Listening to Spanish songs, first with the lyrics, and then without, is a great way to absorb words, phrases, and even grammatical structures.
In one of our first posts on learning a foreign language with a song, we chose La Paloma, a song which originated in 1861 in Cuba.
Now listen to a much more recent song, "El Perdón," co-written and co-performed by Nicky Jam and Enrique Iglesias, both popular singers in the Latin pop scene.
"El Perdón" became a smash hit upon its release in 2015. The official Spanish YouTube video has had over 650 million views at this time.
Nicky Jam (Nick Rivera Caminero) was born in Boston MA, USA in 1981, but moved to Puerto Rico at the age of ten. For the Wiki-bio in Spanish click HERE.
Enrique Iglesias (Enrique Miguel Iglesias Preysler) was born in Madrid, Spain, in 1975. At age 11, he was sent to live Miami for security reasons. (His grandfather had been kidnapped by the Basque ETA.) See his English Wiki-bio HERE.
You can of course listen to a song in a foreign language and never get the lyrics. That's fine. Music can be enjoyed on its own.
But songs can also be a great language learning tool if you pay attention to the lyrics to understand their meaning. So, what makes music such a powerful way of getting language into your brain? It's because songs combine melody, rhythm, and emotion with language. What's on your side is the "earworm" effect. A good song will continue playing in your head.
Listening to songs in a language you're learning:
Improves your pronunciation
Has you mimic intonation
Helps you memorize vocabulary
Familiarizes you with idiomatic phrases
Lets you absorb grammar structures
Gets you into the rhythm of the language
Listen to the song again and now follow it by reading the lyrics below. How much can you understand?
At the end of the post we have the English translation, so you can check.
Dime si es verdad Me dijeron que te estas casando Tú no sabes como estoy sufriendo Esto te lo tengo que decir
Cuéntame Tu despedida para mi fue dura Será que él te llevo a la luna Y yo no supe hacerlo así
Te estaba buscando Por las calles gritando Eso me está matando oh no
Te estaba buscando Por las calles gritando Como un loco tomando
Es que yo sin ti Y tú sin mi Dime quién puede ser feliz Esto no me gusta Esto no me gusta
Es que yo sin ti Y tú sin mi Dime quién puede ser feliz Esto no me gusta Esto no me gusta
Vivir si ti, no aguanto más Por eso vengo a decirte lo que siento Estoy sufriendo en esta soledad
Y aunque tu padre no aprobó esta relación Yo sigo insistiendo a pedir perdón Lo único que importa está en tu corazón
Te estaba buscando Por las calles gritando Esto me está matando oh no
Te estaba buscando Por las calles gritando Como un loco tomando oh
Es que yo sin ti, y tú sin mi Dime quién puede ser feliz Esto no me gusta Esto no me gusta
Es que yo sin ti, y tú sin mi Dime quién puede ser feliz Eso no me gusta Eso no me gusta
Yo te juré a ti eterno amor Y ahora otro te da calor Cuando en las noches tienes frío oh oh, oh
Yo sé que él te parece mejor Pero yo estoy en tu corazón Y por eso pido perdón
Es que yo sin ti, y tú sin mi Dime quién puede ser feliz Esto no me gusta, oh no
Es que yo sin ti, y tú sin mi Dime quién puede ser feliz Esto no me gusta oh yeah, oh
Dicen que uno no sabe lo que tiene hasta que lo pierde pero (Yo sin ti) Vale la pena luchar por lo que uno quiere (No puedo vivir así) Y hacer el intento (No quiero vivir así)
Refreshing a Few Grammar Points
1. Gerundio - the progressive form of a verb describing an ongoing action.
te estas casando - you are marrying (inf. casar) estoy sufriendo - I am suffering (inf. sufrir) estaba buscando - I was looking for (inf. buscar) me está matando - it's killing me (inf. matar) sigo insistiendo - I keep on insisting (inf. insistir)
2. Adding object pronouns to imperative and infinitive forms.
dime - tell me (imperative form of "decir") cuéntame - tell me (imperative form of "contar") hacerlo - to do it (infinitive) decirte - to tell you (infinitive)
3. Preterito - simple past form of verbs.
fue - it was (inf. ser) supe - I knew (inf. saber) aprobó - he approved (inf. aprobar) juré - I swore (inf. jurar)
Why would it be important to hear different voices, accents, and dialects in the language you're learning?
Think about it: You're probably never going to speak only with people who sound exactly like the person on in your language program.
Both Enrique Iglesias and Nicky Jam are bilingual, with Spanish first and English learned at the age of 10 or 11.
Comparing Enrique's and Nicky's Spanish, you'll notice some differences in pronunciation.
The Spanish spoken in Puerto Rico is part of "Caribbean Spanish," which also includes the Spanish of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and regions along the East coast of Mexico and Central America.
These are popular destinations both for Americans and many Europeans. Caribbean Spanish "is characterized by elided middle consonants and omitted final consonants, as well as an aspirated ‘r’ that is pronounced like the Portuguese ‘x.’." [10 Spanish Dialects: How Spanish is Spoken Around the World]
You'll definitely hear some of that in Nicky Jam's singing.
English Translation of “El Perdón” - Forgiveness
Tell me if it's true They told me you are marrying You don't know how I'm suffering This I have to tell you
Tell me Your goodbye was hard for me Is it that he takes you to the moon And I didn't know how to do it like that
I was looking for you Crying out in the streets This is killing me oh no
I was looking for you Crying out in the streets Like a crazy drunk
It's just that me without you And you without me Tell me who can be happy I do not like this I do not like this
It's just that me without you And you without me Tell me who can be happy I do not like that I do not like that
Living without you, I can't do it anymore So I came to tell you how I feel I'm suffering in the loneliness
And even though your dad didn't approve of this relationship I'll have to keep asking for forgiveness All that matters to me is in your heart
I was looking for you Crying out in the streets This is killing me oh no
I was looking for you Crying out in the streets Like a crazy drunk oh
It's just that me without you And you without me Tell me, who can be happy I don't like that I don't like that
I promised you eternal love And now another man gives you warmth when you're cold at night oh oh
I know he seems better to you But I'm in your heart So I'm asking for forgiveness
It's just that me without you And you without me Tell me, who can be happy I don't like this oh yeah...
(You without me) They say you don't know what you have until it's gone but... (Me without you) It's worth it to fight for what you love (I can't live like this) And make an effort (I don't want to live like this)
If you like learning and practicing Spanish with songs, we'd suggest that you try out for FREE Language Zen, a great Spanish language learning site, which uses Spanish songs and their lyrics as part of their program.
Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a life-long language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands and Canada. You can follow her onFacebook, TwitterandInstagram, and leave any commentswithcontact.
Disclosure: Language Zen is a partner site with revenue sharing should you decide to subscribe.
The recent thaw in the relations between Cuba and the U.S. brought to mind that La Paloma, a song that over the years has been adapted and sung in so many languages, actually originated in Cuba.
In an earlier post, La Paloma Lyrics - Learning Spanish with a Song, we focused mainly on how you can learn some typical Spanish expressions by saying or singing the song's lyrics. In addition, we gave a brief summary of the song's history: Composed around 1860 by the Basque composer Sebastián Iradier after his visit to Havana.
La Paloma - A Song for the Ages
When you google "La Paloma song," you'll find a Wikipedia entry which tells you not only details about the song's motif (the dove), dating back to 492 BC; some of its history (a favorite of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico); early translations into French and German in the 1860's, with new lyrics in different languages, interpretations by famous artists; as well as the many movies in which a version of the song occurs.
La Paloma is arguably the most frequently played song and melody in the world. I've read that in Zanzibar it's being played at the end of weddings, in Romania at the end of funerals. In Germany it's a sailor's song, made famous by Hans Albers in his movie "Grosse Freiheit #7" in 1944.
The La Paloma - Carmen connection
When digging a little further, I discovered that there's a connection between Iradier's "La Paloma" and the "Habanera" aria in Bizet's Carmen: "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle," which is said to be very close, melodically, to "El Arreglito," another song composed by Sebastián Iradier. Both are "habaneras," the name used outside of Cuba for the Cuban "contradanza," a type of dance music that became popular in the 19th century. Bizet originally thought El Arreglito was a folk song, only to discover that it had been written by Iradier who had died ten years earlier. Bizet then added a note to the vocal score of "Carmen" to acknowledge the source.
Cuban Music History and Future
Another Wiki entry further explains: "The Cuban 'contradanza' (also called contradanza criolla, danza, danza criolla, or habanera) was a popular dance music genre of the 19th century. ... Its origins dated back to the European 'contredanse,' which was an internationally popular form of music and dance of the late 18th century. It was brought to Santiago de Cuba by French colonists fleeing the Haitian Revolution in the 1790's ... During the first half of the 19th century, the 'contradanza' dominated the Cuban musical scene to such an extent that nearly all Cuban composers of the time, whether composing for the concert hall or the dance hall, tried their hands at the contradanza."
It's interesting that the language circle was completed when Iradier brought back the habaneras from his visit to Cuba and when Bizet used "El Arreglito" for his French opera "Carmen."
Many of the well-known dance styles such as rumba, salsa, mambo, chachacha, reportedly began in Cuba. In the coming years the rediscovery of Cuban artists, which began in the 90s with the popular "Buena Vista Social Club" album and Wim Wender's 1999 movie about the band, will very likely continue. And, if you're interested in the island's music and are maybe even considering a visit, the MyCubavisit.com website will give you some worthwhile information and insights.
(1) I recently came a across Sidney's post Learning through song made easy, which suggests four steps to improve both your listening and speaking (maybe even singing!) skills. It's fun AND effective and it not only works for Italian, but for Spanish and other languages as well!
This is our 200th blog post. Every January, we'll publish our 10 most popular blogs of the previous year.
2014 has been a wonderful year at GamesForLanguage, not just because we've grown our number of followers on Facebook and Twitter, but - as of December 2014 - our blog has gotten over 36,000 views.
Thanks for your interest and support! That's what fuels us - as well as the thousands of monthly visitors that come to our free language learning site.
We started GamesForLanguage 4 years ago as an experiment combining (fun) games and (serious) language learning for adults - and enlisted native speakers of French, Italian, and Spanish to our team. Yes, language games are very popular with kids, but we've been delighted by the positive and constructive feedback that teens and adults have given us about our approach. We always want to hear from you, and we'll get back to you quickly.
We look forward to another great year. It'll include creating new courses and lots of new Quick Games. Last but not least, we're both going for a spurt to fluency in Spanish and for a fresh start with a new language - Swedish for Ulrike and Dutch for Peter. It's a good way to stay sharp and humble, language learning wise.
While several of the posts date back to previous years, it's surprising that #10 "Not enough time? Really? Language Learning and Setting Priorities" made it on the list, as it was only published on December 17, 2014. Apparently this post hit a nerve.
The La Paloma post has been a frontrunner since it was published in June 2013. Learning a language via well-known songs is clearly compelling. There are several other websites using this idea.
We recently published a post on French Social Media terms and are interested to see how it does this year. Social Media sites continue to be great places to practice and improve a language and being familiar with social media language is a good tool.
We welcome your comments and suggestions for new blog post topics! Wishing you an excellent and fun new language learning year!
This 1976 song by the American born, French singer-songwriter Joe Dassin has become hugely popular and is one of my favorites.
Dassin (1938 - 1980) was a talented polyglot and recorded songs in Spanish, Russian, German, Greek, Italian, as well as in French and English (many of which you can find on YouTube).
Below are the French lyrics, and you can find another English translationhere.
Si tu n'existais pas
Et si tu n'existais pas, Dis-moi pourquoi j'existerais. Pour traîner dans un monde sans toi, Sans espoir et sans regrets.
Et si tu n'existais pas, J'essaierais d'inventer l'amour, Comme un peintre qui voit sous ses doigts Naître les couleurs du jour. Et qui n'en revient pas.
Et si tu n'existais pas, Dis-moi pour qui j'existerais. Des passantes endormies dans mes bras Que je n'aimerais jamais.
Et si tu n'existais pas, Je ne serais qu'un point de plus Dans ce monde qui vient et qui va, Je me sentirais perdu, J'aurais besoin de toi.
Et si tu n'existais pas, Dis-moi comment j'existerais. Je pourrais faire semblant d'être moi, Mais je ne serais pas vrai.
Et si tu n'existais pas, Je crois que je l'aurais trouvé, Le secret de la vie, le pourquoi, Simplement pour te créer Et pour te regarder.
In Dassin's song there are 14 nouns, here listed in the form they appear:
un monde, sans espoir, sans regrets, l'amour, un peintre, ses doigts, les couleurs, du jour, des passantes, mes bras, un point, le secret, de la vie, le pourquoi.
It's well worth internalizing the various forms of French negation, three of which appear in the song:
Si tu n'existais pas (ne ... pas - not)
Que je n'aimerais jamais. (ne ... jamais - never)
Je ne serais qu'un point de plus. (ne ... que - only)
The Conditional "if-then" Structure
This structure is the backbone of the song. Of the 20 different verbs, 8 are used in the conditional tense.
Memorizing the lyrics and singing them is a great way to internalize one of the common "if-then" (conditional) structures:
The "if-clause" (which comes up 6 times) is in the imperfect tense:
si tu n'existais pas - if you didn't exist
The "(then)-clause" is in the conditional tense:
Dis-moi pourquoi j'existerais (*exister) - Tell me why would I exist
J'essaierais d'inventer l'amour (*essayer) - I would try to invent love
Que je n'aimerais jamais (*aimer) - That I would never love
Je ne serais qu'un point de plus (*être) - I would only be one more dot
Je me sentirais perdu (*se sentir) - I would feel lost
J'aurais besoin de toi (*avoir besoin) - I would need you
Je pourrais faire semblant d'être moi (*pouvoir) - I could pretend to be me
Mais je ne serais pas vrai (*être) - But I wouldn't be true
Je crois que je l'aurais trouvé (*trouver) - I think I would have found it
Just imagine, when you are memorizing the lyrics and singing along, you're practicing the language. How much fun is that!
And why stop here? Edith Piaf's "Non, je ne regrette rien" (see our previous post) is another great French song to add to your language learning repertoire.
I recently came across Sidney's post Learning through song made easy, which suggests four steps to improve both your listening and speaking (maybe even singing!) skills. It's fun AND effective and it not only works for Italian, but for French and other languages as well!
Our June 2013 entry about theSpanish song "La Paloma"has been one of our most read blogs for several months now. Here is the part of our November 2012 blog again, which had suggested Edith Piaf's famous "Non, je ne regrette rien" as a wonderful song to learn and practice French with.
Listening to foreign songs is an excellent way to memorize key phrases and expressions – and having fun doing it. Sometimes, you may even start humming and repeating the refrains without exactly knowing the meaning. In an earlier blog post - 6 Tips for Learning a Foreign Language - we had suggested listening to songs as tip #4, as listening to music and songs can also fuel your enthusiasm for learning a new language. Lifehacker also has several posts about music and lyrics training for learning a foreign language.
Non, je ne regrette rien...
Many may remember Edith Piaf's famous song: “Non, je ne regrette rien.” You can hear her on thisYouTubeclip. English translations of the song, (even if they are not always correct) are easy to find, e.g.here.
It's no mystery why many people make listening to foreign songs part of their language learning practice:
The repetition of the refrain, especially with an “ear-worm” melody, anchors key words in your memory.
Key constructions become obvious and you can remember them readily. For example, the phrase “je ne regrette rien” makes it easy to see how negations are constructed in French: ne...rien or ne...pas, or to pick up on the ni...ni (neither-nor) construction.
From song lyrics such as “je n'ai plus besoin d'eux” (I don't need them anymore), you can derive related key phrases such as “j'ai besoin” or “je n'ai pas besoin.”
And, you may learn some new vocabulary that your typical language course may lack, e.g. “balayé” (swept, “broomed” away), “chagrins” (sorrows), “je me fous” (I don't care).
Moreover, songs exaggerate and stress the sounds of some words and thus make them easier to understand and imitate.
While Edith Piaf's "Non je regrette rien" may be particularly memorable and instructional, there are many other French songs and lyrics you can find on the Internet.
For example Joe Dassin's song "Si tu n'existais pas..." is another favorite of ours for learning French with a song and the topic of this post.
Postscript: I recently came a across Sidney's post Learning through song made easy, which suggests four steps to improve both your listening and speaking (maybe even singing!) skills. It's fun AND effective and it not only works for Italian, but for French and other languages as well!
We had previously suggestedFrench, German,andItaliansongs that are fun to listen to – and, when memorized, can remind you of some key aspects of the respective language. Very likely you'll have heard “La Paloma” in your native language many times.
In this YouTube video of“La Paloma”, Victoria de los Angeles, one of the great voices of the 20th century, sings the original Spanish lyrics, and the video shows the English translation. (There is also a wonderful Spanish version by Nana Mouskouri here, but without the text, you could listen to later!)
Did you know?
“La Paloma (meaning “the dove”) was composed and written by the Basq/Spanish composer Sebastián Iradier (later Yradier) after he visited Cuba in 1861. (You can read inthisWikipedia entrythat the motif of “La Paloma” dates back to an episode that occurred in 492 BC!)
And the many different versions in many of the world's languages and performed by many famous singers are a testimony to its popular appeal across cultures and centuries.
The Original Lyrics
The original Spanish lyrics of the first verse are below. (Note that you will find other Spanish versions as well.)
Cuando salí de la Habana,
Nadie me ha visto salir
Si no fuí yo.
Y una linda Guachinanga
Allá voy yo,
Que se vino trás de mi,
Que si señor.
Si a tu ventana llega
Trátala con cariño
Que es mi persona.
Cuéntala tus amores,
Bien de mi vida,
Corónala de flores
Que es cosa mía
Ay chinita que sí ,
ay que darme tu amor
Ay que vente conmigo,
Chinita, a donde vivo yo.
Typical Spanish Constructs
Some of the lyrics of the original version may be difficult for a beginner, but, with the translation provided in the video, you'll be able to decipher the meaning quite easily.
You'll also notice a number of typical Spanish constructions, e.g. valgame, trátala, cuéntala, corónala, darme, in which the object is added to the end of the verb. (You can also start paying attention to the spelling of words like "si" [if] and "sí" [yes])
By watching the YouTube video with its translation several times you can start memorizing the Spanish lyrics and their English meaning. Not only will the song sound even more beautiful now that you understand it, you'll remember the object constructs next time you see them in other contexts.
And when you hear other versions in Spanish (or in other languages) you may also recognize the changes in the lyrics...
(1) I recently came a across Sidney's postLearning through song made easy, which suggests four steps to improve both your listening and speaking (maybe even singing!) skills. It's fun AND effective and it not only works for Italian, but for Spanish and other languages as well!
Does your day look really busy, but you would hate missing your language learning fix? Are you looking to boost one or the other of your new foreign language skills? (Even the Shuttle, left, needed some boosters!)
Learning a foreign language as an adult requires you to find those methods and routines that work best for you and that allow you to apply them - ideally - on a daily basis.
Here are 5 ways you can improvise a quick foreign language learning moment.
READ 3-4 sentences ALOUD - preferably from an ongoing book you've been following. Reading aloud (or even in a whisper) gets you to work on your "mouth mechanics" - the way you need to move your mouth in order to produce the correct sounds. In the meantime, your brain is registering word order and an idiom or two.
Type or WRITE out (copy) a few interesting sentences from a book, magazine, Internet site, etc. Writing out a language is very different from reading it. You become much more aware of structure, spelling, endings, etc.
Take a useful sentence from a book or story, MEMORIZE it, and then write it out from memory. It can also be a famous saying. The sentence can be as short or long as you wish. Do this with 2 or 3 sentences, checking back to see if what you wrote was correct.
Doodle or DRAW 4-5 objects, such as furniture, clothing, fruit, items on your desk. Then write the name of each item in your new language. Maybe you'll have to look up the words. No-one has to see your drawing, unless you're a Picasso. But the act of creating images and labeling them is a great way to engage your brain.
LISTEN for a few minutes to your favorite foreign language song and follow the lyrics closely. Music is a compelling way to experience the rhythm and intonation of a language. (We had posted suggestions for French, German, Italian, and Spanish.)
Any of these 5 quick boosts will keep you learning. For steady progress, nothing can beat a regular learning routine, and these brief techniques can keep you going even in busy times.
A previous blog post featured a French song as a prime example for improving one's language skills in a fun way. Some readers asked us about Italian and Spanish songs.
As the Italian song we have selected “Quando, quando, quando”, an Italian pop song with a bossa nova rhythm. Alberto Testa wrote the lyrics and Tony Renis (see his picture left), who also wrote the music, performed it first in 1962.
Click on Tony's YouTube clip, which also shows the original Italian lyrics.
Pat Boone, Connie Francis, Michael Bublé et al...
What made this song so well known, was the fact that “Quando, Quando, Quando” was retained in many languages, although the lyrics were modified and adapted.
Over the years, many artists performed the song in English, including, among others, Pat Boone, Connie Francis, Engelbert Humperdinck, and Michael Bublé, who included it in his album “It's Time” in 2005.
There are well-known versions in German, French, Spanish, and in many other languages, and you can find YouTube clips of quite a few. Click on Michael Bublé's English versionhere.
What makes this song a good candidate for learning - apart from the “ear-worm” refrain – are a few typical Italian constructions and the future forms of several verbs:
dimmi – (tell me!) a word combination of two words “di” (tell!, say!) and “mi” (me), which you may hear quite often in Italy, e.g. in “Dimmi tutto”...
dirmi – (to tell me) similar as above, but instead of the imperative the infinitive.
baciandomi – (while kissing me), again a word combination of “baciando” (a gerund of baciare, for those who care) and “mi”.
the future tense – e.g. “tu verrai” (you'll come), “tu mi bacerai” (you'll kiss me), “attenderò” (I'll wait), “vedrò” (I'll see), “dirai” (you'll say), “lasceremo” (we'll let go), etc.
And I'll bet, once you hear this song a few times and understand the Italian lyrics, certain expressions will stay with you.
And even if you don't care for “Dimmi quando...”, but are trying to learn Italian - find Italian songs you like and use the web to help you translate them. You'll enjoy them even more when you can sing and understand them!
Postscript: I recently came a across Sidney's post Learning through song made easy, which suggests four steps to improve both your listening and speaking (maybe even singing!) skills. It's fun AND effective!
Listening to foreign songs is an excellent way to memorize key phrases and expressions – and having fun doing it. Sometimes, you may even start humming and repeating the refrains without exactly knowing the meaning.
In an earlier blog post -6 Tips for Learning a Foreign Language- we had suggested listening to songs as tip #4, as listening to music and songs can also fuel your enthusiasm for learning a new language.
Guten Morgen, liebe Sorgen....
This song was written and first performed by Jürgen von der Lippe in 1987. It's his greatest musical success and he sang it for the next 20+ years, with a refrain that is hard to get out of one's mind.
For those who don't speak German at all, this YouTube clip provides a (not always correct) translation.
You also may understand why the song is still popular in Germany today. And for those who know some German, similar points as above also apply:
The refrain both with its perfect (Morgen-Sorgen) and partial (da-klar) rhymes is still an ear-worm.
Expressions such as “na, dann ist ja alles klar” (well, then everything is ok) can easily be remembered.
Vocabulary such as “behende” (nimbly), “Schwung” (momentum), “Bettvorleger” (rug beside a bed) you probably won't find in your typical language course.
German has a lot of little words that add meaning to the message, words which often don't translate literally into English. In a song, these may be exaggerated and stressed, and thus be understood more clearly.
For example, "schon" (already) in the line "seid ihr auch schon wieder da"; or "na" (well) and "ja" (indeed), in the line "na, dann ist ja alles klar."
Which brings me to this question:
Which, in your mind, are the English, French, German, Italian, or Spanish songs that make great tools for someone learning the language?
Postscript: I recently came a across Sidney's post Learning through song made easy, which suggests four steps to improve both your listening and speaking (maybe even singing!) skills. It's fun AND effective and it not only works for Italian, but for German and other languages as well!
“The neurological links between language and music are vast but the basic thing to remember is that music activates more parts of the brain than language does, on both the right and left sides of the brain. So if you remember something to a tune, you are more likely to recall the information than if you just read it or heard it spoken..”
5. Start reading fun things
For example, follow Twitter posts in the language you want to learn. Or find online news texts, etc.
Reading, any kind of reading, has a huge, positive impact on second language learning. (Google now has an instant translation service for any text. The translation may be horrible, but you'll get the gist of the meaning.)
6. Reinforce your learning with things you enjoy
Watch a movie from time to time, look at YouTube videos, or news videos in your new language.
Find a language-exchange partner on a social networking site and start conversing via Chat or Skype.
These tips are not just for beginners, but they work really well when you're a beginner with a plan. Just go for it!!