Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Finding bilingual children's songs: Tips for non-cheaters

This post was written for inclusion in Bilingual for Fun's Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, hosted this month by Bringing Up Baby Bilingual. Check back at Bringing Up Baby Bilingual for the carnival when it posts July 1. [ETA: Updated with link!]

folk song sheet music

As I was writing my cheater's guide to bilingual songs, I realized that I find even greater numbers of non-cheater songs online just as easily.

My cheater's guide was all about translating your own (majority-language) songs on the fly, but really most of my German song repertoire is of genuine German-language songs — or at least, songs that weren't translated by a non-native speaker! Here are some categories of songs to look into if you want to sing legitimate songs from your target culture (always a good idea, yes?).

Again, my assumption in this article as in the cheater's guide is that you want to learn some songs the sort of old-fashioned way — by singing them yourself after finding them on the internet! Pretend the internet's your grandma, and you're learning songs by heart at her knee…

So, for now, I'm going to try to help you navigate a little of what's in cyberspace so you can learn and memorize the songs available there. In a future article that has yet to be even started, I will try to compile some inexpensive resources for purchasing or borrowing songs, books, and other media for your language use. But for now, we'll stick with online and free.

There is a wealth of lyrics, midi and mp3 files, and videos online so you can start building your repertoire in the target language easily and cheaply! If you're a non-native speaker as I am, it will also help you build your understanding of grammar and the range of your vocabulary, and in any case, it will do just that for your kids.

Children's songs

It's easy enough to find lists of children's songs online. If you want lyrics, just try typing in "children's songs" plus your target language. If you know what the term "children's songs" is in your target language (e.g., Kinderlieder), typing that in instead is a nice shortcut! If you want to hear a particular song sung, I've found typing the specific title into YouTube to be a help. It's often a child showing off for Oma, which is delightful in itself. Sometimes you get lucky and even find someone who's enunciating!

For a list of authentic children's songs, here's a huge list of German children's songs at ingeb.org as an example. Clicking on the title gets you the lyrics. Clicking on "Melodie" gives you an online music midi file to listen to. Clicking on "Noten," where available, gives you a portion of the sheet music. Helpful, no? Try searching for your own target language to see if you can find some other lists of native songs.

You might also be able to find translations of songs you're already familiar with, like "Mary Had a Little Lamb" or "Oh, Susanna" — just run a search for a title you're curious about with the target language after, or look at your library for bilingual children's CDs like the Teach Me … series or the Berlitz Adventures with Nicholas series, which seem to specialize in such things. Sorry, I know that wasn't an online resource, but I've learned a lot of such cross-cultural songs from them that I'm not seeing online. And, yes, this is still a little cheater's-guide-ish, but in most cases the songs are translated by native speakers and sometimes have even become standard songs in the other culture, just as "Frère Jacques" has been adopted into the English language as "Are You Sleeping?" Plus, anything that will get you and your child singing bilingually is worth a shot!

TV songs

YouTube also has plenty of children's TV theme songs and other music available. For German, for instance, there are songs from Die Biene Maja, Sesamstrasse, and Pippi Langstrumpf.

To find them, it helps if you know the name of the program in the target language. If you know it only in English (or want to see if a particular program exists in your target language), try typing into a search engine the title as you know it plus the language, e.g., "Sesame Street German," to get what the title is in your target language. If you don't know what shows you're looking for, trying typing in "Language Children's TV Shows" — I found this result of a handy Wikipedia list for German. Armed with the series titles, I can now do a proper YouTube search. Once you're in, you'll find lists of related videos to the side, so you can weave down many a rabbit trail that way.

One very big flashing warning about YouTube videos: They are not strictly moderated or rated. Many, many times people (immature people) will upload their own redux versions of children's shows, changing language and actions. If you're concerned about your children watching anything potentially disturbing, vet all YouTube videos ahead of time! (It can actually be pretty funny, really…)

Online children's radio

You can usually find children's radio stations or programming streaming online in your target language. RadioJoJo is one for German. Try searching for "online radio" or "online children's radio" plus your target language, or see if one of your favorite bilingual bloggers has a good list of radio stations available.

Finger & action rhymes

Think about some of the goofy little games you play with your kids. I know when I was growing up, I always liked "This is the way the lady rides" while bouncing along on my parents' knees. There's a German equivalent called "Hoppe, hoppe, Reiter." Maybe there's something similar in your target language, or maybe you can find a translation of the rhyme you know.

"Pat-a-cake" is another good one, with a German counterpart of "Backe, backe, Kuchen."

Try a search for "children's rhymes" or "nursery rhymes" plus your target language. Here's a fun collection for German, arranged by Detlef Cordes.

Folk songs

Another category of songs to look into is folk songs. These are the kind of songs you used to sing at camp, on car trips, or in music class, and one reason they're so popular is they're easy to pick up! They often cross back and forth over the line between adult songs and children's songs, which is absolutely fine — they're simple to sing, which is why children can handle them. Just pop "folk songs" and your target language name into Google, and see what comes up. You can also try this with keywords like "children's songs" and "children's rhymes."

There are some really fun German folk songs I've been able to learn, like "Grün grün grün sind alle meine Kleider," which lets you have fun with colors and occupations. (We like to add our own inventions, because Mikko likes to shout out colors that aren't traditionally part of the song!) I love the jaunty "Jetzt fahrn wir übern See," and Mikko can't get enough of "Jetzt steigt Hampelmann."

Hymns & lullabies

If you need some quieter songs in your target language, try looking for lullabies and also for hymns by typing "lullabies," "lullaby," or "hymn" plus your target language into the search engine. Both tend to be on the more sedate side, and should help you get your children snoozing in no time. As a non-native speaker, I'm often confronted with checklists in various language books that ask me whether or not I can be a fit parent in my minority language. One of the questions on the checklist is always along the lines of "Can you sing lullabies in your target language?" So learn a few, and check this off your list with a lightened heart!

Cultural icons

After learning a bucketload of new German music, I was getting tired of children's songs, folk songs, and hymns and was really craving some "grown-up" songs in German that would still be easily accessible to me here in the States. I realized that Marlene Dietrich must have sung a German song or two in her life, and behold — she's singing several on YouTube right now! I knew the 1960s folk song (yes, still a folk song, but a little more my usual style) "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" in English already, and I was pleased to learn Marlene's version:

If you know of a singer who is a native speaker of your target language, look for songs from him or her for a more personalized experience.

And if you know of singers or groups you love in one language, you could even take a gamble that maybe they recorded something in another language. Did you know Johnny Cash and The Beatles both recorded in German? Well, now you do!

Contemporary music

Whether your children will like the current popular music in your target language depends somewhat on their age and sensibilities. I know Mikko's not yet really into Rammstein or Wir sind Helden, but it's nice to know they're there for when I need them.

If you know what musicians you're looking for, you can usually find lyrics and videos online. Try going to Amazon but in your target country's version (such as Amazon.de for German) and browsing through the music section. You can usually hear samples of songs in an album to know whether it's a style you or your kids would enjoy.

I'm trying to learn some modern songs in advance so I'll have something to sing when Mikko's a tween! Have I been busily memorizing "99 Luftballons" in anticipation? Why, yes. Yes, I have.

How do you learn new songs to sing with your kids in your target language? Give me more suggestions of cheap-o resources if you have 'em!


Marilyn (A Lot of Loves) said...

I am not bilingual so I haven't researched this. I do sing the kids the few French songs that I know. I doubt they'll be more multilingual than I am...but it would be cool if they were.

lauren. said...

oh, my gosh. i remember that sesame street song! my brother & i loved it. :)

i love these ideas, too - my husband is portuguese but has long since forgotten the language [only his grandparents spoke it with him when he was young]. this sounds like a great way to introduce our kids to the language in a way that neither of us will be able to do. THANK YOU!

Sarah @ Baby Bilingual said...

Thanks for this detailed list of great ideas! I can only think of one thing to add: exploit the resources available at your public library even further.

Specifically, ask the reference librarian if she knows of any online databases that your library subscribes to which might have articles, sheet music, and so on.

Also, check with the children's librarians who lead storytimes; all of them at the library where I work know songs in other languages that they occasionally weave into the storytimes. (I heard French, Spanish, Japanese, and a Native American language within the span of three months at baby storytime with Griffin last year!) They probably have a shelf full of books in their office with storytime songs and nursery rhymes, some of which are bound to be in other languages.

Marcela said...

I love the childrens radio suggestion, had never thought of that. Interested to see if we can find one.

I also like the suggestion to find out if favorite singers have recorded in other languages. My son is 9 and finding something fun for him to hear is a struggle sometimes. Most are too kiddie for him.

Love your post,

Zoe @ Playing by the book said...

Music's a big part of our life so I love this post! Youtube is definitely an asset. We also like Mama Lisa:
Lots of lyrics (to help with searching) and sometimes also mp3 files.

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