This post is reincarnated from this post. (Because breaking down how various German punk songs helped me learn the language doesn’t fly as well with the work audience.) NOTE: Sorry to anyone who read this earlier in the day. For some reason the YouTube embeds just disappeared.
Year Zero. Frankfurt am Main, Germany. It was the year of the au pair. The year of graffiti appreciation. The year of loneliness and mad cap plans and then finding and bikes and more, but very different, mad cap plans. It was the year of much trail-by-fire, DIY, bluff-your-way-through it language learning. I took classes. They helped. But what helped even more was music.
In my former life, German music was a field that belonged exclusively to Kraftwerk, Rammstein, Nena, Bach, Beethoven, and a whole lot of techno. I didn’t love any of it. (Confession: I listened to Kraftwerk for the first time one month ago.) But I knew there must be more, knew there must be punks singing in German, and I asked around until I ended up with three CDs in my hands: Die Kassierer, Hass, and Quetschenpaua. If you have ever heard of any of those bands you can say it with me: oh my.
It is an easy mistake to make, and how could I have known? Say “Deutsch Punk” to someone who knows what they are talking about and you won’t end up with German Punk Music, General. You will end up inside a genre so specific that most of the population has never heard of it. Die Kassierer and Hass belong to this genre. At its best it is dirty, underproduced four-chord punk music with a most excellent sense of humor (though Die Kassierer and Hass got too big to still qualify for “underproduced.” At its worst it is completely unlistenable garbled garbage. My personal Deutsch Punk heroes are a now-defunct band called Ultrapunk, but they were too disorganized and (probably) drunk to ever get around to getting themselves on youtube. Too bad. Their lyrics are pure gold. They would have been very helpful when I was translating songs to improve my German. Instead I was listening to this (I like the Kassierer’s version more, but it isn’t on youtube either):
But hell, either way you look at it, a love song that starts outside of a library wins at least a handful of points.
Then there was Hass. I never quite warmed up to their sound, though their anti-fascism is endearing.
It was Quetschenpaua that I ended up listening to the most. Folk punk with an accordion. Songs about anarchists and demos and penguins and pirates and revolution and Berlin. It was right up my alley. Particularly then, when I was still all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about just about everything.
I sang the lines about the penguin who lives in Berlin with my au pairing charges. I learned what Labello and Captain Igloo were (chapstick and a fishsticks brand, respectively). I heard the expression “Unter dem Pflaster liegt der Strand” (Beneath the pavement, the beach) for the first time. I got the chorus stuck in my head constantly.
If you’ve ever gotten a song stuck in your head, you know how pervasive, how invasive music can be. Which is ideal when it comes to memorizing vocabulary in a new language. You want those words reverberating inside your head, unable to escape, and complete with an easy-to-remember context. Music does that without you having to do anything more than press “play.”
And look. Science agrees!
“In the 1970s, extensive research was carried out into the powers of music in the learning process, by the Bulgarian physician Georgi Lozanov. He revealed that music puts listeners into a state of relaxed alertness, the ‘alpha state,’ the ideal state of consciousness for learning, and his tests were conclusive.
“More recently, in the March 2005 issue of the journal ‘Nature’ researchers at Dartmouth College in the US reported that they had pinpointed the region of the brain where ‘ earworms ‘ or catchy tunes reside, the auditory cortex. They found that the sounds and words that have actually been heard can be readily recalled from the auditory cortex where the brain can listen to them ‘virtually’ again and again. Music it seems is the ideal catalyst to the memorisation of words.” (source)
Another study has also pointed to the possibility that “the extra information provided in music can facilitate language learning.”
To this day I still remember the words of one of the pirate songs that my au pair charges liked to listen to. Robbi der Seeräuber segelt an der Wind. Robbi der Seeräuber tut nur das was ihm gefällt. Robbi der Seeräuber segelt an der Wind! Und wir segeln mit ihm weil wir auch Piraten sind! Cha-cha-cha!