Friday, November 7, 2008

¡Hola Paco! ¿Qué tal, Como estas?

Henning Sussebach from Die Zeit contributed this week's offering in the feature, The Album that Changed my Life. He selected Herbert Grönemeyer's 4630 Bochum. Bochum is a city just to the east of Essen with a similar backstory and Grönemeyer is one of a relatively few pop musicians in Germany that perform in their native language. If we discount the Schlager catagory of singers. And we certainly do.

My first experience with Grönemeyer was in fact a song from the Platte in question. The song was Männer, and it was played for me in a Textwiedergabe exercise during my six week crash course in German at the Universität Regensburg in the summer of 1994. At this point I knew just enough German to be able to ask where the bathroom was, but not enough to understand the answer when it came. I got a big fat zero in the exercise, recognizing no words in the song. Now I realize why. According to the article in this week's Zeit, Herr Sussebach, a native of Bochum and presumably reasonably competent in his native tongue, couldn't understand any of the words either. The classic line, "Du hast 'n Pulsschlag aus Stahl, man hört ihn laut in der Nacht," came across to him as "Du hassn-pulschla-auschta, mannöti-laut-indana."

Despite this inauspicious beginning, I became a devotee of the pop music method of language learning. There are other methods to be sure. My son used the comic book method and learned to speak a reasonably fluent Deutsch in about four months. He did tend to fall into a Captain Haddock mode once in a while and we all still use expressions from Lucky Luke, (Immer mit der Ruhe, Joe!) but all in all, an excellent learning approach. My daughter, on the other hand, is a firm believer in the TV method. She speaks almost unaccented German, but the danger here is that the TV student can use the language parrot-like and respond to simple questions with impassioned slogans from commercials. (20% auf alles - außer Tiernahrung!) For this and other reasons, I focused on pop music and I'm still using the method.

An advantage with this method is that pronunciation improves dramatically, maybe because singing seems to free us from expectations about how words should sound. It's allowed me to hear a lot of really difficult and subtle distinctions in German. Unfortunately, pop music tends to favor certain kinds of vocabulary. I'm currently studying Italian using the pop music method and if I need to end a romantic relationship with una ragazza during my sabbatical year, I'll be totally fluent. But all learning methods have their drawbacks, including official study in school. I studied Spanish for five years in school but when I go into Pablo's, my favorite barbershop back in Logan, I often give a quick report on the health of Paco y Luisa in answer to the question of how I'd like my hair cut. No doubt Pablo is used to this from some of his other gringo customers.

So did Herbert Grönemeyer's 4630 Bochum change my life? Probably not, but if I include all the music I've listened to in the service of language learning, Schrei nach Liebe, Adriano Celentano, Los Super Seven, I think I'd have to say, "Yes." According to Karl der Große, aka Charlemagne, to speak another language is to possess a second soul. I'd agree, and when you get your second soul by listening to pop music, it can be sehr charmant.


Michael Drake said...

Random. Back in 1994 I was in American band based in Regensburg, playing note-for-note '60s and '70s classics.

In particularly, we did a Schlager-inflected (or maybe eingeschlägert would be the way to put it) version of the Turtles' "Eleanor," complete with our best attempt at a translation of the lyric into German. (Tut mir Leid.)

Christopher T. Terry said...


sorry I missed the show. Sounds like it would have been a real cultural treat. Have you heard Die Fablulosen Theken Schlampen version of Stand By Your Man? It might be similar.


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