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How to Use Songs in Bilingual Storytime

Updated on February 21, 2012

Use songs during bilingual storytime to help children get more out of the program. It is best to choose simple songs with actions and words children might recognize. There are really three main options when it comes to choosing them. Use only one of them, or incorporate all three.

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Sing songs with which children are familiar. Many songs such as "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes" can easily be translated into many different languages. Songs such as "Old MacDonald" or "Down on Grandpa's Farm" can be sung in English with the exception of the animal names and what the animals say. For example, during the bilingual story time hold up a pig puppet while children sing "Down on Grandpa's farm, he had a great big couchon. Le couchon, he makes a sound like this groin, groin."

Play CDs. Many well known children's artists have songs available in other languages. Look for music by Raffi, Charlotte Diamond, and the Laurie Berkner Band. Disney and other production companies translate their movies into other languages so as that children across the world can also enjoy them. Look for appropriate soundtracks that can easily be used during the program.


Translate piggy back songs into foreign languages. Children will recognize familiar tunes, beginning bilingual storytime leaders will feel less pressure and it will help non-bilingual children recognize new vocabulary.

Sing along to traditional songs that are written in the native language for speakers of that language. You should be able to purchase CDs to help children sing along.

Before using traditional songs, look up the translations of songs. Why? The song Aloutte was written during a time when people depended upon small birds to make up a part of their diet. Centuries later, this is not the case. During Word War II, young French children were terrified of American soldiers after they liberated Paris because soldiers drove down the street singing the only French song they knew... Aloutte. The song is about someone taking a skylark and ripping off the bird's beak, heart, lungs, legs, wings, feathers and finally its brain. You would not want something similar scaring away the children coming to story time for their first time.


Use actions. It will help children retain more and get the wiggle worms out.

Why is it important for children to learn another language?

Even if you don't have a large population of non-English speakers, bilingual storytime can help English speaking children. Young children will learn vocabulary, learn to speak foreign languages without an accent, learn about other cultures, and more.

Do you have a favorite story, song or rhyme to share in bilingual storytime? Fun memories? Tips and advice to share?

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    • Joyce Mann profile image

      Joyce T. Mann 

      7 years ago from Bucks County, Pennsylvania USA

      I began my Spanish studies as a teenager and find it amazing that I still remember the lyrics and melody of the first Spanish-language song I was ever taught. A super lens with great tips.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 

      7 years ago from Land of Aloha

      Starting early with the bilingual stories, songs and nursery rhymes is beneficial to everyone. In fact, as an adult, I'd probably do some eavesdropping at story time at the library if bilingual storytime were offered. :) (Never too old to learn, right?)

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 

      7 years ago from So Cal

      You caught my attention with the Pigeon book. It is a family favorite and never gets old. We live in a lower income area and we are the minority. English is the 2nd language here so learning enough Spanish to get by is important. The stores that send out flyers assume that everyone is Spanish speaking so we know all the foods. Our child has difficulties with some of the children who refuse to speak English so he is also learning the language. While he was in public school, story time and assemblies were in both languages. It is hard for the children whose parents only speak their native language to keep up in school. I think it's important to teach them anyway we can so that they are not behind. These are good ideas.

    • LizMac60 profile image

      Liz Mackay 

      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Great stuff. Blessed.


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