Last week, I was thinking about Rammstein. Back in high school, I loved Rammstein, and listened to them all the time. But the interesting thing is, even though I don’t know German (I wanted to learn it back then, but never actually sat down and did so), I was able to sing along to the songs (I’m a bit rusty, but still can!), and I actually understand a lot of what they’re saying.
So that got me thinking: why is this not the case with, say, the music I’m listening to in Ukrainian? I have a big playlist of songs in Ukrainian that I love and listen to quite often. I also have some specific songs I listen to more often than others. And while I can sing along (badly) to them, I don’t know what is being said, outside of a few words here and there that I know.
I will admit though, it’s been interesting seeing how periodically words I didn’t understand before are suddenly clear as day from listening to these songs over and over again while simultaneously learning more of the language.
But yes, what’s the difference between then and now, German vs Ukrainian? At first I thought, maybe I listened to the Rammstein songs a lot more than the Ukrainian ones. While that may be true, by this point I’ve listened to a few Ukrainian songs, particularly my favourite few from Скай (Skai), an awful lot, so that can’t be the reason. I even started to get a bit sad thinking that maybe it’s because I’m coming at this a little later in life (even though that doesn’t really make sense because I wasn’t actively learning German the way I’m learning Ukrainian now). But then, I remembered: I used to look up the meanings of the song lyrics all the time on one particular website (oh my gosh, I found it! It was on https://herzeleid.com/en/lyrics!) I remember spending a lot of time on that site years ago looking up the meanings of their first five albums, and even printing out my favourite songs!
With a few exceptions, I actually haven’t looked at translations on most of the Ukrainian songs I like (and I haven’t looked up translations or even just the lyrics of any of the French songs I listen to either). And the ones that I did look up, I didn’t really study them the way I did with the Rammstein songs; instead I was waiting for the meanings to become clear to me through study.
So I decided to test this out on Friday with “The Dragonborn Comes,” a short song from Skyrim that was popularized by Malukah on Youtube. Even though I’ve never played Skyrim, I used to listen to (and sing along with) this song a lot, along with a few others she did because they’re really pretty:
A few months ago, a friend sent me a video by a Ukrainian singer named Eileen who makes covers of English songs in Ukrainian. Looking at her videos, I discovered that she made a Ukrainian cover of “The Dragonborn Comes”:
I only focused on the two verses Malukah sings in English (the final verse is not English, but Eileen translated it into Ukrainian anyway). With the help of the lyrics in both versions (Eileen very helpfully posts the Ukrainian lyrics of her songs in her video descriptions), along with Google Translate to confirm certain words and phrases (they’re not word for word translations – the Ukrainian version is a little different but it conveys a similar meaning), I was able to get a fairly accurate idea of what the words in the Ukrainian version meant after just one evening. It took an hour or two and lots of repetition to get to that point though, listening to both versions of the songs while reading the lyrics (mostly listening to one language and reading the other so I could mentally map the words to each other).
But more importantly, most of the words I learned in the lyrics were still in my head the next day! Even now, a few days later, I can listen to Eileen’s version and understand what she’s saying! I can even sing along with her fairly well for most of the song (except for a couple of phrases where I’m stumbling over the pronunciation – they’re a bit hard for me to pronounce normally, never mind at this singing speed). And some of the words seem to now be in my “usable” vocabulary – those are the words you not only recognize, but can actively produce. 🙂
After my success with “The Dragonborn Comes,” I decided to give this a try with one of the songs I really like by Скай, “З Мене Досить,” (that translates to “I’ve Had Enough”), which I found the words to on pisni.org.ua. It’s going to take a bit longer because it’s a longer song than “The Dragonborn Comes,” but it helps that I looked up the chorus awhile ago so I at least have a starting point with it. There also isn’t an English version as it isn’t a cover and the English translations do not work along with the rhythm of the song because some of the phrases are shorter syllabically (yes, I was trying to make them fit but it didn’t work). Here’s that song if you’d like to check it out:
A translation of the chorus is: “I’ve had enough believe (me)/I’ve had enough, I do not want (to)/I’ve had enough, sorry/I’ve had enough, it’s better not at all.”
Surprisingly, there are a few words in these lyrics that were also in “The Dragonborn Comes!”