Thank you for this! I sing in a choir of Anglophones and Francophones, as well as a few Russian, Chinese and Polish speakers. We spend A LOT of time working on vowels. I will share your post--dans les deux langues officielles--with my fellow choristers. Merci beaucoup!
What’s the easiest language to sing in?
In her blog post entitled “The Language of Music (opens in new tab),” Pascale Bourque wonders what language is best liked in music and what makes us want to listen to songs in one language more than in another. Listening to music is one thing. Now let’s talk about what language we like to sing in!
Consonants are complicated
In her blog post, Pascale Bourque tells us that English-language music is very popular among people she knows. So, logically, it follows that English lyrics must be easy to sing, right? Wrong! English, like German, uses a lot of consonants, like “g” and “k,” that are articulated in the back of the mouth. Using this part of the vocal apparatus can affect both the fullness and fluidity of the sound.
And what about French? In French, as in many other languages, some words end with a consonant that gets tacked onto the vowel sound at the beginning of the next word—but only sometimes. For example, you have to pronounce the “s” in les habitants, but not in les haricots. If you speak French, you know people don’t always remember this rule when they talk, so imagine how it must be when you’re singing and you have to focus on the melody, follow the rhythm and time your breathing. It’s not easy!
Vowels are what wow us
If consonants aren’t what make a language easy to sing in, how about vowels? French has nasal vowels, including the ones on, in and en. As their name suggests, nasal vowels can be made through the nose, which affects their sound quality. As a result, they aren’t easy to sing, even for native French speakers!
But surely there must be languages with nice, easy vowels! Indeed, Italian and Spanish don’t have any nasal vowels. Their vowels are easier to pronounce and easier to project. In short, they’re simpler and therefore more sonorous. It’s no wonder opera was born in Italy!
Your first language is your first love
I should point out that everything I’ve just said is only partly true. It’s always easier to communicate in a language that resembles your mother tongue. So English speakers may have no issues singing in German, whereas French speakers may find it easier to sing in Italian.
On the basis of my own personal experience, I can say that, although I’m bilingual, singing English vowel sounds doesn’t come easily to me. To my Francophone brain, English words don’t always sound the way they’re written. For example, the “o” in “to” makes an “oo” sound, while the “o” in “of” is pronounced like a short “u.” And then you have a long “a” in “lady” but a short “a” in “about.” Since I can’t take the vowels on my music score at face value, I have to either transpose them mentally or re-write the sounds on the sheet. No doubt the same phenomenon occurs with other language combinations. It’s nothing new: the more the letters of a foreign language sound like the letters in your language, the easier they’ll be to say … and sing!
What about you? What language do you prefer to sing in and why? I look forward to reading your comments.
- Carole Cyr, soprano and voice teacher
- Jessica Latouche, soprano and PhD student at Laval University
The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the authors and commenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.
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Thank you for this! I sing in
So true! Working on
So true! Working on pronounciation, and espacially vowels, is important work for singers and choirs. Thank you so much for sharing.
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