Travel, Music and Love: We speak with Kayah

Since the huge success of her recent album with Goran Bregović - the biggest-selling record in the history of the Polish music industry - Kayah has become an even bigger name throughout Poland and her fame has begun to spread to other parts of the world. In an interviewconducted entirely in English she talked to The World of English about how she learnt the language and how important it is for her to be able to speak it.

WoE: How did you learn English?

Kayah: When you' re abroad and you have to make yourself understood, that' s the best way to learn. I was very lucky, I travelled a lot and I had real contact with the language. But I' m really very bad - I know nothing about grammar, nothing, really nothing! Nothing about tenses - past, present - what is this? I have no idea how they all work.

Are you continuing to study now?

No, not at all. The reason why I started to think in English, except because of travelling, was because I wanted to know what songs were about. But when I learnt I was sorry because most of all they' re about nothing. The songs I used to think were about something were actually about nothing - which was a pity. But I think there' s really nothing more important than knowing languages because it makes you closer to the world. For someone like me, being from Poland, it was the only possibility to get closer to the outside world. It was also maybe my mistake; I was always in love with foreigners!

Did you have English lessons at school?

Yes. In secondary school I had a very good teacher. He was half-English and really pedantic about language and pronunciation. But I was never good enough. It' s a pity because my biggest dream is to write lyrics in English - to be so elastic in the language that I could make myself understood not only through words, but also through thoughts. I don' t know idioms or anything like that.

How much do you use English?

All the time because my husband is Dutch, and I don' t speak Dutch. The funny thing between us is that - especially for me - when I don' t know some word in English I might know it in German, so I mix them, often in a very stupid and funny way. We both speak English and German.

Did you learn German at school as well?

It was when I was travelling. I lived in Vienna for over a year.

Is your German as good as your English?

Much, much worse! I can tell you a very funny story. A Turkish friend and I had a band together. He spoke German and English too. Once we were standing in a queue at a garden party in an international music festival. He was a little way from me and I called out," Could you bring me a teller" ." Talerz" and" teller" in German are quite similar, and we never used the word" plate" . The Americans and English were looking at us and thinking" What does she mean?!" That was really funny, but I' m still speaking that mixed language.

Can you imagine not being able to speak English?

No. I really believe in body language, but I think my husband and I would be really unfortunate then. We have a little baby - Roch - and soon he' s going to talk. It looks like he will speak Dutch with my husband, with me Polish and with both of us, English. But what level of English it will be I can' t imagine!

Are you deliberately teaching him English?

I think he will speak it just because he will hear us speaking. There is a big hope and chance that we will speak better English because I recently made an advertisement for an English language school in Poland. As part of my payment they proposed they send me a teacher for conversation lessons. I have no time, so probably they won' t be regular, but we' ll see.

Has Roch begun to speak yet?

No, only "ga ga ga" - it' s international. But the first " hello" he said was something between Dutch and English. "Helo, Hallo," something like that, not "Halo" like in Polish.

Do you have plans to sing in English?

Only if it makes sense. To sing in English here in Poland makes no sense. My biggest dream is to do something abroad, but this is something I can do nothing about. It depends on decisions that my record company will make. From my point of view, I' m scared because I' m 32 years old. Who' s going to listen to a 32-year-old woman from Poland? But I' ve had a few international hits.

What plans do you have for the near future?

Soon I' ll be releasing my next record. I think that this record has an international touch because it will be full of folklore influences. But right now there are no lyrics at all. It' s still a fresh thing, but for sure if I record this album I think I will try to make it in both language versions. Maybe I can use the English version later.

So the English one will be like a demo?

I suppose so, yes. But there' s still no decision about what to do with it. Maybe also my husband will help - he knows a lot of people. Actually I' m quite popular in Holland at the moment - even with Polish. Look at what' s going on now in the music market, look at Youssou N' Dour or Cesaria Evora. They sing in their own languages, and very often not the popular version that everyone speaks. They use a lot of slang or even local dialects. For instance, Cesaria Evora doesn' t even sing in normal Portuguese - she' s from Cape Verde. And these singers are becoming very, very popular.

On your last record with Goran Bregović English wouldn' t have suited that sort of music.

What I would love to have there would be English translations because I' m really proud of the lyrics. If I ever made poetry this is it.

Do you think English is a difficult language to learn?

Probably if I go deeper it' ll be a very dangerous language. But I think English is much closer to Polish than German because of the logic used to build the sentences. It' s easier to build sentences in English than in German, for instance, because in German they have completely opposite logic. But in English the tenses are very difficult. About pronunciation, I know a lot of people through music here who really catch it. It' s quite easy to catch the melody of English. It certainly helps to live somewhere where English is spoken. But I know people who live in Greenpoint in New York - Greenpoint is like a Polish village - people have been living there for 30 or 40 years and they can' t speak English at all.

What advice would you give people learning English?

Fall in love with a foreigner! That' s the easiest way!