Eurovision for Language Learners

Once a year, I remember the biggest reason I am so interested in languages: the Eurovision Song Contest. As I told my German teacher a few weeks ago, it is also my annual reminder that I should have chosen Italian instead!

These days, Germany sends songs in English. Mediocre songs in English. Italy sends songs in Italian. Fabulous songs in Italian! Yes, France also sends French songs — and French is really the second “Eurovision language” to study — but ever since I dropped French back in university, I have not felt attracted to it again.

My point is that the ESC has given us a great library of songs to enjoy: 62 years of pop music! This has fascinated me for a long time. Before I really understood what I was doing, I had created a little language course for myself, inspired entirely by Eurovision. In case this is something you would also like to do, I share the details with you here!

Eurovision Past

If you like European languages and you like pop music, then Eurovision is a goldmine of material! English, French, Spanish, and German learners can get the most out of it, but there is something for almost everyone.

A couple of years ago, I challenged myself to learn one old German-language entry song a month. I started with one of the best: Merçi, Cherie (Austria, 1966).

My method: First, I simply listen to the song. Then, when I know the melody well enough to hum along, I read the lyrics. After I understand their meaning, I play the song again and sing along. Sometimes I even bring the lyrics around with me so I can keep practicing everywhere I go. I have a nice memory of singing Ein Bisschen Frieden (Germany, 1982) under my breath during a long bus ride.

But I must confess that I did only three German songs before the Italian ESC entries wooed me away! This year I want to try again, this time without a special schedule. My German is good enough now that I can feel finished with an exercise and know when it’s time to move on.

Eurovision Present

Although I am not really learning French and Italian, I pay special attention to the annual Eurovision entries from France and Italy. This year they were particularly good also!

They get the same treatment the German songs do, with a slight twist. When I look up unfamiliar words, I use a French-German or Italian-German dictionary. I don’t want to neglect my official target language!

I wish I didn’t also neglect French and Italian so much, but “Eurovision season” is really the only time I remember them. This comes naturally, without my having to force it. For the past three years, I have started the “season” by listening to — and singing along with — last year’s French and Italian entries. (This year I changed the formula a little with Austria’s 2016 entry . . . because it was performed in French!)

Eurovision Future

Although I cannot travel to Europe yet, I can always dream. And while I dream, I can do some language learning. This year, I have a new Eurovision-themed challenge for myself: Pretend you will be watching the next ESC live in its host city. Since that host city is Lisbon, my challenge is to learn as much “Tourist Portuguese” as I can before the first Semi-Final show begins.

“Eurovision Tourist Portuguese” would, of course, include all the lyrics to their beautiful winning song:

But he real inspiration for this challenge comes not from Portugal, but from Israel — and not from a singer, but an announcer! I mean Ofer Nachshon, who has been announcing the points from his country for the last nine years. During many of his appearances he has also said something lovely in the host country’s language. Sadly, this year may be his last one on the job, as the broadcaster he has worked for is shutting down forever.  I’ve grown to love his style and I hope very much that the next broadcaster to win the ESC contract hires him for a tenth Eurovision appearance. If they do and he speaks some Portuguese, I might be able to understand half of it!

Do you like the Eurovision Song Contest?

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