Listening to songs in the language you’re learning is an effective and enjoyable way to practise your language skills. It can help improve your listening comprehension and your pronunciation and, on top of this, music is catchy! This means that the new words, phrases and structures that you hear within a song may be easier to remember and reuse in your own speaking or writing.
Earlier this year we published a blog article titled ‘Language learning using your favourite songs’, in which we gave you our top tips for using a song to practise your language skills. But there are thousands and thousands of songs which exist throughout the Italian-speaking world – where do you start with finding ones to listen to which will help you practise your Italian? In this article, we’ve done the hard work for you! Read on to discover 5 of our recommended songs in Italian.
1. Piove (Ciao, ciao bambina) – Domenico Modugno, 1959
Our first song is by a very important figure in Italian music. Originally from Puglia in Southern Italy, Domenico Modugno is often considered the first Italian cantautore (singer-songwriter). Later in his life, he suffered a severe stroke and was forced to abandon his musical career. He devoted himself to politics and became a member of the Italian Parliament before returning to the music scene for the final few years of his life. Piove (Ciao, ciao bambina) won first prize in the 1959 Festival della Canzone Italiana di Sanremo (Italy’s most popular song contest) and was chosen as Italy’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest in the same year.
Piove (Ciao, ciao bambina) is a love ballad in which he is saying goodbye to his lover as their relationship comes to an end. After listening to the song a few times without reading the lyrics, we recommend following the stages described in our blog article on language learning through songs (see link above). In this song, there are many interesting language points to listen out for within the lyrics. For example, there are many different tenses used throughout the song, including one phrase which uses c’è both in the imperfect and the present: “c’era una volta poi non c’è più”. Why not read through the lyrics and try to spot all the tenses you know?
2. Ma il cielo è sempre più blu – Rino Gaetano, 1975
Our next song is by another well-known cantautore, Rino Gaetano, who is often remembered for his satirical songs and ironic humour. Ma il cielo è sempre più blu was one of his most successful songs, in which Gaetano satirically describes Italian society, concluding that despite the diverse ways of life of different social groups and the inequality which exists between them, the sky is always the same for everyone.
The lyrics follow the same structure throughout the whole song: chi + verb in the third-person singular (lui/lei) form. We’d recommend trying to figure out the infinitive of each of these verbs and looking up those you don’t know. To learn more about how to use the word chi, have a listen to Coffee Break Italian Season 2 Episode 25.
3. L’isola che non c’è – Edoardo Bennato, 1980
L’isola che non c’è translates literally into English as ‘the island that isn’t there’, but is known amongst Italian speakers as the name of the home of Peter Pan – known by English speakers as Neverland. Edoardo Bennato’s song of this name comes from his very successful 1980 concept album, Sono solo canzonette, based on the world of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. Bennato is a very popular and influential Italian singer-songwriter, whose music is often considered to be a creative fusion of various genres – including folk, rock, blues and sometimes even elements of opera. While Bennato is well known for his songs with satirical, ironic lyrics, he has also written several concept albums, including one based on the world of Pinocchio and another based on the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
L’isola che non c’è is about believing in a better world, with no wars or violence. Amongst the many language points to listen out for, there are a couple of examples of use of the pronoun ci with the verbs pensare and credere: “E a pensarci” would translate as “And thinking about it” and “Se ci credi” would translate as “If you believe it”. If you’d like to learn more about the pronoun ci you can listen to Coffee Break Italian Season 2 Episode 36, where it is discussed in more detail.
4. La cura – Franco Battiato, 1996
La cura is another song which is great for Italian learners, as the lyrics are sung very clearly. The song was a collaboration between Sicilian philosopher Manlio Sgalambro, who wrote the lyrics, and Sicilian musician, filmmaker and painter, Franco Battiato. Battiato’s experimental musical style – a fusion of various genres – and his collaboration with Sgalambro on numerous albums made him one of Italy’s most popular artists from the 1970s until today. In 1984, he represented Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest, performing with Italian singer, Alice.
La cura is one of Coffee Break Italian Francesca’s favourite songs because of the beautiful poetry of the lyrics. They also contain many different examples to help you remember how to use the verb proteggere with the structure proteggere qualcuno di qualcosa. Also note how di is combined with each definite article: for example, in the first line, Battiato sings “Ti proteggerò dalle paure delle ipocondrie”. If you’d like to revise this language point, listen to Coffee Break Italian Season 2 Episode 14.
5. A me piace lei – Dente, 2009
For any Italian learners who find the verb piacere a bit tricky to use, our last song contains some great examples to help you. A me piace lei is a song by the ‘Italian king of indie rock’, as he is sometimes referred to. Giuseppe Peveri, known by his stage name, Dente (Italian for ‘tooth’) started his solo career in 2006 and has since become one of Italy’s most popular independent artists.
Why not use some of Dente’s lyrics to help you remember how to use the verb piacere? Notice how the verb changes depending on whether what he likes is singular (eg. “mi piace anche la pausa pranzo”) or plural (eg. “mi piacciono le risate e le stelle filanti”), or whether he’s talking about what the girl he’s singing about likes (eg. “le piace cucinare”). For help with the verb piacere, listen to Coffee Break Italian Season 1 Episode 13.
We hope this article has given you a useful introduction to just a tiny proportion of the huge variety of Italian music which is out there. Two of the songs we have chosen, La cura and A me piace lei, are already included in our Tune for Tuesday playlist. This is a feature that we introduced earlier this year. Every Tuesday we add another song to it, with the aim of building up a playlist of songs from all over the world and in many different languages to help you develop your language skills and introduce you to some new styles of music. We are going to add these five songs to our new playlist, Tune for Tuesday – Italian, which will contain only songs in Italian. You can find this playlist on YouTube and on Spotify by clicking on the links below. And remember to keep up to date with Tune for Tuesday by searching for Coffee Break Languages and Coffee Break Italian on Facebook.
What songs in Italian do you already know and love? Feel free to share some of your favourites with us in the comments to help other Italian learners discover them!