What’s in a song? Apart from pure entertainment, a wealth of cultural, grammatical and vocabulary learning tricks – that’s what.
Songs, along with poetry, quotes and nursery rhymes, are an excellent language learning resource to compliment textbooks and dictionaries.
So where do you start? There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to use songs to expand your knowledge of Polish. You can simply listen for pure entertainment. The range of songs is bewildering; from pop, rock, through patriotic songs (Polish history of the last 300 years or so has made it a very popular genre), sung poetry, folk, and film soundtracks to hip hop. It allows you to immerse yourself in the Polish language and culture.
Poles like singing – they sing in churches, at weddings, during parties or public events. One such event is organised every year on the 1st August, on the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising when thousands of Varsovians gather in Piłsudski Square to sing popular soldier and patriotic songs as a tribute to those who fought and perished during the Rising ‘44.
Searching the internet will bring numerous resources where you can listen to Polish songs. If you like any particular song, try to find out more about it – e.g. the title, lyrics and information about the artist. Songs are a very good reflection of the cultural context they have been created in. For example, World War I and II produced numerous soldier songs. In the 1980s, the Polish political situation (the birth of Solidarity and the martial law that followed) found its reflection in the music of many Polish rock bands.
Poland is best known abroad for classical music and famous composers – Chopin, Górecki, Szymanowski, Lutosławski or Penderecki, and although pop music never reached the charts in Western Europe or the United States, it does not mean it’s of poor quality or insular. Polish pop music has largely followed the Western trends and therefore it’s likely you will find something you like among Polish songs and artists. If you don’t know anything about Polish music then listen to the classics from different genres. Here is a selection to get you started:
Miłość ci wszystko wybaczy Love Will Forgive You Everything
(soundtrack to 1933 film Szpieg w masce Spy in the Mask)
1940s (World War II)
Pałacyk Michla The Palace of Michler
Come Prima (Polish cover)
Czerwone Gitary (pop)
Powiedz stary Tell Me Mate
Czesław Niemen (progressive rock)
Dziwny jest ten świat This Is the Strange World
Sen o Warszawie The Dream About Warsaw
Nim wstanie świt Before the Dawn Breaks
(soundtrack to Prawo i pięść The Law and the Fist – 1964 film directed by Jerzy Hoffman)
Tadeusz Nalepa (rock/blues)
Kiedy byłem małym chłopcem When I Was a Little Boy
Marek Grechuta (lyrical pop)
Dni, których jeszcze nie znamy Days We Don’t Yet Know
Szklana pogoda Glass Weather
Lady Pank (rock/punk)
Mniej niż zero Less Than Zero
Szare miraże Grey mirages
Zakopower (folk rock/fusion)
Artists who span many decades and music styles include
Stanisław Soyka (lyrical pop, jazz)
Wiem, że nie wrócisz (pop) I Know You Won’t Come Back
Niech całują cię moje oczy (jazz) Let My Eyes Kiss You
Sonety Szekspira (poetry) Sonnets by Shakespeare
Polish tutor tips:
- When you have the lyrics in front of you, listen to the song and follow the text- that’s a good listening comprehension exercise in itself. If you copy the lyrics onto separate sheets of paper, you can remove some words or chunks of texts and try to fill in the gaps when listening to the song.
- Translation exercises are another way to utilise the lyrics. Translating songs is a very worthwhile exercise although a word of warning – lyrics, just like poetry, are often written in an elaborate language and do not always follow strictly grammatical rules. Depending on your knowledge, you can translate individual words, phrases, sentences or the whole song. But don’t feel disheartened if you are struggling with translating your favourite songs.
We will explore more Polish music in future posts.