A song is like a cartoon book

Singing in a foreign language is fun: new melodies, different rhythms, strange sounds. But it can sometimes be difficult to memorize the text! The solution: think, do and feel.

Some examples:

  • Which words resemble words in your own language? Which words do you already know?
  • What do some of the words remind you of?
  • What atmosphere or setting does the melody and the rhythm of the song call up in your mind?
  • What feeling does the song give you?
  • What is the song about?
  • Which words are used most frequently? Which sentences are repeated?
  • Are there new sounds in the song?
  • Is there a translation of the song? Where can you find it?
  • Is there a story in the song?
  • Which is the hardest bit of the text to sing? Which is the easiest?
  • What images does the song evoke? What sounds, smells and tastes?
  • Is there a sequence in the song?
  • Can you make up a story based on the melody and the rhythm? Does your story fit the song?
  • How can you divide the song into different sections?
  • Draw the different scenes from the song.
  • Make up a different ending for the song. Or add new characters. Change the people into animals and vice versa. What things change in the text when you do this and what remains the same?

Understanding, remembering and learning are closely linked to each other. We all have our own favourite way of learning. Some people listen to a song and then simply copy what they hear. They learn auditorily. Others are better at remembering through images or first need identify with the song by imagining themselves to be in it. Yet others need to do something with their hands, play act, move, or make something in order to remember the words in the right order. Most people use a combination of these methods with their preferred channel of learning. For this reason, it is a good idea for a choir leader to run through all these different possibilities when the choir has to memorize the difficult text of a (foreign) song.

Learning and remembering are often more successful if you work in different contexts. For example, you learn a piece of the text during choir rehearsals. You then talk about it at home. You look up more information online. You ask your friends what they think about it. You borrow a CD of the song from your local library and follow the words of the text in the CD booklet. You choose a memorable sentence from the text and write it down in your diary. At the start of your next rehearsal all these ‘discoveries’ come back into your mind and help you to remember the text in the right order. One advantage of this method of learning is that it makes use of a particularly important aspect of memory training: repetition. The greater the number of contexts we use to learn something and the more often we repeat the process, the more thoroughly we remember what we have learnt. Equally important is the step-by-step nature of the approach. You do not learn the complete song and then repeat it ten times from beginning to end. No, you should learn it a piece at a time, gradually adding the pieces together until you come to the end.

Of course, these same methods also work when you are learning a song in your own language. And even singers who sing with a musical score, including the words, can focus better on the interpretation and performance of the song if they learn the words by heart in this manner.


EYSI BLAUWOne in five children and youngsters say that they do not know what they are singing about when they sing in a foreign language. However, there is a difference in terms of age. 87% of youngsters understand what they sing in a foreign language, but only slightly more than two-thirds of children (71.5%).


EYSI BLAUWThe majority of choir leaders expect their children and youngsters to understand the texts they are singing. To make this possible, 80% of the choir leaders are willing, if necessary, to devote more time to textual analysis during their rehearsals. For 15% of choir leaders, it is enough that their choristers sing foreign songs with feeling, even if they do not fully understand the words.


EYSI BLAUWMost choir leaders think that textual comprehension in a foreign language is just as important as textual comprehension in the mother tongue. As a result, one in three spend more time on the text when their choirs are singing foreign songs.


Tip LAMP grootBegin early with text analysis and interpretation, so that your singers know right from the start how to express the emotions in the song.


Tip LAMP grootMost choir leaders think that textual comprehension is important. If the choir is singing in a foreign language, it is logical that more time will need to be devoted to this textual comprehension. Even so, only one choir leader in three devotes more rehearsal time to texts in foreign languages. Consequently, more time needs to be given to this important matter.