How Rammstein made me fluent in German
Updated: Jan 13
Like most Americans, I grew up speaking only English in the home. I was exposed to foreign languages in school like Spanish and Mandarin, but these never really stuck with me. Foreign languages have always fascinated me, but I never felt compelled to really learn to speak one. That was until my friend introduced me to a little East German rock-band called, Rammstein.
The first video I ever saw was "Deutschland", their (at the time) fresh, chart-topping single that dealt with the band's mixed feelings towards their native country. The catchy chorus and simple lyrics stuck with me and even though I didn't know the meaning behind them, I would catch myself humming the melody or mumbling "Deutschland!" under my breath (a habit that caused my roommates some concern).
After listening to this song over and over again, I branched out to their other, older work and then I was off to the races. Each guitar riff, chorus and melody would be etched into my brain along with the accompanying lyrics, which I would look up the translations for whenever I could. Slowly but surely, I began to understand the meaning of each word as I heard it, and my confidence began to build. "Maybe I could become fluent in a foreign language after all...," I thought.
This boost in confidence and interest in the language and culture which Rammstein sparked in me set off a chain reaction which ultimately changed the course of my life in a strange way. I started reading German textbooks, watching German TV shows and listening to even more German music. I was eating, sleeping and breathing German. Eventually I even travelled to Germany where my knowledge of the language really opened up the country to me. It wasn't until a year or two later when I started learning other languages, that I realized why Rammstein was so special as a language learning tool.
Why Rammstein is great for learning German
From my experience, I would say that listening to hard rock or metal is an acquired taste. You would think that listening to that kind of music in a foreign language like German would be too much of a stretch for people. Yet surprisingly, most of Rammstein's fanbase comes from other non-German speaking countries. In fact, according to Songstats, the city with the highest number of Rammstein listeners per month on Spotify is Mexico City, Mexico.
Why is this the case? I'm not really sure, but I can theorize some possible answers.
1. Simple Lyrics
For those who speak German, Rammstein lyrics can be a bit underwhelming. Take the song, "Du Hast", one of their most popular. The song begins with a catchy guitar riff and then Till Lindemann, the lead singer, slowly starts to piece together the simple sentence, "Du hast mich gefragt, und ich habe nichts gesagt," word by word, for 1 minute. For a native speaker, it can be a bit too simplistic to say the least, but for a German student, it's a fun, memorable way to introduce several very important words in German. For example, that sentence contains the pronouns "Du" (you), "Ich" (I) and even the accusative first person pronoun "mich" (me) as well as an example of the past perfect tense. A similar song with a few overly repetitive words by the band is "Ich Will" but the list could go on and on.
Another great example of these simple lyrics comes from the song "Frau und Mann" by Lindemann, a former project of the lead singer, Till. 95% of the song lyrics are just opposite words in German, "Schwarz und Weiß, Kalt und Heiß, ...," set to a catchy tune. It's hard to think of a better example of music made for teaching a language.
2. Catchy Melodies and Chorus
Till Lindemann has a very deep, rough voice which when repeated over and over again along a memorable guitar riff, will bury itself in your head for hours, days or even weeks. These earworms (a German loan-word, orig. Ohrwurm) are a great way to build subconscious awareness for the language. By listening to a large amount of music in German and having it stuck in your head, you build an implicit understanding of the grammar and pronunciation.
This is just a fancy way of saying that you develop a knack for telling if something sounds funny or not. If you asked a native English speaker why the sentence "I bought an car" is wrong, they probably will just tell you it sounds "weird" without referring you to an explicit grammatical rule. By listening to enough German, you develop this same talent of telling whether a sentence is correct or not without even knowing why.
3. Unique Music Videos
Rammstein music videos have totaled 3.72 billion views on YouTube and its easy to see why. Rammstein is well-known for their extravagant music videos which all have their own unique imagery and original storyline. When combined with their already easy-to-remember songs, the experience of a Rammstein music video is hard to forget.
This has the effect of making Rammstein lyrics and their meaning even easier to recall as they're connected with images and an accompanying narrative. As I write this, I'm listening to the song "Radio" a song about the band's growing up in East-Germany and how the radio enabled them to learn about the world outside of the DDR. In my mind's eye I can still clearly see the tuxedo-clad band playing in a black and white room while ballet-dancing riot police all move to the music. In fact, I don't think I'll ever forget this music video.
Recreating the Rammstein Experience
Having the opportunity to discover and enjoy this great band is a special one that I'm very grateful for. Like all great things, however, my listening to Rammstein and learning of German slowly began to taper off as I discovered new music and languages. Yet the desire to have the same experience of learning German that I had with Rammstein hasn't left me.
Luckily, every culture has its own rich collection of music in their own tongue which all provide a peep-hole into everyday life and an opportunity to appreciate their language. From the Bossa Nova of Brazil to the Mahraganat of Egypt, there are genres from every corner of the world that are waiting for you to discover and have fun learning.
If you are also someone who gets excited about music in any language and also wants to become more multi-lingual, then LingDisco is the app for you. LingDisco is a new language learning app currently under development which will harness the power of music to make learning a foreign language fun and easy. Please stay up-to-date with this blog and LingDisco's mission by adding your email to the mailing list below so that you too can find your own Rammstein. Vielen Dank und auf Wiedersehen (Thank you and goodbye)!