Learning British UK Accent (RP): Do you need musical talent to learn languages? No.

Do you need musical talent to learn languages? No.

Accent Reduction | Babel

Do you need musical talent to learn languages?

When people hear the title of my book, Language is Music, they often assume that one has to be a musician or a good singer to learn languages or that I profess that someone can learn language just through music. Neither is true.

Language is music because each language has its own musicality. But you don’t have to be a musician, opera singer or pop star to learn the musicality of a language.

You have to pay attention to HOW the language sounds to copy its rhythm, beat and sounds. Professional singers may be paying more attention to hitting the notes correctly and singing in key than to the correct pronunciation of the language of the music. So there are people without musical training who have good accents in other languages because they focus on improving pronunciation.

Let me give a couple of examples of singers who have professional musical training and do not have excellent accents or pronunciation in other languages to show that being a musical pro is not a sure way to learn a language.

I woke up before the crack of dawn one cold fall Saturday morning in New York City to stand in line to get standing room tickets to hear Luciano Pavarotti sing the main male role in the French opera, “La Fille du Regiment”. I wasn’t all that taken by the opera until  he came on the stage and took my breath away. But he wasn’t singing in French, he was singing Pavarotti. I could barely understand the words he was singing although I am fluent in French. Do I regret not understanding his words clearly? No, I was totally mesmerized because his voice was out of this world. He had perfect pitch but couldn’t pronounce French correctly.

This clip is not from the performance I saw at the Metropolitan Opera, but it’s of another time when the Italian tenor sang “La Fille du Regiment” in French:

Many opera singers can’t sing in Russian. They sing some aberration of our language and sometimes they are so bad that it’s actually offensive. Opera singers who can’t correctly pronounce a foreign language might as well sing in English or their native tongue so at least those of us who do speak their language can understand what they are singing.

Classical Singer magazine interviewed me a couple of years ago to provide tips for students of opera singing who have trouble learning languages, especially Russian and Czech. Here’s the link to the article: http://createyourworldbook.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/50Week-september.pdf

Diana Krall has a sensual and gorgeous voice in her interpretations of classic Brazilian songs, but she can’t pronounce Portuguese. The requisite nasal sounds of Portuguese are absent in her songs. Here’s a clip from her concert in Rio:

The reason I am giving these examples is to show that even trained musical giants don’t have good pronunciation unless they make an effort.

Don’t use the excuse of being a poor piano student in elementary school be a reason not to pursue foreign language learning.

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