Aventuras in Language, Miscommunication and Música

by multilingualmania on July 8, 2010

in Bilingual Language Development, Bilingualism, Humor, Language Learning, Miscommunication, Music

Lately I have been thinking back to some of the strategies that I first used to increase my proficiency in Spanish as my second language. I remember that I had taken two years of instruction in Spanish when I was in high school and I had a decent grasp of intermediate level vocabulary, verb conjugation and conversational fluency at the time. Then I discovered music in Spanish, and I suddenly began to see a dramatic increase in my vocabulary development, listening comprehension, pronunciation, and exposure to advanced grammatical forms–although I indulged in my share of misunderstandings along the way.

I remember the first time that I heard the song “Tú Sólo Tú” as performed by Linda Ronstadt. I was so intrigued by the “Mira como ando mujer, por tu querer”, and I was absolutely perplexed by her singing to a mujer, a woman, that I told my mother and family all about Linda Ronstadt being a lesbian that evening at the dinner table. Everyone was convinced that I was crazy because according to my expert mother she had her share of high profile relationships with men. But I was certain that she had to be a lesbian, because there was no other logical explanation that I could think of as to why she would sing a heart breaking love song to another woman.

“I’m right, mom. I understand Spanish and she was singing a love song to another woman,” I explained to mom as I puffed up my chest with pride that I had uncovered a secret that the monolingual English-speaking community was apparently too linguistically challenged be able to understand.

My mother brought home Ronstadt’s “Canciones de Mi Padre” cd for me a couple of days later and when I listened to the song a second time, I became even more confused because she used masculine forms of adjectives, as if she were a man:

“Why on Earth is she saying “borracho y apasionado” in this song, instead of saying “borracha y apasionada”, since she is a woman?? Do lesbians want to be men?” I asked myself over and over again. Over the next couple of days I listened to and memorized every single word in all of the songs, trying to crack the code. Yet interestingly enough I still did not have enough common sense to draw the conclusion that the whole album was titled “Canciones de Mi Padre”, or “Songs of My Father”.

It wasn’t until a bit of time later that I heard Selena sing the same song, using the feminine form of adjectives by saying “borracha y apasionada” as well as taking out the “mujer” part out of the song that it finally clicked that Linda Ronstadt was singing the song possibly from her father’s perspective or in the traditional form of the song. After all these years it is still amazing to me that I was able to translate and understand the entire song, but I still couldn’t figure out why she may have been using the masculine forms of adjectives.

Throughout the years I listened to tons and tons of music in Spanish, listening attentively and trying to look up words in the Spanish-English dictionary that sounded like the word pronounced in a song. I maintained a notebook where I would transcribe many of the songs, crossing out some words that I had heard that didn’t quite make sense in the context of the song and substituting them for other words or leaving them blank if I could not crack the code. I carried my notebook and cassettes to the houses of my native Spanish-speaking friends, constantly hounding them to help me fill in the blanks. Then one day I became such an expert that I was able to eventually fill in many of the blanks that even my Spanish-speaking friends were unable to understand, with the help of a better dictionary.

I sure wish that I could use my skills to understand parts of songs in English (you know, my native language?) that I have been unable to understand for all of these years!!

Has anyone ever had a similar experience?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Melissa July 9, 2010 at 2:38 am

I like this! My notebook was filled with words from the first Harry Potter book (what? It was easy and I knew the story!), which I started reading after language school and finished five (!) months later, but the obsessiveness of writing and asking and trying to fit things together is very familiar. I also got some CDs and learned songs often by memory before I really knew what they meant, and I still remember the occasional flash of insight as, listening to a song for the 90th time, the meaning suddenly became clear. And then again with another line, a few months later. So THAT’S what this song is about!

I do agree that music (and interesting books, too) are an excellent strategy for learning a language, especially for people, like me, who are just a bit too lazy to sit down and memorize a list of twenty words. Because let me tell you, that is not my style. :)

multilingualmania July 9, 2010 at 7:19 am

Haha! I read the first Harry Potter book in Spanish, also! Reading and music are great ways to practice. I also can’t just learn lists of words. It has to be in context or it will just completely slip my mind!!

Sarah July 27, 2010 at 8:31 am

The same thing happened to me when I was learning English! but it was my teacher who would print out the lyrics to songs we liked (like i don’t know, Backstreet Boys? haha), and she would leave blanks for us to fill. After a while it was so easy that now that I’m majoring in french I do the same thing. I play french music and I have a notebook where I write down and keep correcting the lyrics until they’re complete. But sometimes I have to play the songs at least ten times!

multilingualmania July 28, 2010 at 7:26 am

That’s great to hear that teachers do that! Music is an excellent way to learn a second language, and if teachers also include music that the students are listening to or like then students will be really engaged!!

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