Tag Archives: Wake me up

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. 🙂

Follow on twitter: JohnHajek_lang

 

 

 

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 🙂

Wake me up – I mean really Wake me up. Or how, deep in the Anglobubble, language learning can be surprisingly motivating

Today I want to focus on a youtube sensation I have stumbled across that says a lot about how to motivate English-speaking teenagers to learn another language. I’ve quickly become addicted to the clips in question (taster clip below) and find them not only entertaining but intriguing and inspiring.

So here’s the back story:

Deep in the Anglobubble, kids whose first language is English have to learn a language till completion of secondary school. It’s a struggle. Many don’t like it – they don’t see the relevance and teaching methods tend to focus on the written form, rather than on interactive use of the language. Outcomes are poor, despite the apparent effort, and educators wring their hands at what to do (sound familiar?). At least languages education in this part of the Anglobubble is compulsory …..

A residential summer language school that needs to keep high school students busy and interested when it’s too wet outside to do anything in the breaks decides to do something different. The lightbulb idea is to translate the lyrics of famous pop songs in English into the language the kids are learning, and then get the kids to sing the songs, record them and put them online – to share with everyone around the world. They start with Thriller in 2010 and over time build up an expanding repertoire – all available on Youtube. Their video clips are clever – sometimes they ‘revoice’ existing clips of famous singers/bands in the new language, other times they make their own clips with the kids front and centre. By 2013 they’ve hit the big time – a number of their translated music clips go viral: people are sharing them around the world, the media get interested and more tellingly the pop megastars in question express their delight at being ‘reworked’ in a language you’d be hard pressed to pick and you’ve likely never heard.

Amongst the biggest viral successes is Wake me Up – in translation (3.5 million hits and rising). Have a listen. It’s hard not to be intrigued – you recognize the music, you know the song but you have no idea what they are singing. You just want to know more.

 

The kids’ enthusiasm is infectious – and you really can hear their voices (the lead singer in this case is a teacher). It’s inspiring stuff, curiously addictive – and people around the world (in a range of languages) are interested. It’s all over the social media and has quickly made its way into the blogosphere, traditional press and media – including TV performances.

The original English version is the creation of the bilingual Swede DJ Avicii and was a smash hit around the world in the northern summer of 2013 –  including no.1 throughout the Anglobubble (including Australia). Here’s the first line of the chorus the song title is from:

So wake me up when it’s all over

It seems much more interesting in the target language and in the free translation:

So Lig mé saor ón suan ‘tá orm (lit. So free me from this slumber of mine)

Have you worked out what language the clip is in and what country I am talking about?

English monolingualism is strongly rooted here. I’ll leave you thinking and guessing for the moment.

As is clearly evident in the clip, significant physical/mental/emotional participation in the process of learning the song/language, making the clip, dancing and singing has clearly helped to motivate the students. Listen to the enthusiastic cheering at the end – that’s real!

Language teachers everywhere could easily do the same with their students: translate well-known pop songs into the target language, use children’s existing musical skills (if possible) as well as physical movement (e.g. simple choreography or free dance). You could easily create an end of term dance party if you had a repertoire. Even better, record the students and post on youtube, and on social media. Teenagers appear to enjoy a bit of online limelight.

What a great classroom/school project!

And more on other clips from this particular connection soon 🙂

Worked out the language and country yet? I might just leave you thinking a little longer.

I’ll come back in another post and do the big reveal. I still have a lot to say about this summer school/college and its fantastic work.