Why is it so Hard to Find Pop Music in Other Languages?

This podcast goes into so much detail - it's an exploration of pop music in languages and language learning.

  • Why does pop music matter for language learning?
  • What influence does the industry have for which music gets made and which doesn't?
  • Why is English such a convenient language for pop music?
  • How should you incorporate pop music into your language learning routine...or should you?
  • Where can language learners find music in their own target language?
  • Who are our favourite artists in other languages?
Read More

The Hottest German Lesson in Town: Deutschland 83 and Major Tom (PLUS Free Lyric & Vocab Sheet)

One of the most wonderful things about learning a foreign language is to get to know the country behind that language. What is beyond the flashcards? What makes that place? It's awesome to dive into history and geography, cook a few recipes (like Shannon from Eurolinguiste) and of course discover what they watch and listen to.

If you're a regular listener of the Creative Language Learning Podcast, you may have already noticed that there is a new German language TV show on the block. Deutschland 83 is a spy drama set in one of my favourite periods of German history: the 1980s, right in the cold war. You can catch it on iTunes, on Amazon, or currently on Channel 4 in the UK.

german lesson deutschland 83

German History: Spies, Terror and Economic Miracles

So here's the world at the time of Deutschland 83: Germany lost a world war and then the Eastern part of the country was made into a Socialist republic. The West started a kick-ass economy that went so well it became known for its Wirtschaftswunder, the economic miracle of the 1950s. In the 1960s, youth rebellion and peace movement shook our society, and Western Germany even struggled with its own terrorist group, the Red Army Faction. All the while, the Eastern part of Germany was locked away behind a wall and involved in the hottest army race of the 20th century: the Cold War.

Plenty going on at the time of Deutschland 83 then! The show's premise places a young Eastern German soldier into the West, where he's given a new identity and a bunch of adventurous spy tasks. It shows society in the West and East, the big fear of atom bombs laying waste to all of Europe, and a few hilarious scenes where a confused bunch of high-level spies stare at a floppy disc, wondering what it does.

Discover Germany's Answer to David Bowie

One of the unmissable things about Deutschland 83 is its awesome soundtrack. Let me introduce you to its theme song "Major Tom", Germany's synth driven response to the wonderful David Bowie. I've prepared a lyric sheet for German learners which you can download below.

Major Tom, written by Peter Schilling, was inspired by Bowie's song "Space Oddity", which tells the story of an astronaut abandoning his mission, decoupling from base and going off to live in space.  In Germany, the song became a huge hit and one of the flagship sounds of Neue Deutsche Welle, the biggest 1980s pop music trend which also included Nena and her famous song "99 Luftballons". In fact, if you pay attention in episode one of Deutschland 83, you'll hear the song playing in the background at a party in East Germany (where playing Western music would have been an offence!).

Germans have never stopped loving Major Tom, and today there is no good beerfest without everyone shouting völlig schwerelos (completely weightless) and waving their hands about.

Bonus: Major Tom in French

Major Tom's fame was all over Europe in the 80s, so if you're a French learner you can use the same song for study. Here's the cover by Belgian synthmeister Plastic Bertrand (of Ça plane pour moi fame) will make sure that you don't miss out.

If you're listening to this song and can't shake the feeling that you know it from somewhere, it might be because Deutschland 83 is not the first show to feature Major Tom. If you're a fan of AMC's "Breaking Bad", you might remember the Gale Boetticher version - are those Thai subtitles?

Share Your Playlist

I'd love to hear from you about your own favourite 1980s tunes. Do you love pop music like Major Tom? Tell me about your playlist in the comments.

If you love the sound of Major Tom, don't forget to download your free Vocab & Lyric Sheet. 

You can also check out this article to get a step-by-step guide to using music for language learning.


How Becoming a Musician Can Improve Your Languages: Shannon Kennedy from Eurolinguiste on the Podcast

Take just 2 minutes and win prizes by telling us about you in our Creative Language Learning Podcast Listener Survey.

In Episode 25, I enjoyed a conversation with Shannon Kennedy. Shannon writes the travel, language and life blog Eurolinguiste. She's a musician. And knows seven languages.

During the course of this interview I took the neatest notes I have ever written. My guest Shannon Kennedy just has that effect on you. She's calm, considered and very experienced in language learning.

You'll hear about:

  • Why Shannon's blog a language learning blog with travel tips and recipes
  • How to take responsibility for your books and apps
  • What it takes from you when you study with a teacher
  • What it's like to study a language as an introvert
  • How becoming a musician can make you a fantastic language learner
  • The Benefits of Language Switching
  • The lovely lovely word indulge

Tips of the Week

Shannon's choice of the week was tip 3, because transliteration can help you no matter if you are learning another writing system or an unusual grammar structure.

1) Join a Choir, learn a language

2) Use Mind Maps for learning a new language (here's an article about this in German)

3) Use transliteration to master foreign writing systems

Tips and Links from this Podcast

Don't forget to take our Listener Survey today.

“If I Were a Boy”: What Happens if French, Spanish and German Girls Share an Idea

Today I have a guest post for you here on Fluent, hopefully giving you insights into language learning through musics in a wholly new way. What if you didn't just watch "Let it Go from Frozen in 25 Languages" on YouTube. How about learning about how different languages use grammar to all express a common theme?

My guest Paul writes on behalf of Language Trainers, a language tutoring service. You can find some of their resources at languagetrainers.com and also email him at paul@languagetrainers.com.

img ©instyle

img ©instyle

It’s a question we’ve all thought about at least once -- if you woke up one morning and discovered that you were suddenly of the opposite sex, what would you do? Incidentally, this rhetorical situation has so thoroughly plagued pop singers around the world that they’ve been prompted to write songs about it! Indeed, there are popular songs titled “If I Were A Boy” in at least four languages -- English, Spanish, French, and German.

Unsurprisingly, the hypothetical male versions of the women who sing these catchy pop songs have different goals -- where Beyoncé is focused on doing right by her woman (“I’d stand up for her”), French songstress Diane Tell is more concerned with material goods (“Je t'offrirais de beaux bijoux” / I’d offer her beautiful jewels). And German group Fräulein Wunder has a slightly less glamorous set of goals, such as peeing with no hands (“Und nur zum Spaß freihändig pissen” / And piss with no hands for fun).

But regardless of whether their fantasies involve romance, riches, or going to the bathroom, these ladies all share one thing in common: their music gives us a great reason to practice the subjunctive. Yes, that’s right: an unintended side effect of these gender-bending tunes is that they give us learners a perfect chance to see the second conditional in action. So without further ado, let’s deconstruct the rich grammar lessons underlying the Spanish, French, and German versions of “If I Were a Boy”.

Spanish: Si Yo Fuera un Chico by Beyoncé

Beyoncé’s original English-language song “If I Were A Boy” was so popular that she translated and re-recorded a version en español for her Spanish-speaking fans. Since then, it’s been a hit in Latin America and Spain, as well as among students trying to learn the second conditional in Spanish. Let’s take a look at what Beyoncé would do if she were a boy.

Si yo fuera un chico / If I were a boy

Sé que podría saber / I know that I would be able to know

Comprender mucho mejor / How to better understand

Lo que es amar a una mujer / What it means to love a woman

Poignant, Beyoncé! But even more than being a sweet sentiment, these lyrics give us a great chance to learn the subjunctive in Spanish. Note that she uses the past subjunctive of “ser” (to be) -- fuera -- to indicate that the situation is hypothetical, or at least very unlikely. And later, she uses the conditional form of “poder” (to be able to) -- podría -- to indicate something that she would do if circumstances were different.

Who knew that Beyoncé was not only a queen of American pop music, but also a professor of Spanish? To find out what else Beyoncé would do if she were a boy, as well as to hear some more examples of second conditionals in Spanish, listen on here.

French: Si J’étais Un Homme 

Diane Tell is a French-Canadian singer who is arguably the one who started it all: in 1981, she became well-known throughout Canada and Europe when she released “Si j'étais un homme”, a solid three decades before Beyoncé’s version. Though Diane is a little more keen on material goods than Beyoncé (she goes on to write about expensive jewels, perfumes, and flowers), the message is the same: she would be very romantic if she were a man. In fact, at the end of the song, she proclaims:

Ah ! si j'etais un homme / Oh! If I were a boy

Je serais romantique… / I would be romantic…

And thus we encounter another great chance to brush up on our second conditionals. In French, like English, the second conditional is used to describe impossible or improbable situations. Here, it’s formed by taking the imperfect first-person tense of “être” (to be) -- ètais -- to express that the situation is not real. Then, like in Spanish, the conditional form of “être” -- serais -- indicates the same sentiment that “would” expresses in English.

To hear the rest of Mlle. Tell’s imaginative ideas, hear the full song here.

German: Wenn ich ein Junge wär

The spunky ladies of German band Fräulein Wunder do away with the sweet, romantic notions in the Spanish and French versions of the song, and instead zero in on the really important topics: Playboy, beer, and Kampfsport machen (combat sports). But despite the fact that their version of “If I Were Boy” is decidedly more vulgar than the others (making it a great song for learning German swear words), a G-rated grammar lesson can still be found within the profanity.

Wenn ich ein Junge wär / If I were a boy

Ich würd mit meinen Kumpels raufen / I would scuffle with my buddies

Ich würd mein’ nackten Hintern zeigen / I would show my bare butt

Amongst the fighting and flashing, some grammatical rules emerge: the subjunctive II is formed by adding an umlaut to the imperfect form of the verb -- so “war” becomes wär. This indicates that the situation described isn’t real. Then, the conditional: like English, German uses an entire word -- würd -- to express the sentiment of “would”; likewise, the verb that follows is in infinitive (uninflected) form, as we see with raufen and zeigen.

Some of Fräulein Wunder’s lyrics were too explicit for me to write about here, so prepare yourself, and listen to their entire song by clicking on this link (warning: parental advisory!).

Learning Grammar Through Music

As these ladies’ songs have shown us, music is a great way to enjoy yourself while picking up important grammar points. Given that songs are often written in common, colloquial language, they’re also great for learning phrases and sayings that you wouldn’t learn in class. For more foreign-language music ideas for language learners, check out these extensive suggestions. And don’t forget to sing along -- that way, you’ll be getting in some speaking practice as well! (Though, please -- be mindful of your surroundings when singing along to “Wenn ich ein Junge wär”.) Happy listening!

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent, the Language Learning Blog. If you are feeling stuck right now, why not subscribe to Fluent and check out our language book shop.

Guest Post: 4 Artists Successful Language Learners Listen To

Today's guest post comes from Alice Morell, all the way from the Big Apple. She writes all about the world of music over at  http://mymusicbox.org, and you can also find her on Twitter. Alice has been investigating the best bands for learning another language and today she'll help out with her tips on

  • the most romantic French band
  • a hot and famous Colombian artist for Spanish learning
  • Germany's liveliest pop group
  • learning English with classic rock passion

Over to Alice!

img © contactmusic, idol, puremusic

img © contactmusic, idol, puremusic

Communication with Bon Jovi: Because we can!

We all know that music is a wonderful way of absorbing life’s lessons, and since elementary school we’ve used it to learn the very foundations of foreign languages.  Long before we could read or write, we were singing, often incorporating words into our language that we didn’t know the meaning of, but we could belt them out with ease! 

Alphabet songs are nearly universal, existing in almost every language, and there’s no coincidence there, music is simply an excellent way to learn language!  Music’s rhythm and harmony allows the sounds and cadence of a language to sink in to our long-term memory, and singing along helps our lips and tongue adjust to forming the sounds that are the foundation of that language.  The fact that singing has recently been shown to be excellent for our health is just a bonus!


In this article we’re going to introduce a few songs that we can use to build on your command of foreign languages, and we’ll start with the phenomenal Indochine. French bands don’t get as much play on the global arena as they probably deserve, and Indochine is one of those bands that really jumps out when you first hear them.  They’re somewhat reminiscent of the rock bands from the 80’s and 90’s, without the driving force of the heavy guitar.  They perhaps more in common with Bob Seger than they do Metallica, but with their catchy songs and easy to understand lyrics, they’re a great tool in learning how to speak French.

The French have always been known as being the masters of the language of Romance, and Indochine is no different.  Such is the case in this next song, where a lover calls out to the man in the moon, wanting to know why he suffers so, and why his love has left him alone in the end.   Sometimes we know the nature of a given thing, and he certainly did—they both agreed it was an adventure, just a torrid affair, but in the end it became much more… To him at least.   The song “J'ai demandé à la lune” speaks of the pain of lost love, and the descent into a sort of lunatic madness.   All we can do is demand of the world, of anyone who listens, to know why our pain is such as it is, why there seems to be no respite.  Perhaps, if there is someone you desire to win back more than anything, you can try winning them back with this song in the language of Romance!


But French is not the only beautiful Latin language. Of the Spanish speaking performers in the world, there are few who so embody the heart of their language as does Shakira.

This Columbian born beauty entered the world on February 2, 1977 as an only child.  Her desire to perform came early in life, starting with an encounter with a doumbek in a Middle Eastern restaurant.  At that moment she took to the table and started dancing, and the dream of performing professionally was born in her.  She followed it faithfully through her life, though not without some stumbles, and it took her until nearly 1995 to successfully enter the Latin market professionally. Then, in 2001, she exploded onto the world scene.

Shakira is the mistress of more than one language, and she is known for her vibrant and energetic body movements as well as the sheer fire she puts behind her lyrics. The song La Tortura shows that the right woman can get into your head and never leave, even if you failed to keep her by your side.  From that moment, you’ll forever be on the outside, remembering the past with a hunger that overrides every thought of the present with a deep longing for the past. Singing along with this will help bring out the passion in you, and kindle a smoking fire of memory about the hungers of times gone by.

Wir Sind Helden

What if Latin is not your thing? How about Deutsch? There’s a little known fact about the German language, and that’s how close America was to speaking it as the primary language.  When the vote went down to determine what the ‘official language’ of America was going to be, we were one vote away from greeting people with “Guten Tag!” instead of hello. 

The members of Wir sind Helden are incredibly passionate about life, and more importantly living it.  It’s almost as if this next song was a call out to all of the who keep vacillating between action and inaction, tormented by their emotions and unrequited love.  “Alles” is a song that talks about embracing your life, and truly living it.  Stop whining and complaining about the situations you live bound by, and do something about it.  Get up and live your life, because in this uncertain world everything is allowed, and everything is believed, and everything’s forgiven, and everything’s in vain.

 Wir sind Helden is an amazing band that speaks of some of the fundamental absurdities of being human.   We want so much, we strive for so much, but we stand in the corner not telling people we love them.  We wait for others to fall in love with us rather than reaching out and loving others, and we hide in our corners afraid of what will happen.   So what’s stopping you from reaching your dream of learning German?  With Wir sind Helden to guide you through learning the language with its beautiful upbeat songs, not a thing!  

Bon Jovi

And what about those of you who might be wanting to take your English to the next level? We’re going to end our little trip with a ramble through through the wild west of 80’s rock and the only peace a wandering a vagabond may ever know.  In this ballad, none other than the legendary Bon Jovi belts out his love for a woman who is the only reason he ever decided to set his boots by the door. During this one quiet moment, he takes the opportunity to tell her he’d stop his wandering ways, and lay her down on a Bed of Roses, if only just to stay right where he is forever.

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent - The Language Learning Blog. Don't forget - if you sign up to our newsletter, you will receive a free Guide to the Best Language Learning Resources!





Eurovision is letting language learners down

It's the best song in Europe, honey!

What were you doing last Saturday night? If you are like 125 million Europeans, you may have spent a few hours in front of your television following one of the continent's best-loved TV traditions: the Eurovision song contest! It features bilingual presenters, entrants from European countries such as Azerbaijan and Morocco, and one of the largest tele-voting networks outside the USA.

Eurovision stage ©wikimedia

Eurovision stage ©wikimedia

Is Europe ruled by English?

But there is one thing that bugs me about the contest: The rules were changed in 1998 to allow countries to submit entries in any desired language. As a consequence, a lot of countries opted for the widely understood English language. And the numbers don't prove them wrong - the Economist reports that most of the winning songs were sung in English, only followed by French on a far-off second place. The article says "whether you find this linguistic convergence cheerful as an Abba foot-stomper or depressing as an Icelandic fishing trip will say as much about your politics as it will your views on language."

Most winning songs were performed in English - songs (mostly) in English won 24 times. French is also popular, with 14 victories. Dutch and Hebrew songs won 3 times each
— eurovision.tv

Why Eurovision entrants should sing in their official language

This may not come as a shock to Fluent blog fans, but I say let's get the old rules back and give so many countries a voice in their own words.

  1. Europe is one of the most beautifully diverse continents in this world (top 5 I'd say!) and its languages are one of the strongest symbols of that diversity. If we don't support languages from every country, we risk losing them.

  2. Eurovision is not a popularity contest - or at least it shouldn't be. In a world where the voting is so skewed by silly political considerations, I believe that singing in English can mean trading in a little bit of your national identity for bland conformity.

  3. Inspiration can strike in the language learner anywhere, and this is one of the most famous platforms for some countries to show off their beautiful languages. The brave countries took the decision to submit an entry in their native tongue this year, and to me, each of them stood out: Iceland, Estonia, Italy, Spain, Greece, I salute you!

What do you think - is winning the Eurovision with a bland English-language track better than flamboyantly celebrating what your country has to offer? Are there any entrants that combined both?

Read more about Music and Language Learning on the Fluent blog:

Where to look for inspiration

Musical Language Learning Hacks

And you can see me speak 25 European languages on this Youtube video:

Fluency Masterclass, Part 3: Listening

Welcome to the next part of the Fluency Masterclass. These four articles feature my best tips on how to boost your proficiency in the four core skills of language learning. I believe that balanced core skills are the best way to become fluent and confident. These Masterclass articles are designed to give language learners of any level new inspiration, and a focus on the core skills

Language Learning Core Skill: Listening

I'll let you in on a secret: My listening skills aren't really world famous. I have a tendency to guess ahead in conversations and get excited, cut in, intterupt and so on. Hey, it keeps life interesting! But as with all weaknesses, it's good to work on them a little. So my tips are in fact good advice for listening in any situation. I have found them helpful for improving my attention span and communication skills.


1) Listen from Day 1

Listening is so important in language learning. It's closely connected to the learner's comfort level and pronunciation skills, and in addition to that it presumes NO language knowledge at all! There is no pressure on learners to respond or produce language, no rule that says you have to pay full attention all the time, and it can be pretty entertaining too. So my advice really is this: Listen from day 1. In fact, make that day 1 about learning your new alphabet and copying the sounds you're hearing. The BBC, for example, has some excellent alphabet resources.

2) Make notes, repeat and summarize

This is such a simple and effective exercise. I recommend you start working on it in your native language before moving on to foreign language situations. Next time you find yourself listening to someone talking at length, especially in a face-to-face situation or on the phone, get out the notepad. Make notes of the most important points of what they are saying, and ensure you don't miss any. If a real notepad and pen are likely to come across just a bit odd, try and make mental notes.

This technique is in fact part of a communication approach called active listening. It emphasizes that it is important to identify the message. In language learning, this means: Don't get stuck on words you don't know. As long as you know what the main message is, stage 1 is complete. Repeat the audio a few times to fine tune every word.

3) Use a transcript - or make your own


A big part of language learning success is in recognising which sounds correspond to which letters on a page. Click to Tweet this

Remember that we are not focusing on one core skill in order to block out the others. Listening is easily combined with other skills. You can read along using a transcript. Or in order to improve your writing skills, write your own version of the transcript and then compare it with an official one. You'll be training your spelling, listening comprehension and speed all in one go!

4) Bring back the music

I wrote about the many benefits of making music a part of your language learning on the Fluent Language blog last year. If nothing else, it's fun! Music is such a great and obvious place to start for learning a language. You can work with specific materials aimed at language learners like the Teach Me Everyday series, or just get right in there and work with songs. Why not read up on how to do it on this blog article.

5) Use a really wide range of sources

Your target language has many sub-sets of language groups, and in real life situations you may never know which one you are going to encounter. So especially when you work on listening skills, it's important to cast the net wide. Take turns listening to the news, rap songs, local dialects and whatever you can get hold of. To get you started, note that many news services do a simplified language version of their own news casts, for example DW in German, RFI in French or Sveriges Radio for Swedish.

There is a wealth of further materials out on the web all about this topic, for example the following articles:

Got more tips? Comment away, I want to hear it!!

And while you're here, don't miss what's new on my blog by joining the Fluent Language Learning Newsletter.