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[Editorial] Why I Prefer Listening To Musicians Sing In Their Native Tongue

I’m one of those guys who pops in a foreign horror movie into my DVD player (I still haven’t upgraded to Blu-Ray. Shove off.) and makes sure that it’s set to English subtitles and the original language as my audio. I’d rather read the text at the bottom of the screen than see mouths move without the words matching. That throws me off more than anything else.

But the main reason I do this is because I love hearing the languages of the world. I want to hear the difference between Spanish and Portuguese. I want to hear how Serbian is different from Russian (True story: Since I know a bit of Russian, I was actually able to understand several words and phrases in A Serbian Film). It’s so exciting to hear the flow and intonations of other languages and it makes the world a much richer place for me.

The same thing applies to my love of music. I love hearing people sing in different languages because it makes it that much more of an adventure. While I may not understand what they are saying (that’s why translations are available), their passion and the musical flow of their voice is so enchanting that I’m hooked.

It’s a joy listening to an artist such as Emilie Simon, Rammstein, or Dir En Grey, because I get to hear a language that I don’t normally encounter in my daily life. Be it French, German, Japanese, Swedish, Hebrew, Arabic, Portuguese, etc…, these are all languages that I’m not familiar with. They tantalize me when I hear them.

When I hear these people sing in another language, it changes what my mind normally envisions. I think of all the images and associations I have with that language and I place the music there and not here, in my everyday surroundings. For instance, when I listen to Bergraven‘s “Doende“, I think of ice floes with stone ruins jutting out like half-buried monoliths.

When Emilie Simon sings “Annie“, I think of Paris at night during a rain storm, the streets black, puddles reflecting the light from lampposts, cafes nearly empty, perhaps one or two people inside sipping coffee waiting for the storm to pass.

I listen to band’s like Lacuna Coil and their song “Senzafine” and, while I don’t understand the lyrics, I can make educated guesses as to some of them. For instance, when Andrea screams out, “Madre!”, it’s pretty easy to guess that he’s saying, “Mother!” But why is he calling out so desperately for his mother? What does the rest of the song say that makes this such a need for him?

It’s moments like these that I relish when listening to music. It’s times like those where I get to let my imagination run completely free, creating my own story that will satisfy my curiosity until I need to know the true meaning, at which point I look up the translation of the lyrics and see how close, if at all, I was.

Look, I realize that, at the end of the day, it’s a totally subjective, personal choice. Me, I love hearing people sing in their native tongue. But what about you? If you had a choice, would you rather hear people sing in their own language or in your primary language, so that you can understand the lyrics?

Would you rather hear someone sing in their native tongue or in your primary language? free polls 

Got any thoughts/questions/concerns for Jonathan Barkan? Shoot him a message on Twitter or on Bloody-Disgusting!



  • WalkingDeadGuy

    Listening to songs sung in its native tongue is the way to go. I don’t have too many such songs in my library, guess I’m not that worldly, heh. I am proud to say I do own the German version of the 80’s classic “99 Luftballons” by Nena; never felt right listening to the english version :-/

  • djblack1313

    i’ll probably get laughed at for this but the only example i have with a singer using his/her native tongue (and not using it) is Enya. she’s done a couple of her songs in both her native tongue on original releases of certain albums then in later pressings of the same album (with no warning on the disc) every song was in English and when sung in English these tracks in question lose almost all their charm IMO.

    • JonathanBarkan

      Hey now, nothing wrong with Enya. I’ll pop on some of that now and again when it fits my mood.

  • SlothyPunk

    I wouldn’t say I prefer one over the other but I don’t have a problem with native tongue. Wizo are amazing and Japan has some amazing punk bands who sing in Japanese. Also, I love Maximum the Hormone, who switch between both 🙂

  • highly_suspicious

    Another reason why foreign languages are cool to listen to is because while they cease to have intellectual resonance the vocals become another instrument and have a more visceral role. You become more in tune with the sound as opposed to the actual content.

    Some native speakers do this as well, such as the Cocteau Twins. The vocals are deliberately hazy and reverbed and so you have no idea what she’s singing. Even with a lyrics sheet to decipher it they still make no sense. It’s all about the sound and the atmosphere triggered by it.

    And take a look at the majority of metal groups: screaming vocals don’t have to be decipherable to be powerful.

  • violentdope

    A serbian film,what a great family film.hahaha I actually loved it but im a sick fuck so go figure.Subtitles are the way to go otherwise it takes you out of the film imo.

  • violentdope

    IM an idiot…hahaha…check out sigur ros from iceland

    • JonathanBarkan

      Love Sigur Ros!

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