This Saturday evening, a very special window opens up onto the voices of Europe again. The Eurovision Song Contest 2018 is revved up and ready to go. And for language teachers, it’s a chance to bring a bit of musical magic into your lessons.
In the distant, pre-Internet days, Eurovision was amongst the most accessible ways to catch a glimpse of overseas media. Once a year, families sat down together to listen to songs in many languages other than their own. As a young language enthusiast, that was something to be treasured, for sure – how else could you experience that cultural and linguistic diversity without leaving your living room?
Today, with target-language resources available via a five-second Google search, some of that exclusivity has disappeared. But there still remains something particularly spectacular and attention-grabbing about our wonderful, colourful and unique international song contest.
France, Italy and Spain
French, Italian and Spanish teachers are spoilt this year, with three entries in the national language of each country. France sends an entry with a topical message on the refugee crisis. Italy deals with a terror-tainted world. And Spain, somewhat bucking the trend, sends “Your Song” (not the Elton John hit, of course, but Tu canción), a male-female ballad sung by a real-life couple of lovebirds. Video clips and full lyrics are available from the above links on the official eurovision.tv website.
No German this year
The problem is ongoing; since countries were allowed once more to enter in any language (for ‘any’, read: English!), we are only treated to snatches of German now and then. Austria 2004 and Germany 2007 are nice, but ever rarer examples of German in the modern Eurovision age.
But not to fear – there is a huge archive of material available online, right back to the days when a national language rule was standard.
Mine Eurovision past
YouTube is a cinch to mine for Eurovision songs, for example. Just search for “Eurovision country year” and you’ll get a whole raft of user uploads for that particular entry. As a rule of thumb, anything before 1973, and anything between 1978 and 1998 is almost certainly in the national language of the country. (Odd exceptions include a couple of Austrian entries sung in dialect, for example!)
Once you have your song, head over to Diggiloo Thrush – forgive the name – and look up the lyrics for that song. They have an archive of song texts right up to 2013, so you can easily copy/paste/print MFL song words into your own classroom materials. Try lyrics gapfills as a starter – can your students identify the sung lyrics you’ve blanked out?
Ride the press wave
As an entertainment jamboree, the contest always generates a colossal amount of secondary material. New articles on the contest, being light entertainment pieces, can often be quite accessible reading pieces for upper beginner to intermediate learners. And, naturally, they tend to focus on the drama and intrigue that make the run-up to the contest so captivating. It’s a very serious business, this Eurovision!
Some outlets have a special page or feed for the latest Euro-goss, like ABC.es Eurovisión in Spain. Otherwise, a quick Google news search will always yield results at this time of year, such as this article in Le Monde on the upcoming French performance. Frequently, such articles will also tie in to wider world news events, so can be a nice way to ease into more general topics on social and political issues. France’s entry could make an interesting segue into a discussion on the refufgee crisis, for example.
Of course, it’s always great to show students that there is a world of diversity even beyond your target language. Eurovision song clips can provide some great opportunities for language / cultural awareness. Gather together a set of songs in far-flung tongues, give your students a list of options, and ask them to listen and match the song to the language. Try closely related ones to make it extra hard (Dutch for German students, Portuguese for Spanish ones, for example).
If you’re using YouTube, you can use this little trick to start your clips in the middle of the song. This not only speeds things up, but prevents the students from getting spoilers when the country flag appears at the start of the performance. Otherwise, the official 2018 song list is available on Spotify from this link. With Albanian, Greek, Serbian and Slovenian-language entries included on the list, there should be ample unfamiliar language to keep students scratching their heads.
Sowing the seeds of (happy) discord
After all that, there is another characteristic of Eurovision that you can use in your lessons – its ability to elicit discussion, disagreement and general (light-hearted!) discord. A single performance can represent fertile ground for talking about likes/dislikes, clothing, physical descriptions and more.
Do you like this song? Why not? How would you present it differently? Is it modern? Old-fashioned? Even if your students just find the whole thing ‘stupid’, then get them to explain why, in the target language. It’s not possible to accept a simple ‘no’ when it comes to Eurovision!
However you choose to mark Eurovision 2018 with your classes, we hope the spectacle of the whole thing can convert a few reluctant linguists into passionate polyglots. And beyond that, who doesn’t want a bit of musical magic in their lessons every now and then?
Richard West-Soley heads the technical team at Linguascope. Languages and music have been part of his life as long as he can remember. As well as coding for Linguascope, he regularly writes on language learning topics at Polyglossic.com.