The Language Barrier

Dateline: 10/10/97

I find that as time goes by, less and less of the music that I listen to is performed in English. Some of the people around me are quite impressed by this, others find it bizarre that I would spend my time and money on music with lyrics I don't always understand.

From a purely artistic standpoint, I have to admit that at first, I pay more attention to the sound of music than the lyrics -- after all, if I don't find a particular sound or style appealing, I generally don't stick around long enough to concentrate on the lyrics. The sound of music includes the tone, emotions, and strength of the singer, all of which are traits which come through even if he or she is singing in a different language.

However, especially if it is something I am listening to repeatedly, I know I am missing the other dimension of an artist's work, by not comprehending the lyrics. Singer/songwriters from other cultures are poets just as much as American or Canadian composers.

Most of the "foreign" music I listen to is either in French or German. For me, music has been the best way to learn another language, as I can now associate French in particular with something towards which I can easily relate. In high school, as I struggled with my French for the sole purpose of making university entrance requirements, I was not quite as passionate.

So, if you find something pleasant to your ears which is not in your native language, don't let that discourage you. After all, many native French, or German, or Hindi, or Spanish speakers listen to popular English artists, and no one thinks twice about it. Believe it or not, English is one of the hardest languages to get a grasp of, with all of its colloquialisms and dialects.

Over time, you will find that certain aspects of the language will begin to sink in. You might want to get a hold of some translation dictionaries, to figure out those passages which have aroused your curiosity.

Of course, there are many online resources available to aid learners of many languages. While they will in no way make you fluent, they will at least help in gaining a basic appreciation of a particular language. As I said before, the best place to start is with a good translation dictionary. The English-German and German English Online Dictionary lets you type in a work in German, and gives you its German equivalent, and vice versa.

Many of you who browse sites in Japan notice that often the pages come through with unusual looking characters that don't look particularly Japanese. Shoduka, and Internet resource for those who do not have Japanese fonts installed, or are without Japanese operating systems, should help. Chinese is also a visually stunning language, and writing in Chinese is an art few master. Animated Chinese Characters shows individual brushtrokes in an animated format, as you watch letters created one by one.

For some languages, translators are online waiting to help you. If you have the communications program Powwow, you can call an Online Spanish Translator. Be sure to have Powwow running before you call, and even if he is not there, this site offers a wealth of information on the Spanish language. In Canada, The Spanish Centre for Language & Culture offers classes and information.

One last resource for now: if you are into French music, please note that French spoken in France and that spoken in Québec differ in terms of dialect. To highlight these difference, check out Phonétique du Français Québécois. There is a lot of information on dialect, grammar, and phonetics for Québec French.

I hope to focus on more online language resources in future weekly features. If you know fo any good ones for any language, please feel free to email me, and tell me about it.

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