners arrive at a new language after first falling in love with its music. And countless language teachers regularly spice up their classroom lessons with a pinch of pop.

But why is the simple song such a great medium for vocab mining? Besides the sheer fun of it. Well, for one thing, your typical chart hit is a nice and concise text to work with. It is the embodiment of bite-sized.

Secondly, the language of popular music tends to be quite colloquial, and not too elevated. You can pick up some nice, common turns of phrase to use in conversation. That doesn’t stop it expressing some universal and familiar truths, though, as well as some lyrics that can provide lively talking points.

What’s more – and here is the clincher – pop music is just so incredibly accessible now. Where overseas music was once hard to get hold of, it is now just a YouTube or Spotify search away.

A Song for Europe

As far as prime examples go, nothing quite approaches the three-minute pop perfection of the Eurovision Song Contest entry. I have long had a deep-seated fondness for Eurovision songs as my learning tools of choice.

No surprise there, of course. Eurovision is the reason I know so many random bits and bobs of so many different languages (not to mention ‘love’ and ‘peace’ in all of them). The lyrics range between harmless cheese and works of poetic art (check out this rather dark classic from France in 1968). But they all make for brilliant vocab fodder.

Also, an added benefit of choosing a Eurovision song is the excellent lyrics database Diggiloo Thrush, complete with translations and transliterations to tailor the material to any learner’s level.

But don’t let me badger you into choosing Eurovision (as if I needed any encouragement). Any song will do! After selecting one, Google for the lyrics, and begin to work through, line by line. As you move through the music, record each new term in your preferred practice / drill tool. Anki is always forever my go-to.

Adding colour to your conversation

Whatever your source, the nature of the song can provide some very colourful additions to your conversational repertoire. It is a fun game to toss out freshly memorised song lyrics to tutors mid-flow, and see how naturally (and imperceptibly!) they fit into the conversation – or not.

This can occasionally lend quite the philosophical slant to your chat. “Some of us, my friend, are the beggars of happiness” I mused to one perplexed tutor in the middle of a practice dialogue on buying train tickets. Yes, lyrics-fuelled lessons are nothing if not memorable (and salience of our active language learning material is something we should all strive for).

All Greek to Me

I currently find myself levelling up my Greek, first learned twenty years ago through Eurovision songs and island hopping. Music (much like food) simply has to play a part in any Greek learning plan, naturally. By way of example (and to spread the love), here is my working for a particularly favourite Eurovision song of mine, Cyprus’ underrated 1993 effort “Μη σταματάς” (Don’t Stop).

By going through the text systematically, you see how much high-frequency vocab you can mine from working with even the simplest of songs. And of course, you get the added memory bonus of having the words and phrases lodge in your head with a particularly sticky ear worm.

So without further ado… Ladies and gentlemen! I present to you the conductor, George Theofanous. Let the music (and learning) begin!

Μη σταματάς

Verse 1

Στη ζωή μας όλοι ερχόμαστε γυμνοί In our life we all arrive naked η ζωή – life
έρχομαι (έρθω, ήρθα) – to come
γυμνός – naked, bare
Ίδιο τέλος μας ορίζει και αρχή The same end and beginning define us ίδιος – same; own
το τέλος – end
η αρχή – beginning
ορίζω – to define, designate
Μα είναι κάποιοι από μας, οι ζητιάνοι της χαράς But there are some of us, the beggars of joy κάποιος – someone
ο ζητιάνος – beggar
η χαρά – joy, happiness

Chorus

Μη σταματάς, στους ανθρώπους να δίνεις βοήθεια Don’t stop giving help to people σταματώ – to stop
δίνω (δώσω, έδωσα) – to give
ο άνθρωπος – human, person
η βοήθεια – help (cf. the verb βοηθάω, to help)
Μην προσπερνάς, μη φοβάσαι να δεις τα συντρίμμια Don’t walk on by, don’t fear seeing the debris προσπερνώ – to pass by
φοβάμαι – to fear, be afraid (cf. the word phobia)
τα συντρίμμια – the debris, rubbish, wreckage
Κι αν τη ζωή την πληγώνει συχνά η αλήθεια And if truth often hurts life πληγώνω – to hurt, wound
συχνά – often, frequentlyη αλήθεια – truth
Μη σταματάς, μη σταματάς Don’t stop, don’t stop  

Verse 2

Όσα έχεις τόσα έχω, αδερφέ Whatever you own, I own, brother όσα… τόσα… – what …, that’s what … (cf. ‘όσα δίνεις, τόσα παίρνεις‘, ‘you get what you pay for‘)
Μα είναι κι άλλοι που δεν γέλασαν ποτέ But there are others who never laughed άλλος – other
γελάω – to laugh
Ειν’ το βλέμμα τους θολό, και σηκώνουνε σταυρό Their sight is unclear, and they carry a cross το βλέμμα – look, glance, stare (cf. βλέπω, to see)
θολός – dim, cloudy, blurry
σηκώνω – to lift up (cf., σηκώνομαι, to get up)
ο σταυρός – cross

I said it was bite-sized – three minutes of music doesn’t take long to work through. And there is some great, high frequency vocab to take away from that.

Deconstructing a favourite song

As you can see, deconstructing a favourite song in a foreign language does sometimes take the mystery away from it all a bit. Didn’t it all seem a bit more serious and credible before I translated it into complete banality? Now, it all sounds a little bit over-the-top. Walking past the debris? Everybody arriving naked? Hmm.

That said, I will always love this song, and not only for the extra vocab it’s given me. I adore how the lads are taking it all so seriously. I celebrate the oomph the backing trio are giving it. And I applaud the cheesy sax solo.

Even if the juries didn’t quite agree.

The Edinburgh Fringe is a great opportunity for language lovers to get some target language entertainment! Image from freeimages.com.

Laughs for Linguists : Polyglot Picks for Edinburgh Fringe 2019

The Edinburgh Fringe is back! And, in what has become a Polyglossic tradition, we have leafed through the flyers and brochures to compile our polyglot picks for #EdFringe 2019.

There is something on offer for every language aficionado, with culturally diverse shows spanning comedy, music and theatre. Some are performed in the target language, while others are in English, but featuring strong links with target languages of interest. Whether for some listening practice, or simply a bit of cultural exploration, there is plenty to keep polyglots and linguaphiles busy this August in Edinburgh.

French 🇫🇷

Surprisingly, the festival line-up is missing its usual Piaf and Brel content, usually a staple of the francophone side of the fest. Never fear, though: there are still a couple of Gallic gems on the list. Appropriately, a couple of them are even hosted at the Institut Français Écosse.

German 🇩🇪

  • Henning Wehn: Get On With It
    Festival favourite Henning Wehn, German Comedy Ambassador to the UK, is back with his quirky take on UK life through teutonic eyes. Expect quite a bit of reference to the B-word, naturally – one of the recurring themes running across successive recent fringes!
  • Franz and Marie : Woyzeck Retold
    This might catch your eye if you read German as a foreign language at university; Georg Büchner’s unfinished Woyzeck is a regular feature on first-year reading lists. Enjoy this fresh adaptation of a play with challenging – and still painfully relevant – themes.
  • The literary vein continues with Borchert – A Life. Aiming to bring the short-lived German writer to the attention of English-speaking audiences, the show highlights “a life worth knowing about“.
  • This year’s festival also sees several plays emerge dealing with various themes from 20th Century German history. Walls and Bridges brings to life a long-forgotten uprising of East German students in 1953. Meanwhile, The Good Scout dramatises a rather eyebrow-raising pre-war collaboration.
  • And where would we be without a good Lieder recital at the Edinburgh Fringe? Thankfully, Susan McNaught, Barbara Scott and Robert Duncan step up to that challenge, presenting Schubert and Wagner to festival-goers.

Italian 🇮🇹

  • Corde InCanto
    For a truly polyglot experience, give this Italian duo a whirl. As well as Italian arias, there are German Lieder and Spanish songs mixed into the musical menu.
  • Arlecchino Torn in Three
    Bilingual, family-friendly fun is the order of the day here. Blending Italian, English and musical accompaniment, the production brings the masked magic of Venice to the festival.
  • Me and the Mask – Commedia dell’Arte
    More hands-on, kid-friendly, masked fun, this time taking place at Edinburgh’s Italian Cultural Institute. Attending the show makes a great introduction to the centre, which is a valuable source of information on local events and courses.

Spanish 🇪🇸

  • Drunk Lion
    Drunk Lion is back!  Aptly for learners, this is an original play about an life-changing encounter with the Spanish language. And what’s more, it’s still one of the festival’s many free shows. That means there’s no excuse to miss it if you’re passing by the Newsroom Bar!  Incidentally, the venue is also a nice place to grab a drink and a bite to eat.
  • Sonia Aste : Made In Spain
    With a personable set exploring UK-Spanish connections, Sonia Aste shares her unique perspectives on our cultural touchpoints and differences. A dynamic and interactive approach ensures that this will make for a lively evening out!
  • As always, there is a broad choice for lovers of traditional Spanish guitar music and Flamenco. Highlights include Alba Flamenca, ¡Viva el Flamenco! and – particularly tempting if you have little ones to keep engaged – Flamenco for Kids!

Share your Edinburgh Fringe

Of course, this is a miniscule representation of the hundreds and hundreds of shows on offer. Apologies to all the wonderful shows we missed out. Perhaps some of the above will pique your interest if you are visiting Edinburgh this August. But if you attend a gem we overlooked, please share it with us in the comments!

To comb through the multiple offerings yourself and buy tickets online, visit https://tickets.edfringe.com/. And have a wonderful Edinburgh Fringe!

Edinburgh, home of EdFringe (Edinburgh Fringe Festival)

#EdFringe 2018 : Picks for Language Lovers

EdFringe is here again! And, as always, there is something for everyone in the festival, including us language lovers. In Polyglossic tradition, here are some picks for learners – or simply the culturally interested.

The shows on offer are a mixed bag, some featuring target language, and others in English. But all of the picks here have some link to the target language country. Whether for language learning practice, or for cultural exploration, there should be something to keep linguaphiles happy this August in Edinburgh!

French

German

Italian

  • Neapolitan Songs
    The title says it all, really. Romance, Naples, beautiful music – for lovers of Italy, this one-date only concert looks worth noting.
  • Violetta
    Continuing the musical theme (and who can blame them, considering the country’s musical heritage?), the group Opera Allegra put on this contemporary twist on La Traviata.
  • Luca Cupani: God Digger
    Like Henning and Vince above, this is a chance to catch a bit of Italian comedy – in English. With four-star reviews, Luca looks like a good bet.

Spanish

Also gaining a bit of of purchase in the jostling of myriad shows is Specters [sic], a play in Ukrainian with English subtitles. A little different, and an unexpected treat if you are studying the language.

Of course, this is a miniscule representation of the shows on offer this year. Hopefully, some of the above will grab your interest if you are in the city during August. Apologies to all the wonderful shows we missed. To trawl through the multiple offerings yourself and buy tickets online, visit https://tickets.edfringe.com/. And have a wonderful #EdFringe!

Coloured Pencils

Five sure-fire ways to warm up for language lessons

To get the most from any lesson, a good warm up always helps. That goes as much for one-to-one iTalki sessions, as it does for classroom learning. Prime your brain correctly, and it will be in just the right place to process new information.

For iTalki students, the stakes are even higher for getting the most from your lessons this month. The language learning site is holding its language challenge throughout February, encouraging students to go the extra mile with tuition hours. The leaderboard is alight with eager students, some boasting a mind-boggling number of lessons taken in these first few days.

If it demonstrates one thing, it’s that there are plenty of linguists that have the language bug even worse than I do. But all those extra lessons mean money invested in learning. And that makes it even more important to get the most from your investment.

So that our learning hours aren’t wasted, here are five very easily overlooked ways to warm up before a lesson.

1. Podcast listening

Even if you don’t understand 100%, filling your sound space with the target language is a good way to prime your subconscious for speaking it. If you’re busy, you don’t even have to focus fully; just have podcasts playing aloud for 30-60 minutes before the lesson, and you can tune in and out.

German has a good word for what this achieves: einhören, or the process of ‘listening into’ a language, or getting used to it. It’s an almost effortless way to get ready for your language lesson.

2. Anki flashcards

Just before your lesson is a great time to recycle and revise previous vocabulary. If Anki is a part of your language learning regime, you will probably have a bank of vocabulary cards at your disposal. If not, you can download it for free from this link. There are also lots of shared decks you can start with if you don’t have your own vocabulary bank ready yet.

But the principle goes for all your other vocabulary, too. If you keep written vocab records, leaf through them and test yourself before you start. The same goes for any other language app you regularly use; doing a little Duolingo or Memrise right before your lesson can work wonders. It’s an excellent way to give your memory a gentle shake, and bring to the top relevant material for your lesson.

3. What have you done today…

…to make you feel proud? And the rest. Beyond the most basic level of language learning (ie., A1 in the European Framework), it’s likely you’ll have some general conversation at the start of a session. Don’t let questions about your day / week catch you out – be prepared to have something to say.

It need only take a few minutes. Start by writing some brief bullet points on the main events of the week, in the target language if possible. Briefly look up key words you don’t know. It will save you a lot of umms and aahs in the lesson.

4. Warm up to Music

Songs – particularly pop songs – are great warm up tools for a number of reasons. Firstly, they have repeated refrains, which means that you can quickly pick them up and sing along. And that warms up not only the brain, but your mouth muscles. Different languages have distinctive patterns of physical speech production, and singing along will literally get your mouth in gear.

Also, like podcasts, they surround you in a blanket of target language. You can enjoy them in the background in a few minutes before your lesson, while they quietly prime the mind for listening.

Not only that, but they’re usually very short – the three-minute pop song is an industry benchmark – so you can listen to as few or as many as you have time for.

5. Relax

One of the easiest things to forget is simply to chill. It’s normal to feel a little nervous before one-to-one lessons, especially if you’re Skyping with a stranger for a first lesson.

Sit down comfortably, have a glass of water ready and enjoy a few deep breaths before starting. Let go of the tension and be open to learning – a stressed brain is not an efficient one.

Warm up to language lesson success

Some of these are common sense tips to warm up the language learner’s brain. But all of them fall into the category of ‘easily overlooked’. It’s far too easy to say that you haven’t enough time to do them before a lesson on a busy day. But they mostly take just minutes, or can even occur in the background while you do other things.

Work some of these into your routine, and go into your lesson with a primed, ready brain.

Edinburgh Castle is a stunning backdrop to the Edinburgh Fringe each August

Edinburgh Fringe for Language Lovers: Shows for Linguists!

Edinburgh Fringe has filled the streets of Scotland’s capital for another colourful August. There are literally thousands of shows available to see. The sheer number of them means that there is bound to be something of interest to everyone. And that includes linguists!

After trawling through the masses on offer, here are some promising-sounding events for students / teachers / fans of languages. Inevitably, it’s the ‘mainstream’ languages of French, German and Spanish that crop up most. But amongst them, there are shows that will appeal to non-speakers, too. And that’s a great excuse to take along a friend or two to spread the language love!

French

The festival can’t get enough of Piaf this year. There are at least five cabaret shows featuring chansons from the renowned songstress! They include:

If you prefer your music folksy, then a set from Les Poules à Coulin looks like a good bet. For dance / physical theatre with a French slant, check out “La Maladie de la Mort d’Après Marguerite Duras”. Check the website, though, as some performances may be in English translation.

Something that really captures the imagination is a bilingual puppetry and storytelling event in French. “The Wonderful World of Lapin” looks like a particularly cute way to introduce the little ones to a bit of français. Most likely, quite a few big ‘uns would also find it magical!

German

German is a little under-represented compared to French (keine Überraschung, sadly!). However, there are a couple of interesting listings that might be worth a punt.

Absurdist theatre your bag? Well, there’s a show for you, performed in German with some English explanations. “Leere Zeit – Idle Time” is on at theSpace on the Mile, a venue that promises a global aspect to its line-up.

For some more classical, musical entertainment, you can enjoy Strauss’ opera Ariadne auf Naxos in the church setting of Broughton St Mary’s.

Spanish

As ubiquitous as Piaf is for French, you can’t seem to get away from Flamenco at this year’s Fringe. There are three shows that feature the quintessential Spanish musical / dance style:

The poetry of Lorca takes centre stage at “Frost and Lorca”. The event features artwork by Sir Terry Frost, inspired by the Spanish writer; the presentation is in Spanish and English, so should be suitable for non-hispanist friends!

And for a proper melting pot of storytelling, try “Mimi’s Suitcase”, which blends English, Spanish and Persian to explore themes of identity and displacement.

Even the good old Edinburgh Ghost Tour gets the Spanish treatment this year. “Tour de fantasmas en español” sounds like a fun way to get a stock Edinburgh tourist tick and practise español at the same time!

Russian

Although it’s chiefly English-language comedy, Abi Robert’s show Anglichanka (Englishwoman) is worth a mention. Abi spent considerable time in Russia, and weaves her many tall tales into a wonderfully hilarious hour of laughter. I caught her performing a similar show at my very first Edinburgh Fringe (quite) some years ago, and it’s great to see her back at the festival with more of that hugely funny format!

Culture (without the language)

As well as the above shows, there are hundreds more without a specific language hook, but of cultural interest to linguaphiles. Russia is under the spotlight in several satirical / topical shows, for example.

Less controversially, Russian classical music is on the programme at a number of concerts. Scottish Sinfonia’s line-up sounds like quite a treat. Likewise, you can learn about imagined lives in Russia at theatre events like “The Girl Who Loved Stalin”.

If the aim is to steep yourself in the culture of Russia (or many other target language cultures), then there is a wealth of choice.

Edinburgh Fringe: take a punt

I’ve always found that the best way to enjoy the Fringe is to take a risk. With shows priced so reasonably, you can easily try something you wouldn’t normally see. Thought you hated Piaf? Give her a chance at one of the several shows on offer. Irritated by flamenco? Then give the Scottish twist on it a chance! Personally, the German absurdist theatre tempts the risk-taker in me. It could be worth a shot! And if not, then at least it gets me out of the house for an hour or two…

Have you managed to catch any of the shows above? Are there any others that you’d recommend? Please share in the comments below!