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Multilingual Music

One way of boosting your foreign language studies is to surround yourself with music in many languages. Listen to it as you do the dishes, fold the towels, or sweep the floor. You’ll find yourself getting curious about what they’re singing. And then dusting off your dictionary and translating.

Some of my favorites for this purpose are Gotan Project, Carla Bruni, Pink Martini, La rue Ketanou, and Jacques Brel. Share yours.

You can also take advantage of Multilingual Books‘ online foreign radio directory here.


On my evening walk just now I made friends with a little black tuxedo cat. When I bent down to introduce myself, she practically leapt into my lap. She wriggled, she gyred, she gimbled; she was ready for love.

As I couldn’t quite catch her name, I decided to make one up. My first thought, admiring her agile antics, was to name her after my favorite Russian gymnasts from childhood, Olga Korbut and Nadia Comăneci. But Olga isn’t a cute name, and Nadia sounds too much like Nandi (my cat’s name), so I decided to delve into foreign terms for “gymnast.”

In Russian the word is гимнаст. Not too exciting. Same goes for the Spanish gimnasta, French gymnaste, Portuguese ginasta, and Italian ginnasta. Yawn. In German it’s Turner. Yawn again. And in Chinese we have 体操 (which I can’t pronounce). Nada.

Next I turned to word cousins of gymnastics: “leap,” “bounce,”” spin.” Then I hit upon the German term for an agile animal: flink. Purrfect! I lured little Flink to my house and sealed our friendship with a kitty treat.

Cartas de Rayo

I know, I know. Cartas de rayo is not an idiomatic translation of “flash cards.” I’m having some fun here. It’s allowed. A few other things that are allowed (even if we sometimes believe they’re not) that I’m adding to my flash cards:

armar una bronca  to kick up a fuss

cambiar de idea  to change one’s mind

cortar el bacalao  to call the shots (“to cut the codfish”)

darse un gusto  to indulge oneself

dar un beso a la botella  to take a swig (“to give the bottle a kiss”)

dejar el trabajo  to quit one’s job

echarlo todo a rodar  to make a mess of everything

echar un sueño  to take a nap

hacer fiaca  to sleep in; to stay home for the peace and quiet

ir a pelo  to be naked

meter(se) la pata  to get involved (“to put one’s paw”)

nadar en la abundancia  to be rolling in dough (“to swim in abundance”)

pasar de la raya  to cross the line

soltar la risa  to burst out laughing

tener sangre de horchata  to be extremely calm (“to have the blood of horchata”)

La Soledad

When I put on a little dinner-making music this evening, after a day spent painting my kitchen cabinets a lovely French grey blue, the first song that came on was Pink Martini’s “La Soledad.”   I swooned. I hit “repeat.” And I swooned again. Then I dusted off my Spanish dictionary and finally began to brush up in earnest for my trip to Barcelona this spring—by translating the lyrics so I can sing along.

La Soledad


Viniste a mí

Como poesía en la canción


Un nuevo mundo de pasión



Sin egoísmo y la razón

Más sin saber

Que era el amor

Yo protegí mi corazón


El sol se fue

Y yo cantando tu canción

La soledad

Se adueña de toda emoción



Si el miedo robó mi ilusión

Viniste a mí

No supe amar

Y sólo queda esta canción





You came to me

Like poetry in a song

Showing me

A new world of passion


Loving me

Selflessly and without reason

But without knowing

What love was

I protected my heart


The sun has gone

And I am singing your song


Takes over all emotion


Forgive me

If fear stole my illusion

You came to me

I didn’t know how to love

And all that’s left is this song