Singing in Foreign Languages

Should beginning voice students sing in foreign languages?

I believe singing in foreign languages gives a singer too much opportunity to sing incorrectly. The best way to tell if a singer is singing correctly is to hear whether he or she is singing in a clear and unmanufactured manner. Very few people are able to tell if a foreign language is being sung correctly. If someone sings „Mary Had a Little Lamb“ in a garbled manner, someone is sure to notice – but not if it's sung in a foreign language, where there can be a tendency to „overproduce“ tone. A person should not sing in a foreign language unless he can sing in his own first.

Then why are so many songs in foreign languages required in schools?

One reason is that teachers in colleges and universities create work for themselves by encouraging recitals and concerts, promoting the same vocal literature they had to learn in school. Their students are usually being supported by their parents and the teachers are being supported by the school, so nobody is ever required to learn anything which would enable them to go out and earn a buck. You cannot earn money doing the art song repertoire that you learned in school, outside of school. No one is interested because, even if they understood the lyrics, the subject matter doesn't relate to them. Even when it does, the style or idiom often gets in the way of their understanding the words.

Is that the only reason?

No. Colleges and universities must meet certain standards in order to become accredited. You have to have so much French, German, or Italian literature memorized or you can't be graduated.


We've lived in the shadow of Western European-based art forms for so long that one is not considered learned or educated in the art of singing unless he or she can sing these forms of music in the original languages. It's really a ludicrous situation.

What can be done to change the situation?

Teachers should stop putting themselves in ivory towers and acting as if there were nothing else but opera, nothing else but musical theatre, or nothing else but popular music. A voice teacher must try to impress upon his pupils, actually insist, that they sing in an uncluttered, easy manner throughout their entire range – and be able to sing anything! Students must be given repertoire in all areas of vocal music, traditional and popular.