Frère Jacques stirs an Interest in Foreign Languages


Frère Jacques was the first foreign language song I learnt as a young child. It opened whole new possibilities about the human experience to me…. there was a place in the world where people said “frère” for brother. Instead of asking “Are you asleep?” They said, “Dormez-vous.” It felt like a secret code that I was lucky to be privy to.

Working on Mama Lisa’s World, we’ve discovered and collected over 100 versions of Frère Jacques that are sung around the world!

The fact that the song is known in so many languages and countries gives it amazing potential as a tool. If you go to another country and have access to their version, you’ll have a point of commonality with people in that culture.

If you want to expose children, or adults for that matter, to another language, you can start by teaching them a version of Frère Jacques in that language. Instantly, the learner will feel some commonality with the language and culture. They already have the melody in their heads!

This is why I’ve used the song for multicultural presentations in classrooms and scout troops. It’s so easy!

You just have to provide them with lyrics to different versions in the original languages with translations into English (or their native language). If the language you’re presenting uses a different alphabet, provide the pronunciation.  You can also bring in recordings of the song on your laptop or a smart phone with speakers.

I normally start with the original French version. Then I’ll have them sing the song in English so they understand what it means. After that we’ll try a Spanish version, since that’s one of the better known languages in the US. Then, I might pick a difficult language like Vietnamese or Chinese. They love it! The difficult languages are particularly fun because it’s such a challenge.

You can also record the children singing the song and play it back to them. Then they can hear how good they sound!  You can use an iPhone or Android phone, with a portable speaker to do this easily.

I’ve found the children really enjoy this activity and every time I present it I get the sense that they have a newfound interest in foreign languages and cultures.

Here’s a link to a pdf printout that you can use in a presentation

Here are some versions of Frère Jacques in different languages:

Frère Jacques in French with Recordings

Martinillo (A Spanish Version) with a Recording

Two Tigers (Chinese Version) with Recordings

100+ Versions of Frère Jacques with Translations


Mama Lisa

This article was posted on Wednesday, January 17th, 2018 at 9:09 pm and is filed under Canada, Children's Songs, Countries & Cultures, England, English, France, Frère Jacques, French, French Kids Songs, Language Learning, Languages, Mama Lisa, USA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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