It's now March… that means we are two months into our learning project. The past couple weeks had left me feeling a little upset with my progress. While I have undoubtedly improved on my vocabulary and subject/verb agreement, as well as my reading and basic writing, I have been very disappointed with my level of verbal fluency. I suppose I expected to be much further ahead in this aspect than where I am. When I speak, it is still very much broken, delayed, and conveys how unsure I am of myself when speaking. It's as if I have to rehearse what I want to say in my head before I speak it… which is less than ideal to be conversational in another language. In a small group setting, by the time I figure out how to phrase something, the conversation has already advanced to the point where my contribution sounds out of place or irrelevant. I had a little cry in the car a couple weeks ago while explaining my frustrations to my husband and confessed to him that I feel like my brain just isn't wired to speak another language with fluency. It hurts, because my main motivation for choosing this particular learning project is for my family. My husband responded by saying something very obvious, yet profound… he said, "Genna, we have two ears and one mouth for a reason." He told me to consider our daughter for example, she is admittedly behind other children her age in terms of her verbal fluency in both English and Spanish. He said that she's still taking it all in, processing it, testing it, and in time, she will find her voice and develop her fluency. I had to sit back and reflect on this for a bit. How could I use my two ears to develop my Spanish fluency?
I began searching the internet about the importance of listening in learning a language. I then came across a blog post by Benny Lewis, wherein he contends that listening to music and "singing is an amazing way to dramatically improve your language learning strategy", and lists 7 benefits to singing in another language. Intrigued by this, I began to explore deeper. A research study out of the University of Edinburg found that adults who sang in a foreign language were twice as good at speaking it. One of the conclusions of the study was "that by listening to words that are sung, and by singing them back, the technique takes advantage of the strong links between music and memory." This got me to thinking about my experience in French class as a child. I still remember the words to the songs we sang, like "Je Suis une Pizza" and "La Belle Pieuvre". Because of the first song, I am certain I could order a pizza in French with relative ease. It's interesting how words/phrases (language) stick to us through music! Out of curiosity, I wanted to see if I could find a copy of those songs today… and I was pleasantly surprised to come across students "remixing" those songs today! Below are two examples:
I then revisitedLewis' blog, wherein he bravely posted a goofy video of himself singing in German. I admired his approach to visible learning, and it got me to thinking…
Reflecting upon how singing in another language can improve fluency, I decided to embark on the most risky part of my learning project yet: learn a song in Spanish and sing it. Seeing as I am not a singer, nor very musically inclined, I decided that I needed to clearly focus on my goal, which was to improve verbal fluency. For this reason, I decided that I would pick a song I was already familiar with in English, as I would not have the added burden of learning a melody and meaning of a song, which could distract me from my main focus. For this reason--and due to being a Disney nut--I chose to learn "Let it Go" from the Frozen soundtrack.
My first issue was trying to find out what the song was entitled in Spanish. I discovered that there are, in fact, two Spanish versions of the song. One is entitled "Suéltalo", which I learned is something like "drop it" in Spanish. This version was produced for Spain, and the movie name was "The Ice Kingdom". The second translation of the song is entitled "Libre Soy", which translates to "I'm free". This version was produced for Latin America, and incidentally, the movie had a different title as well: "A Frozen Adventure". Seeing as I am focusing on Latin Spanish, I chose to learn the latter. As I was reading and practicing the lyrics, I began picking up on some words because my vocabulary has improved over the past two months. What I noticed is that some of the words/metaphors appearing in the Spanish version differed from that of the English version. This caused me to actually examine the translation of the song, and what I noticed is that while the theme is the same, the selection of metaphors differs, which makes the narrative unique in its own way. Up until delving into this endeavor, I had never given any thought to the translation of beloved movies, books, songs, etc. In these cases, direct translation is not possible… translation is always an interpretation. So, while the storyline can be very close, each translation takes on its own unique figurative meaning, which influence our understanding of these narratives. Even when looking for a translation of "Libre Soy" back to English, I saw different interpretations. After I developed my own 'interpretation of the interpretations', I also consulted my husband, a native Spanish speaker, who helped me draw out more sense of the lyrics. Once I rewrote the Spanish lyrics in English, I was able to learn the song better, as I had a full understanding of what I was saying... and within a couple weeks, I know it by heart. You will notice in my video that I have included my English interpretation of the Spanish translation, so that you can also observe the differences in the song.
I'm very nervous about posting myself singing, as I am not a good singer (which is why I'm singing with the original artist, Martina Stoessel) and likely opens me up to judgement and/or criticism… however, singing well was not my goal; building fluency was. I want to make my learning progress visible, so this is the best way to share this learning experience with you. If my video gives you a laugh, then great--I'm glad you are able to derive enjoyment from the experience like I did! My highlight in all of this is, for the first time in my entire life, I got to experience verbal fluency in another language. Granted, the words are not mine; however, I've never been able to speak more than one very basic sentence fluently. In the video below, I was able to speak fluently for three and a half minutes…multiple sentences--it felt so empowering! In previous posts, I have discussed how terribly self-conscious I am to speak Spanish out-loud (even to close family members)… in many ways, this experience liberated me from such a profound self-consciousness. While I may continue to struggle with nervousness and uncertainty while speaking… I'm not going to let self-consciousness stand in the way of me trying! In a way, I'm "Libre Soy" as well!
Teacher & Tech Coach with Regina Catholic Schools. Passion for EdTech, 21st century student-centered pedagogy, connected learning & differentiated instruction. Grad student.