Learning French and Listening to Songs

What I wrote yesterday reminded me that, when I was learning French, I listened to songs a lot. My ex expressed puzzlement about it because, according to him, they all listened mostly to American music with some stuff from the UK mixed in, so nearly everything was in English. The problem I was having, I explained to him, was transitioning from what I used to call “schoolgirl French” to being fluent, or at least something close to fluent. I had actually done reasonably well in French classes in school. I can memorize vocabulary easily and grammar comes easily to me as well, but normal, casual social interaction in French was very hard for me to master. Incomplete sentences, mumbled pronunciation and dropped syllables left me staring in puzzlement.

The other thing which was strange, and I may have mentioned this before, was the feeling that the world lacked color. In our own languages, words have texture, nuance, associations and feelings. We choose one expression over another when we speak or write, not only due to the literal meaning, but due the feelings it may convey. In class, a word or expression might be marked as “familiar” or “formal,” and while that can be helpful for a total novice, it misses the full range of tones. It was a strange sensation when I was first living in a francophone environment to realize that the emotional content of the language was invisible to me.

Since in songs the music also supplies feelings and usually works in tandem with the lyrics, listening to songs helped to add context and color to words. That happens also in dramatic media, like films, but the fact that a person might listen to a song many times helped to make that emotional connection. Eventually, I could come to understand how certain turns of phrase were effective.

Now, don’t ask me why I can’t just throw everything in a box and have done with it, but as it happens those cassettes I was packing also included some of the stuff I was listening to when I was trying to master French. When some Canadians realized I was listening to Kevin Parent, several of them insisted I shouldn’t because I would learn “bad French.” Kevin Parent is a bit of an outlier for my taste, being more in the singer/songwriter vein. I can’t quite put my finger on why he appeals to me, but why question a good thing, right?

Seeing that I’m moving – yet again – this song seems appropriate:

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