Lightbulb moments

Light bulb

Yesterday while we were singing La Bamba at the ukulele club the words started to make sense to me. I’d picked up some of them through repeated listening, but had never bothered to learn them before this week. Now I not only know the words, but also what they mean. Often with songs in languages other than English I might know the meaning of at least some of the words, but I don’t always grasp their exact meaning.

In the case of La Bamba, the lyrics that started to make sense to me last night were:

Para bailar la bamba (in order to dance the bamba)
Para bailar la bamba (in order to dance the bamba)
Se necesita una poca de gracia (you need a little bit of grace)
Una poca de gracia para mi para ti (a little bit of grace for me for you)
Y arriba y arriba – wasn’t sure about this bit – have now discovered that it means “faster, faster” or “higher, higher”
Ay arriba y arriba
Por ti sere, por ti sere, por ti sere (for you I will be, for you I will be)

Yo no soy marinero (I’m not a sailor)
Yo no soy marinero, soy capitan (I’m not a sailor, I’m a captain)
Soy capitan, soy capitan (I’m a captain, I’m a captain)


This happens with songs in Welsh and Irish, and occasionally other languages as well, especially with songs I’ve heard many times – the meaning of a word, a line or even a whole verse suddenly becomes blindingly obvious and I wonder why I never realised what it meant before. It doesn’t help that it can be tricky to hear the words of songs clearly and that I don’t always listen to them very attentively, but sometimes when a word I’ve heard and understood in another context pops up in a song, it might help me understand some of the other parts of the song.

I think that the brain works away subconsciously trying to make sense of things, and when it has a solution, the conscience lights up like a light bulb. It’s moments like that that make language learning an exciting and rewarding adventure.

3 thoughts on “Lightbulb moments

  1. I love that feeling when it happens! And then, once you understand exactly what the song is saying, when you go back and listen to it you wonder why you hadn’t figured it out sooner.

    I’ve often wondered about the possible benefits of finding the lyrics and reading them beforehand rather than just listening to the song. I think I might actually prefer listening to the song until I understand it. The eureka moment is certainly more fun 🙂

  2. Not only in a learnt language either but as children sing songs in mother tongue, the words often have no meaning to them. I learnt Fflat Huw Puw in primary school, never saw the words written down, and had an eureka moment many years later when I realised that “swncodiangor” was actually “swn codi angor”.

    here are the words to the first verse – a Welsh sea shanty!

    “Fflat Huw Puw”
    Mae sŵn yn Mhortinllaen, swn hwylie’n codi:
    Blocie i gyd yn gwichian, Dafydd Jones yn gweiddi:
    Ni fedra’i aros gartre yn fy myw;
    Rhaid i mi fynd yn llongwr iawn ar Fflat Huw Puw.
    Fflat Huw Puw yn hwylio heno,
    Sŵn codi angor; mi fyna’i fynd i forio:
    Mi wisga’i gap pig gloew tra bydda’i byw,
    Os cai fynd yn llongwr iawn ar Fflat Huw Puw.

  3. Hi Simon, it’s comforting for me to see that many of your language blog entries are related to music and singing songs. Part of the motivation for starting my own blog about foreign language music was the same idea that, through music, we first learn subconsciously and then later have “lightbulb” moments through conscious study of grammar and vocabulary. Check it out when you have a moment:

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