Italy Roundtable: What the hell am I listening to?!?

On 10 July 2012 by Jessica

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This month’s installment of the Italy Blogging Roundtable has two sides – at least, it has two possible sides. We had decided on the topic of VICES AND VIRTUES last month, and then pushed it back in favor of writing about the earthquakes in Emilia-Romagna, so this month we’re back on track.

Learning a language as an adult is hard.

I worked on French in high school, and then again later long after college, and both times was stymied by my inability to get my tongue and soft palate to do the necessary contortions to create the required sounds. In college, largely because it was an offbeat choice, I took a year of Biblical Hebrew, in which the book was organized in order of the frequency of word usage in the Bible. We never learned to ask about the location of the toilet, but the word “begat” was in something like chapter four.

Italian, by contrast, came much more easily when I started taking classes in 2001. The sounds weren’t impossible to make, and there were far fewer deceptive pronunciations than in French (not to mention English). I am a lazy student, however, and if I’m not actually signed up for a class or forced to use the language regularly because I’m traveling in Italy, I don’t practice.

Any lingering ability I have to converse in Italian is, I’m pretty convinced, due to how much Italian music I’ve listened to over the years. There are some singers who enunciate so clearly that you don’t have to guess at the lyrics, and playing those CDs on repeat for days has, in the past, given me access to turns of phrase I wouldn’t ordinarily have.

Up to this point, it’s all well and good. I’m keeping up my language skills by listening to music. This is also, however, where the trouble begins. You see, I’m not Italian, and I didn’t grow up in Italy, which means I have no idea if the artists that I play on repeat and sing at the top of my lungs are cool or not.

I have long lived in fear that my favorite artists are the Italian equivalent of someone like Britney Spears or Justin Bieber.

It could happen. I mean, most of the music toward which I’ve gravitated is pop, since that’s what’s played on the Italian radio station I favor and, often, the songs that are easier for me to understand. Singers like Nek, Eros Ramazzotti, Neffa, Alex Britti, Daniele Battaglia, L’aura, Tiziano Ferro, and Ligabue (among others) tend to be on heavy rotation. Translating the lyrics has, on occasion, left me feeling underwhelmed, although I tried to chalk it up then to a translation error on my part.

On some level, none of this should matter. If I like the music, that should be enough – the fact that it’s helping me learn a language is a huge bonus. And yet? It does matter. I’m a bit of a music snob, and the idea that I’m lowering my standards in another country is more than a little disappointing to me.

So, while listening to sub-par Italian music doesn’t exactly rank among the worst vices known to mankind, I certainly consider it a personal deficiency. And yes, if you’ve got Italian music you’d like to suggest that is both helpful to language-learners and not cotton-candy pop, I’m all ears.

My virtue? That I’m honest enough to tell you about my vice.

Do you have any vices to which you’d like to admit?

Other Voices from the Italy Blogging Roundtable

Find out what virtues and vices the other ladies at the Italy Roundtable are divulging this month – read their posts, comment, and share them.

>> Please note that the Italy Blogging Roundtable will be taking the month of August off – just like the Italians do! – so you’ll see us back with another Roundtable topic in September.

Italy Roundtable Suggestion Box

What would you like to see us write about in upcoming installments of the Italy Blogging Roundtable? If you have a suggestion for a topic, please leave it on our poll on the Italy Roundtable Facebook page.

photo by matsuyuki


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6 Responses to “Italy Roundtable: What the hell am I listening to?!?”

  • oh yeah, those really are like Bieber equivalents!!
    I learned with jovanotti. Still proud enough to like him, even though any good hipster will tell you he is too commercial.

  • Way too funny, Jessica! I’ve had the same thought so many times and I love my Italian songs, schmalzy or not. Great for developing an “ear” to the language. But why don’t I hear those words of love on the streets of Rome? 🙂
    Laura Pausini and Giorgia are terrific, and there’s no one who enunciates better than Andrea Bocelli.Even the arias are comprehensible (mostly).

    • Thanks for the comment, Laurel! Funny, I find Andrea Bocelli tough to understand, but I haven’t listened to him for years… Maybe now I’d understand him better? It’s worth a try, right? 🙂

  • What a great post!
    I, too, learned Italian as an adult – I was always terrible at languages at school, but Italian really stuck for me. It’s such a musical language, and as a professional musician I come across any number of Italian terms in music on a daily basis – perhaps that’s why it made sense?

    I know what you mean about listening to music though. I am constantly searching for ‘good’ Italian music (mi dispiace i miei amici Italiani, but you have an awful lot of terrible music!) – but if you like something, you like it! We all listened to awful music growing-up until we found what was cool, but the truth is that we all secretly have those favourite ‘cheesy’ tunes that we love! 😉

    Keep on keeping on, you’ll find stuff!

    Toby. xx

    PS: I occasionally have my stuff played on RaiDue – and I’m definitely cool! ;0) x

    • Thanks for the comment, Toby! And yes, we do like what we like – I have plenty of “guilty” pleasures when it comes to non-Italian music, too. 🙂

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