When an Italian classmate asked about the lyrics to a Bob Marley song, it was a lightbulb moment for me. We were on a field trip from Milan to Assisi, and the song was playing on the bus. Even though I’d heard it many times, beyond the refrain I had no idea what Bob Marley was singing. More significantly, I knew that just listening to it again would not help. And yet my Italian classmate thought his English must be terrible because he couldn’t understand the lyrics.
So English-speakers-learning-Italian rejoice: you can (eventually) understand the lyrics to most Italian songs just by listening. Below are three of my favorite songs, each picked not only for the music and the lyrics but for a language-learning milestone. And coming soon: a few posts on my friend Guido’s picks for the best Italian songs, ever.
1) Il Gatto e La Volpe, Edoardo Bennato
I learned this song my very first week in Italy – when I spoke absolutely no Italian – as an AFS exchange student during orientation week. Our Italian hosts played the guitar, and we sang this over and over, sitting around a campfire on Lake Como. We foreigners could only sing a few words from the refrain, but I’ll never forget them.
2) Non l’hai mica capito, by Vasco Rossi
Apart from the fact that I just like this song (and Vasco Rossi is just, well, Vasco), at the time I heard it, I was trying to figure out how the Italian expressions “ti voglio bene” and “ti amo” were different. In English they both translate as “I love you”, though the former is used for family and friends, and the latter is what we’d associate with “in love”. As a linguist, I find it fascinating that certain cultures and languages express this nuance with different words, while others, like English, rely on context.
3) Le Cose in Comune by Daniele Silvestri
I don’t remember where I first heard this song, but I’d already learned Italian, and the tongue-in-cheek lyrics about relationships made me smile. The lyrics are about everything the two people have in “common”, including both being born in the ’60s, ordering the same potatoes at the same restaurant, and even having the same bones. And not only that. Silvestri sings: “when I sleep, you sleep. When I cry, you cry. When I laugh, you laugh….”. And if you listen carefully, you’ll hear my favorite line: “when I cry, you laugh….”
While I was writing this post, I found out about a brand new website dedicated to learning Italian through music, and submitted my 3 songs. So if you’re interested in the full lyrics in Italian or their English translation, head over to Italyrics!
Are there any Italian songs that have helped you learn the language? Write them in the comments, or go submit them to Italyrics!
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