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Studying a Poem as a European Language Learner at i-Learner

Studying a poem in a European language can be a great way to test and develop your linguistic skills. It also offers a chance to explore literature further and learn more about the history and culture of different places.

Reading these poems may seem daunting at first, but don’t worry, here are some tips to get started on the road to success:

Find a translation:

It’s fine to look at a translation in a language you know well. This allows you to get a feel for the poem’s content and some of the important ideas and themes, and it’s a great place to start your journey with the text.

I first got to know Lorca’s Romance Sonámbulo (Sleepwalker Ballad) through an English translation, which you can see here followed by the original in Spanish.

Do some research:

You might have heard of a particular writer and already be interested in their life and work. If so, you can do some research and find out more about their writing, life, the literary movement they are part of and the poem you’re studying. This kind of context will help you understand and engage with what you read.

My understanding of Lorca’s Romance Sonámbulo was deepened when I learned it combines images from traditional Spanish ballads with new experimental forms. It involves a story of love, violence and political conflict and was written in the years leading up to the Spanish Civil War. When I first read the poem I enjoyed its dreamlike imagery, use of symbols and the mysterious protagonist who ‘Dreams on her balcony’ with ‘green hair’ and ‘eyes of cold silver.’ After I had read the poem, I was interested to learn more about how Lorca was influenced by surrealism.

Read the original poem and use a dictionary:

Take your poem and look at it alongside the translation you have found and a dictionary. This will help you keep track of the meaning of the original and any unknown words or phrases as you read through. Gradually, you will get a feel for the language and will understand the poem in a new way.

Find a recording:

Listen to a recording of the poem in the original language. You might even be able to hear the poet performing their own work. This will give you an idea of how the language should sound. You will see how the sounds affect your feelings as you listen. This is helpful because translated versions won’t fully capture the sounds of the original language: the shapes and flow of the words that are so carefully chosen by the poet.

You can listen to a wonderful Spanish reading of Lorca’s Romance Sonámbulo here.


Exploring a poem in a new language is a challenge that can be exciting and rewarding. You might even think of it as an adventure. If you’re interested in learning to navigate a poem in French, German, or Spanish, why not ask an i-Learner tutor to be your guide.