Monday, April 02, 2012

Learning Italian by listening to operas

During the years I learned twelve languages. I must admit that I forgot some because I stopped investing time in them for keeping them up. Staying fluent in more than five or six languages is quite an effort, when one hasn’t a natural way to practice them, and when one doesn’t have a special talent for languages. I haven’t such a talent, so learning a language is hard work for me and keeping them up, too. Happily I found ways for daily practice for some languages, like reading or writing for my work, watching foreign news programs (which I find very interesting, for it tells you a lot about other countries), writing letters to people all over the world, and so on.
Once I met a Russian journalist on the Internet who asked me to write an article about how I learned all those languages. Actually learning twelve languages is not really extreme in view of the number of languages that some other people have mastered, but for her it was. Happily, I could write the article in English, for my Russian is not that good that I can use it for more than informal letters and for reading; then the journalist translated it for me (here it is:; sorry for those readers who cannot read Russian). In the article I described my language history and I gave also some tips for learning, like those I just mentioned implicitly. But recently I realized that I forgot one tip. As said, I learned twelve languages through the years, but unknowingly I learned also a thirteenth one: Italian. How did I do it? Simply by following another passion: listening to opera music and going to opera performances. Of course, preferably Italian operas (although I must say that Russian and French etc. operas give me also some practice in these languages). That’s not so difficult for isn’t opera Italian in the first place? And so I learned many Italian words: Andiamo (let’s go; how often do the singers say “andiamo”, when they are going to leave from the scene!); ragazzo and – of course – ragazza (boy, respectively girl); piangi (cry! weep!). And you can even learn to count by listening to opera music. For who doesn’t know how many sweethearts Don Giovanni had in Spain? Exactly: mille tre (1003). And since the Italian grammar is not really difficult, thanks to my love (amore) for music (musica) I can make myself a bit understood in Italian, too. Tutte le strade portano a Roma (all roads lead to Rome).
P.S. A little practice in Italian:


Fasulye said...

Hi Henk!

interesting to read a language-related topic on your blog! I have also studied some more languages than I can speak, this is pretty common. Indeed music can be benficial for language skills. For me it's pop music: I like to sing in different languages and I listen to CDs in different languages. I can't go to pop concerts because that is too expensive for me. But there are Italian pop singers touring through Germany singing their songs in Italian, so the Italian language is not only popular in operas. By the way I had a quick glance at the opera video and I found the male singer speaks clear Italian and of the female singer I couldn't understand anything of her Italian. I would assume the language of very high sopran voices is difficult to understand.


HbdW said...

Hello Fasulye,
Thank you for your reaction. Indeed there are many ways to learn a language, also with the help of music. It is true, the texts are often difficult to understand, also because many singers do not sing in their native languages. But most operas have also spoken passages. Moreover, all theatres have subtitles that give translations of the texts sung. This helps a lot, too, for learning the languages in the operas.