Monthly Archives: March 2014

The power of going viral: Suor Cristina, the Voice and the Anglobubble…. A little background helps.

Sometimes when things go viral online, they throw up surprising issues about engaging with language across cultures…. The current excitement around the world about one particular clip in Italian is so great it’s worth blogging about here. Plus it’s not often you hear Italian all over the commercial media in the Anglobubble – especially when it’s a good news story.

Where do we start? It all happened so quickly…. At lunch on the weekend, my sister mentioned a viral clip about an Italian nun singing on something like X-factor. She was quickly corrected: it was the Voice. Shortly after emails and texts started reaching me – wanting to know more about the clip and what else was going on beyond the bleeding obvious….. It was on all the TV news that evening – although they only showed a brief snippet of what really happened. It’s what they don’t tell you that’s often more interesting….

In only a couple of days the full clip (almost 9 minutes – very long as virals go) had had almost ten million views. Another 24 hours later and it’s picked up another 8-9 million…. So why all the fuss? And why is it so interesting?

As you’ll see, it’s about a surprise contestant (rocking it to Alicia Keys) on the Italian version of the Voice. The format’s the same everywhere: the judges can only hear the voice and have to turn around, if interested, to see who it is and to indicate their interest in having that person on their personal team. Here’s what happened:

 

 

It’s interesting because of what people don’t know or can’t understand – when they don’t speak Italian. What people wanted to know from me was: who was the nun (and the judges) and what exactly were they saying to each other…..? Well, that and the back story are worth considering and highlight aspects of the world beyond the Anglobubble.

Suor Cristina Scuccia is real, 25 years old from Sicily with, in her words, a gift that she is passing on. You won’t know the following from this clip, but she is a member of the Ursuline order based in Milan. And her path to taking her vows started during a musical when she played the role of a soon to be nun asking questions about God and her own path (I am not kidding….).

The judges – all very different – are well known in Italy:

Raffaella Carrà – singer, entertainer, host, famous since the 1960s in Italy (and beyond including Latin America). She’s 70 (it’s that mediterranean diet….). You can’t be Italian without knowing who la Carrà is.

Piero Pelù – with the facial hair, Fiorentinissimo (most Florentine) from his accent – lead singer with LITFIBA – an Italian rock band that just won’t die….

J-Ax (that’s right: Jay-Axe)- famous rap singer – he’s the one with the hat breaking into tears. He’s well known for such songs as  ‘A cena dai tuoi’ with Emis Villa.

Noemi – ex-talent show contestant who’s made it big, most famous for ‘L’amore si odia’ (with Fiorella Mannoia).

The discussion between judges and Suor Cristina is even more fascinating than the singing. People without Italian are curious – they can tell it’s interesting stuff  (Remember it’s a very long clip – in Italian without subtitles and it is also quite complex – shifting in content, topic and perspective). Everyone  – including the judges – is obviously keen to know what a nun is doing on the show.

There’s also the question of appropriate behaviour and tenor – the jocular proximity required between contestants and judges, tempered by the specific identity of the contestant, and the need to convince her to join someone’s team.

The first issue – for Raffaella to establish – is how exactly one should address Suor Cristina: she asks for explicit permission to use the informal TU form. This is not a small question – research we conducted at the University of Melbourne showed that nuns were typically addressed with the formal LEI form – indicating some reverent distancing. Quite coincidentally we’ll be talking about politeness and address in my advanced Italian class this week – so this is a good REAL LIFE example of how relationships are negotiated in Italian – so we’ll be discussing the clip. Once Suor Cristina says TU is perfectly fine, the others let rip – with colloquialisms (potentially even a little vulgar – at least to English ears), cajoling and jokes. She’s a nun but she’s young – and that’s the clincher for the other 3 (as our research also shows). Raffaella throughout is much more restrained in her interactions – despite her facial expressions…..

There’s a lot more I could say – the clip is great for deconstructing…. e.g. the many references to religion (including talk of a possible phone call from the Pope) in a very knowing Italian context (e.g. the reaction of the audience throughout). And why exactly she’s on the show…. 

If you’re teaching Italian, the clip is definitely something to show students – they might know about it already, but either way, they will be fascinated to see the Voice in Italian….. The shared experience of knowing the format is important: students seem to enjoy viewing their own world transposed into another language (see my earlier posts about Avicii’s Wake me Up and the Cup Song in Irish).

And if you don’t speak Italian, why don’t you just listen and enjoy and see what you can understand and make of what you see? If nothing else, Italian is a beautiful language after all – in sound and gesture. 🙂

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Roger Federer – a real (language) champion in every sense of the word – unless you’re in Australia….

Roger Federer really does have it all – amazing sporting skill and success, loads of prize winnings and sponsorships, good looks, great personality and at least 4 languages. How lucky is he! He’s a great role model – someone we’d like our teenagers to emulate. No? You’d think having 4 languages (more on that later) would be something everyone would appreciate as an incredible advantage and achievement – but sadly that’s not the case for many residents of the Anglobubble. If you don’t believe me, have a little look and listen at this clip of Roger being interviewed post-match at the Australian Tennis Open in 2011. Try and identify what languages he is speaking – and notice how effortlessly he moves from one to the other. But pay particular attention to the Antipodean accent of an unidentified journalist if you can…. (from 47 sec in)

 

The clip I am showing was put together in China – because they were amazed and admiring of how easily he returned and lobbed linguistically when dealing with the media.  That seems a normal reaction… But not in the Anglobubble. Here’s what the journalist has to ask: “Roger, just a question about all your languages. Do you ever wish or regret you speak so many languages?” It makes Roger sound like he must be suffering from some kind of chronic medical condition…. We can be pretty certain the Anglobubbler asking the question is monolingual. One of the secrets of Roger’s success has been his language skills – he does interviews in English, French, German and Swiss German – with aplomb. People in English-, French- and German-speaking countries love him because he can communicate directly with them and they can communicate directly with him – without translation. That’s what we call cornering your market! It’s good human relations and excellent business. Well done Roger! We need to tell our little Aussie tennis stars to do the same. Now how come Roger speaks 4 languages? Well, he was raised in German-speaking Switzerland – his father’s homeland – where he was raised speaking Swiss German and English at home (yes, his mother is an English-speaking South African!) and standard German at school. He learnt French as a teenager when he went to tennis academy in French-speaking Switzerland. It all seems perfectly natural when you know the back story. Because Roger has an unusual accent when speaking English (he sounds slightly foreign) we assume he learnt it as a second language. This is Anglobubble bias – we make assumptions about who’s really English-speaking or not…. We really need to be more aware. Here is Roger again having fun with languages at the French Open in 2010 – with the ease of a real (language) champion.

 

Follow on twitter: JohnHajek_lang

My cups to the Cup Song: the cover song as a great motivational learning tool in any language

Coláiste Lurgan, whose work I have profiled in the last 2 posts as a shining example of how to motivate language learning, has a lot of offer us by using famous cover songs reworked in the target language.

In addition to Avicii’s ‘Wake me up’ in Gaelic (see my Wake me up post about that great clip), one other Lurgan reworking has had the same amount of amazing global viral success (i.e. millions of hits): it’s the Cup Song in Gaelic shown below.

The Cup Song, otherwise known as ‘When I’m gone’ (Cups), is a recent reworking of a country classic from 1931 that appears in the recent teen smash movie ‘Pitch Perfect’. The new version sung by Anna Kendrick in the movie includes lots of people doing clever syncopated tapping using cups, glasses, whatever… Of course kids already know all about it and love it (hey it’s different!). So you can imagine how much fun it is for the kids at Coláiste Lurgan. Click here and see for yourself:

 


Amhrán na gCupán
(That’s Gaelic for ‘Cup Song’)

It’s got everything: sound, movement, coordination, great song…. Kids are immediately connected to their own popular culture (originally experienced in English), but are fascinated and motivated by the opportunity to experience it and, this is critical, to produce it themselves in another language, This song is especially good because of the need for group discipline, and physical coordination as well as the combination of a range of senses (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic…). There’s also the opportunity for kids to sing together and separately – and to be filmed and to be seen posted online. Kids today want to be visible

No wonder the kids at the end of the Gaelic version are so happy! It really works and language teachers could easily do the same everywhere.

There are thousands of clips on youtube about how to tap glasses/cups correctly – in a range of languages.  It’s also been covered in a range of different languages too…..

There are so many ways a teacher could approach this song as a learning activity. Here are just a few ideas.

There are lots of clips online – in different languages – about how to do the cups. Use those or do your own.

Create the necessary instructional vocab for your kids – model it for them

Get them to help translate the original text into the target language but make sure the final translation is grammatically accurate.

Get your music teacher involved. Get the kids to play the music. Or buy the backing track on iTunes. make sure all kids sing at some point. All instruction should be in the target language.

Do it for school assembly, language day, concert night, video it (with happy faces) and post it…. Tell the kids to send it around. Make language learning visible!

Let your colleagues know about this post. See what they think about the embedded clip – the reaction is always positive.

Try the Cup Song with your kids and let me know (with video proof) how it went 🙂

 

Coláiste Lurgan – you rock! A role model for language learning everywhere.

In my previous post ‘Wake me up..’ I talked in detail about an unexpected challenge to the Anglobubble that has gone viral and helped to change entrenched attitudes to language learning. I posted a great clip of Avicii’s ‘Wake me up’ sung in translation by hundreds of excited and happy language learners. I have watched and played that clip many times over. It’s not just the kids’ enthusiasm, the production values are great and that certainly helps. I didn’t reveal the language or the country other than the fact the latter is deep in the Anglobubble (despite having its own national language).

Time for the big reveal: the language is Irish Gaelic, and it’s Ireland of course (the Irish dancing was the giveaway). But the mouse that roared that’s behind the music phenomenon is Coláiste Lurgan – a summer residential school for kids. They’ve been translating hit songs from English and getting their students (and teachers) to sing, record and film them for a few years now.

Their great work has really taken off in the last 12 months – with a number of viral clips – millions of hits and growing. Why exactly has it taken off right now? Well, a number of reasons come to mind. Most of the first Gaelic clips were revoiced versions of the original clips sung in English, i.e. the original visual (e.g. Lady Gaga singing) was kept but the soundtrack replaced. They have increasingly shifted to high quality filming of the kids singing – you not only hear their voices, you see them front and centre – often with a little choreography. They now also have a big repertoire of famous covers so you can just keep exploring! And clearly there’s the power of word of mouth and social media. All of these factors make a huge difference!

The kids really shine – and their enthusiasm and discipline are irresistible. All of a sudden Gaelic and language learning  are cool. These kids really are role models for young language learners in the Anglobubble everywhere.

Some of my favourites are included here. It’s hard to believe but I enjoy them more in Gaelic than in English – because I don’t know what’s being sung! Bastille had a huge international hit with ‘Pompeii. But I like the plaintive lead vocal from one of the teachers in the glorious Gaelic version seen here:

 

The clip has been so successful that when it was uploaded on the web it was competing with Will and Kate for top spot on Youtube.  How cool is that! That’s a great motivator for students  and teacher involved, I’m sure.

After American superstars Macklemore and Ryan Lewis had a massive hit with the super upbeat ‘Can’t hold us‘, they heard about the Irish version and were so intrigued they asked to be included in the video – speaking Gaelic. Again how cool is that! Here’s Can’t hold us in Gaelic.

There are lots of others given the Lurgan treatment, e.g. Lady Gaga, Passenger, Lion King, Abba,  Michael Jackson. Even ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke and co-workers gets  reworked by our Gaelic learning and loving kids as An Laisc Is Mó.

 

 

I have no idea what they are singing but I know they’re plugging in to the zietgeist and loving it.

This stuff really works to motivate language learning. We need to use it. See my previous blog for some ideas on how. And tell your friends. Try it yourself!

More soon 🙂