What Running’s Got In Common With Singing In a New Language

What Running has in Common with singing in a new language
Published 09/27/2021

Running has been an important part of my life for about twenty years now.

It helps me let off steam, clear my mind, focus on what’s next and above all is my Number One source of creativity and ideas.

Some people develop ideas while grabbing a shower, others while meditating – I have my best ideas when I’m running through the adjacent woods.

It was during one of those runs that I reflected how much running’s actually got in common with learning to sing in a new language and as soon as I was home, I noted down my discoveries. Here goes:


1. Warm up

Warm up for singing in a new language

It’s common knowledge that you shouldn’t do any exercise without warming up.

Sometimes, however, I decided I didn’t have the time to warm up and started running cold – which I regretted every time. My muscles stayed tense, and my movements didn’t become fluid. Even worse, pain rose either in my legs or knees, hips, even shoulders, leading to more tension.

In the end I not only didn’t enjoy the run, but I also had to put in a good deal more time and effort to stretch afterwards in order to prevent sore muscles. So ultimately not warming up had cost me more time in the end – without getting me any results.

It’s the same with learning to sing in a new language: not only warm up your voice but also your facial muscles (here are some warmup exercises).

Singing in an unfamiliar language without warming up can lead to an increased tension in your jaw and throat and even to vocal issues due to that tension. If you want to read up on that matter (and learn how to prevent any impact on your voice due to singing in a foreign language), you might want to switch to this article.

2. Accept that you know nothing

Accept that you are a beginner when singing in a new language

When I seriously started running, I often experienced pain in my hip and shoulders. It got so bad that I decided to hire a running coach to help me with that matter. When I told Helena, my coach, about my problems, she wanted to have a look at my technique. At which I stared at her and told her that I just ran by setting one foot in front of the other at an accelerated speed. (To be honest, I thought she was nuts. We all know how to run, don’t we?)

Helena insisted on watching me run and her analysis was not nice: I tended to slouch my shoulders and lean forward too much and thus didn’t run “from the core”. Other muscles had to help out which resulted in the above-mentioned difficulties.

With some extra training for different muscle groups and a new awareness for a healthy technique, the pain was soon gone.

When it comes to singing in a new language, it’s not only about making sounds that are different from your mother tongue’s but to carry them out correctly, i.e. with the right technique.

To get all the details right from the beginning, it is highly recommendable to hire a pronunciation coach. (Hint: you’ve already found one… ;-))

Just watching YouTube videos and recordings of the repertoire you want to learn is NOT a good way of preparing!

The earlier in your diction journey you are, the more recommendable is it to get trained by an accomplished native coach.

What’s more, you must eventually combine this new speaking technique with singing. At first, this can be quite a challenge, but in the end, mastering the pronunciation of a new language and not only rushing through some essentials will always pay off.


3. Slow and steady wins the race

Slow and steady when you sing in a new language

As far as I know, nobody will ever manage to go from untrained to running a marathon within a week, not even a month. It’s physically impossible.

Why, then, do we think that it’s possible to learn all the details of a new role or even a single song or aria in a new language within a comparatively short amount of time?

Running a marathon or just your first 10 kilometers is similar to singing an opera in a new language or just your first art song: it requires meticulous and thorough planning and a long breath – in more than one sense.

When you have just started out to learn singing in German, check in with your coach regularly at frequent intervals. It’ll prevent you from establishing any errors and support you in keeping up the good work.

So please: Don’t fall into the trap of impatience and overdo your training at the beginning or rush forward without having consulted your coach first. Tempting as it may be, it could lead to vocal problems (see no. 1). Stick to the plan and watch your abilities develop and grow.


4. Vary your exercises

Vary your exercises when learning to sing in a new language

Several years ago, I wanted to train for a half-marathon and had chosen a training route for preparation.

ONE training route.

In the first couple of weeks, I could improve my performance but then it stagnated. I had reached a plateau and after a short time, it even felt as if my fitness level got worse instead of better. I discussed the matter with Helen and she of course had the answer: by running the same route over and over again, my body (and mind) had become accustomed to it.

To improve my strength and endurance I not only had to vary my training routes and speed, but I also had to add other exercises like HIIT and progressive resistance training. This variations in exercise catapulted my performance up in no time and I was able to run the half-marathon in a time I was content with.

When you want to sing this one song or aria in German and train only these words, you’ll soon experience the same as I did with my running preparation.

By varying your excercises you’ll train different muscles and abilities.

You could, for example switch from spoken to sung language, do tongue twisters on sounds you have difficulties with, accelerate your tempo or sing another song!

As with running, alternating exercises in the preparation for a new song are not a detour but will help you in reaching your goal faster.


5. Make it a habit

Make practicing a habit

When I decided to train for my first half-marathon and finally had my training plan ready, I was determined to stick to that plan.
It went well for the first week.
In the second week, things got a bit tight, and I had a lot to do and was tired. So, I skipped some training units.
The week after that “forgetting” training got easier and by week four I almost cancelled the whole undertaking because I was so much behind my plan.

As giving up wasn’t an option for me, I thought about how I could integrate running into my daily life in such a way that it would soon become a habit.

We usually start our journey full of vim and vigour but eventually, the road becomes rocky and we become tired and our motivation falters. Our inner weakness takes over and will find a thousand excuses why we just can’t practice today.

Before long we haven’t done anything for a week and then a month and eventually, we’ll have to start at the very beginning. IF we ever start again.

Making practicing – or anything else – a habit, may seem daunting but there are a few steps that may make it easier:

  • Write down your goal and place it somewhere you can see it every day.
  • Specify a time when you want to practice, block it in your calender and stick to it.
  • Plan your steps and break them down into day-by-day chunks
  • Determine upfront how to overcome obstacles, for example unforeseen events.


6. The more the better? Not always…

More is not better when singing in a new language

I firmly believe that sometimes we have to go beyond our boundaries to see where they actually are.

I also firmly believe that we shouldn’t do so on a regular basis.

Training or practice that is continually overdone won’t lead you anywhere near your goal but, on the contrary, to long-term exhaustion.

Unfortunately, I know what I’m talking about. During a very hard time in my life, running had become my method for coping and I continually exhausted myself. It led to a nasty physical burnout and for months I was so weak that I couldn’t even walk 300 metres at a moderate pace without fighting for air.

I’m sure the effects when overdoing yourself in learning to sing in a new language won’t be as severe, at least physically speaking. Nevertheless, be careful and practice reasonably.


7. Learn to rest (not to quit)

Learn to rest

This may seem contrary to what I said earlier but always plan when to rest. Your body and mind need a break from time to time to recover from the effort (and singing in a new language is a considerable effort!) and to process the things you learned.

It may be difficult sometimes to distinguish between real exhaustion (mentally and/or physically) and your weaker self kicking in, but that, too, is a learning process.

Also, when we are tired and unfocused while practicing (no matter what), chances are that we won’t get any or any good results. We could easily get frustrated and – at worst – quit the whole thing.

Listen to your body and mind and take a break from practicing when you need it.

This’ll help you reinforcing your learning experience and thus reaching your aim faster.


8. Get all-in

Learn with mind, body and soul

The best way to learn something new is to dive right into it with body, mind and soul.

Or rather with soul, mind and body.

At first, there is the goal you want to achieve. No matter if it’s a half-marathon or your first art song in German, you want to get there with all your heart, or rather: your soul.

Be passionate about your goal (and the ride towards it), no matter what others say. Unfortunately, it’s still common that passion is eyed suspiciously by many people. Just don’t listen and do it anyway.

While the soul just knows the goal, the mind figures out the way to get there. It’ll plan on getting all the necessary information, hiring a coach, breaking down the journey into doable steps and giving us the occasional kick in the butt to keep going.

Last, but certainly not least: practicing is also a physical experience. Even if we “only” learn something like a new language, our bodies are called to carry out the movements necessary for speaking or singing it.

In the best case, all three parts are involved in our efforts and that’s when we not only know why we are doing what we chose to but we also love what we’re doing.


9. Have fun

Have fun in what you're doing

When I first started running, I didn’t enjoy it very much. In fact, I did it on my boy friend’s request. He treated running very competitively and loved proving that he was better than me.

I practiced nevertheless but I didn’t have fun and although I made some progress, I’d rather did something else. When we parted ways, I also gave up running.

Years later, I started it again, but this time for the sole purpose of getting fitter. At first, I felt awkward, but when I realized the negative mindset I had acquired years ago (“I’m not good enough”), I was able to shift it towards “I enjoy running and love to see how my body becomes stronger”.

Of course, running is strenuous and there are days when I am tired and only run a short tour but the moment I remind myself that I am allowed to enjoy it, I get the utmost benefit from it, mentally and physically.

Have fun in learning to sing in a new language. Heck, have fun in eVERYtHIng you do, no matter how strenuous or demanding it may be. Of course, you have a goal and want to achieve it fast but who says you can’t enjoy the ride?



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