Learning Italian? Lighten Up with Music.

I’ve taken to utilizing Italian music to round out my knowledge of Italian.

If you’re on the journey to achieve some kind of competency when you learn Italian, then I highly encourage you to lighten things up and let Italian pop music be one of your teachers. Currently, I’m in a bit of  “pause” with intensive grammar studies (i.e. the more complicated verb tenses). When I did my month-long Italian language intensive at Torre di Babele in Rome (read my post about it), my head was so full that I felt as though surely it was too much and was seeping out of my ears. In the ensuing weeks and months, I became convinced that I had lost the lion’s share of what I had learned. But, thanks to stepping up my dedication to listening to Italian music, a lot is coming back to me now. And, in the context of music, it’s actually making sense.

To learn Italian through music can be a ton of fun.

Effective learning methods can be highly personalized. What works for one person might not be effective for another person. So, just consider this post a suggestion from one person who is finding it immensely useful AND a blast. From experience, I’ve learned that my brain opens up its receptors when the equation involves fun.

Italian movies and television are also great complements to classroom learning, but I’ll stick to music in this particular post.

Two pieces of advice about choosing music:

  1. Choose the music you like – anything that makes you tap your feet or rock along in your car. Though I’m going to share two of my personal favorites below (and explain why) don’t feel obliged or coerced to follow my lead.
  2. Find music with vocalists who enunciate fairly clearly and who speak in Italian and not dialect. I believe it’s essential that you are able to discern the breaks between the words and the subtleties of pronunciation. Don’t spend your time trying to navigate through “mushy” lyrics––well, at least to learn Italian.

Consider a couple of my favorites below, simply as a starting point for choosing your own! For each song I’ve included two YouTube videos. The first is the pure music video so you can get a sense of the song, and the second is an on-screen Italian-to-English translation with the song playing in the background.

I advise starting out with just a couple of songs and mastering the lyrics before moving onto other Italian songs. Slowly build your playlist.

Learning the lyrics to Italian pop songs will help you speak more poetically.

Well, that’s what I’m hoping. So much of the textbook and classroom learning leans toward the drier basics. As you’ve certainly surmised from my writing, I’m anything but dry, so hopefully, following music lyrics will help me add creative dimension to my expression.

Listening to lyrics will unlock and embed much of what you learn in school or self-study.

Here’s a personal example: the verb aspettare (to wait). In English we wait for something, so I’ve had this habit of saying “Aspetto per Simone.” But, with aspettare there is no “for” (per). The correct way to say this is “Aspetto Simone” which means “I’m waiting for Simone.”  Listening to the second song, Gocce di memoria, the lyrics contain a passage saying “Aspettiamo solo un segno..” or “We’re only waiting for a sign…”

I’d been having a hard time remembering not to do a word-for-word translation for aspettare. After listening to this song, I finally got it!

Francesco Gabbani – Occidentali’s Karma (Westerner’s karma)

I love this song. I suspect I look like a fool bouncing around in the car while listening to it. Francesco Gabbana, the songwriter and singer, won the top award at the prestigious Sanremo Music Festival 2017. The man makes me smile, and I love how this song pokes fun at the masses seeking spiritual enlightenment. My favorite line is “La scimmia nuda balla;” or “The naked ape is dancing;”

 

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[pexyoutube pex_attr_src=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqYnwb9psxc?rel=o” pex_attr_width=””][/pexyoutube]

Giorgia – Gocce di memoria (Drops of Memory)

Giorgia is an Italian pop icon. She took top honors at the Sanremo Music Festival in 1995. Widely praised for her vocal qualities, her career has been long and distinguished.

Gocce di memoria comes from probably my favorite Italian movie, La finestra di fronte, Facing Windows. It’s a love story (on multiple levels) and a mystery.

This song, in particular, is an example of well-enunciated lyrics.

 

[pexyoutube pex_attr_src=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gft81t8xqQc?rel=o” pex_attr_width=””][/pexyoutube]

 

[pexyoutube pex_attr_src=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7xHrUsXTQA?rel=o” pex_attr_width=””][/pexyoutube]

We all look for ways to beef up learning Italian, and this has been a great addition to my toolbox. I hope you find it useful as well!

 

By |2019-01-17T23:29:53+00:00July 11th, 2018|Speaking Italian|8 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!

8 Comments

  1. Andy Fuchs July 23, 2018 at 10:00 am - Reply

    Hi Jed,

    what a nice coincidence – I was just experimenting with the exact same strategy :), although on a much lower level of comprehension… But it’s really nice in ‘off’-times (when I am at work, listening to music draws too much of my attention).

    Maybe you want to keep a list of your favorite tracks around on your site? That could be a quite valuable resource.
    Interestingly there are quite some italian tracks using good italian wording or phrases in any musical direction you can think of (e.g. NEK, Francesco Renga, Ligabue).

    Thumbs up!
    Andy
    PS: Just a side-note: Your new site-header-menu (for me, Safari – Mac – retina display) ‘hangs’ quite a bit into the page. Lots of time it’s not really readably AND it covers your text’s partially. Couldn’t you put that into a smaller ‘sticky’ header?

    • Jed July 23, 2018 at 2:51 pm - Reply

      Hi Andy,

      Thanks for the suggestions. In fact, I’m going to start a “get started” music list and post it on the site in case anyone is looking for guidance.

      I’m also experimenting with the site header for privacy. I may just keep it at the bottom. Thanks for pointing that out!

      Jed

  2. Kevin July 12, 2018 at 8:08 am - Reply

    Jed, what a fantastic post! My learning so far has been pretty much confined to using Duolingo. I don’t so much think of it as a way to speak Italian…at least with any real skill level…but instead as a way to build vocabulary to make future learning (via immersion) a smoother process. While I’ve also considered subscribing to a RAI television package….or buying “Italian Easy Readers”….I’ve never considered music! I can’t wait to sing! Amy’s gonna hate you for this!

    • Jed July 16, 2018 at 4:11 pm - Reply

      Glad you liked this, Kevin. Amy knows how to find me chastise me for lighting this new fuse of learning. Bring it on!

  3. Debra July 11, 2018 at 5:39 pm - Reply

    Hey Jed,
    Your timing with this article is uncanny! I’m 90 days out from my return trip to Sulmona and have ramped up my self-teaching Italian lessons. I love this idea! Music is a great way to learn just about anything. I’ll be grooving in my car when I go to work later today. Many thanks as always….
    Debra

    • Jed July 11, 2018 at 7:57 pm - Reply

      Happy to help through some ideas into the mix. What I love is when I listen to these songs and the lyrics simply become a story and not a language!

  4. Susan Pohl July 11, 2018 at 1:07 pm - Reply

    Jed, thank you so much for this. What a great gift. They are both such great examples of what you talked about. Thank you for sharing this methodology with all of us.

    • Jed July 11, 2018 at 7:56 pm - Reply

      Glad you like, Susan. I’m pulling out all of the stops to help make speaking and understanding Italian something that feels normal!

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