For years, I´d been baffled by my inability to fully understand the lyrics of every song I heard in English. How can it be possible - I would wonder - that despite reaching proficiency in the language I cannot understand everything the singer is singing?
This bafflement would even increase when, on having access to the lyrics, I could see there was no difficult vocabulary that could throw me off. After doing a little bit of research, I´ve discovered something that may surprise and relieve you in equal measure: it´s not your fault.
You see, even native speakers can´t understand everything in songs! Here´s why:
- Song intonation is different from speech intonation.
- There are no pauses, false starts, fillers or discourse markers in most sentences, so they are usually sung fast.
- During singing, certain sounds may get distorted. Either you can´t make out the words or you understand something completely different. This is actually a source of amusement, with sites including lots of misheard lyrics!
- Unlike normal speech, there is no context when you hear a song on the radio for the first time. It could be about anything.
- Poor diction in general.
- The singer may have a strong accent.
- Bad recording equipment.
This does not mean, of course, that most songs are unintelligible. For example, ballads are pretty easy to follow and you can still understand almost everything when listening to other songs, provided you have been exposed to the English language long enough.