Having Love for a Culture and Language

Most of us who are studying a language are doing it because we are curious about the culture; some part of it resonates with us. What better way to learn about culture than through language? When you go beyond memorization and start taking a deeper look at what natives talk about, how they refer to things, the jokes they make, that's when real language learning starts to take place. When you uncover words and figures of speech that point to how the culture thinks, you develop a much deeper understanding of both the language and the culture. 

Lyrics are an amazing avenue for that. People express themselves through music. They sing about love, struggles, triumphs, relationships... it's truly a profound experience.

I have songs in both of my learned languages, Spanish and Dutch, where I can remember how I felt when I understood the lyrics for the first time. Thinking in another language brings another side of you out. It's possible to have an emotion in another language that just feels stronger than in another. Things can carry more weight, and there can be lots of ideas going on in the background of a single word.

With Spanish, my favorite songs are love songs. The way they express their love is incredibly rich and deep. Words like, 

"I live drowning in jealousy and spite, knowing that I lost you. Jealous of his kisses on your body. I hate him even though he makes you happy." 


"I show you off, I talk about you all day like a crazy person, because to me you are a queen. It is a treasure to be yours. I feel powerful like no other human every time you take me by the hand."

Those were the types of songs I listened to for the first few years of speaking Spanish. For a large portion of that, I was young and in love. First, I was in high school surrounded by Mexican culture and friends and later, I was in a serious relationship with the son of a Mexican immigrant. 

Then later, I was independent and about to start traveling and chasing my dreams. My sister and I decided on Puerto Rico, and as we saved up money to go I found myself discovering a new Spanish genre. I had met someone who had immigrated from the island a couple years ago and we'd become good friends. He told me about his culture and introduced me to Puerto Rican artists. I learned about a different Latin culture, and got a snippet of what life was like on the island.

Plans didn't work out with Puerto Rico, because HurricanE Maria destroyed the island the very week we were scheduled to land and start our new lives. My sister and I went to the East Coast instead, living outside of Philadelphia in New Jersey. We ended up working in a restaurant together with an all Latin kitchen staff (actually most restaurants in that area were staffed by Latinos). We had a chef from Mexico, two dishwashers from the Dominican Republic, and a pastry chef from Colombia.

I am always looking to exercise my language muscles, so I made a point to converse with them and utilize the opportunity. I would try and put my orders in, ask for changes and have other typical kitchen conversations in Spanish. I learned new words and got introduced to new songs as they played music while they prepped. I learned about the artist called Ozuna and my playlist got more reggaet├│n songs added to it. 

In all these situations I was curious, I wanted to learn more. I was interested in the culture and what made it different. I wanted to understand and practice. These are the most important things to employ when learning a language. It isn't IQ or how good the language course curriculum is. It's how curious you are to explore, how many questions you ask, how many opportunities for interacting you take and how open you are.

As Vivian Cook pointed out in his textbook about second language acquisition and teaching,

The more that a student admires the target culture - reads its literature, visits it on holiday, looks for opportunities to practice the language, and so on - the more successful they will be in the L2 classroom. 

Well I gotta go, my favorite song is on.

Singing off...



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