Saturday, May 15, 2010

English fingerplays & nursery rhymes en francais

When Griffin was an infant, I loved, loved, loved taking him to "Book Babies" (baby storytime) at our library. I even allowed myself to speak English with him for that half-hour every week! (My academic background in French means I can--or at least could, as a grad student of M. Edouard Thai--trace the evolution of the language from Latin through today or explicate a poem or write a pastiche of a nouveau roman, but I sure can't do instaneous interpretation of nursery rhymes and songs from English to French while holding a squirming baby.)

But then I'd come home and want to sing and recite the songs and rhymes, yet I was determined to only speak to him in French. So I started translating--or rather, recreating--some of the rhymes into French. And I felt proud that I managed!

However, I've always wondered if my renditions would sound strange and mangled to a native speaker, and then the other day I realized I had forgotten bits and pieces now that Griffin's graduated to toddler storytime. So today I'm going to write them all down here so I don't lose them! Please let me know if anything comes across as absurd or if my French needs tweaking. And if you have your own French versions of rhymes and fingerplays in English to share--or others to request?--I'd love to hear about them!

(Here are some of the Book Babies songs and rhymes, sung by children's librarian Betsy Stroomer.)

Two Little Birds
Two little birds, sitting on a hill (hold index fingers in front of you)
One named Jack, the other named Jill (move tips of fingers up and down)
Fly away, Jack (make the left-hand finger fly away and hide behind your back)
Fly away, Jill (ditto with the right hand)
Come back, Jack (left-hand finger returns to the front)
Come back, Jill (ditto with the right hand)

Deux petits oiseaux
Deux petits oiseaux
Assis sur une colline
L'un s'appelle Jacques
L'autre Jacqueline
Envole-toi, Jacques
Envole-toi, Jacqueline
Reviens, Jacques
Reviens, Jacqueline

Two Little Hands and Ten Little Fingers
(to the tune of "Ten Little Indians")

Two little hands (hold two fists in front of you) and ten little fingers (open fists and wiggle fingers)
Two little hands and ten little fingers
Two little hands and ten little fingers
Count them now with me
(Hold up fingers as you count them off)One little, two little, three little fingers
Four little, five little, six little fingers
Seven little, eight little, nine little fingers
And one more makes ten!

Deux petites mains et dix petits doigts

Deux petiets mains et dix petits doigts
Deux petites mains et dix petits doigts
Deux petites mains et dix petits doigts
Comptons-les ensemble
Un petit, deux petits, trois petits doigts
Quatre petits, cinq petits, six petits doigts
Sept petits, huit petits, neuf petits doigts
Et encore un font dix!

(Note--this is one I didn't grow up hearing. The librarian said that it's from the Caribbean. It's a rhyme used for indicating the different fingers and also for naming the people in your family. Imagine an island beat while you sing it!  Click on the Book Babies link above to hear the original.)

Here's my mama (point to thumb)
Here's my papa (point to index finger)
My brother tall (point to middle finger)
Sister (point to ring finger)
Baby (point to pinky)
We love them all (bring five fingers together to blow a kiss)
(And the librarian always added a "cha-cha-cha" at the end!)

Come-a-look-a-see en français

Voici maman
Voici papa
Mon cousin Carl
Tatie, tonton, je les aime tous

(This is my least successful translation. For one thing, Carl is the shortest person in our family--he shouldn't be represented by the middle finger. For another, it doesn't rhyme anywhere. And then there's that "come-a-look-a-see" that I couldn't figure out how to translate. I gave up on finding a French Caribbean creole-tinged equivalent of "come-a-look-a-see," so I need help! I decided just to leave the English in for now. After all, you can hear several languages within one conversation on many of those islands, right?)

Pattycake, pattycake, baker's man (clap baby's hands together)
Bake me a cake as fast as you can (clap)
Roll it (roll your forearms around each other)
And pat it (pat down imaginary bread dough with both hands)
And mark it with a G (pantomime writing a letter with your finger--I use G for Griffin but the default is B for baby)
And put it in the oven for Griffin and me! (tickle baby's stomach)

Pattycake en français

Pattycake, pattycake, boulanger
Faites-moi un gateau s'il vous plaît
Et y écrivez un G
Et mettez-le dans le four pour moi et bébé!

(As with come-a-look-a-see, I didn't know what to do with pattycake--which comes from "Pat-a-cake"--so I just left it too. Any ideas?)

Whoops Johnny
This is another fingerplay, very very simple.

Johnny (touch pinky finger with the index finger of the opposite hand)
Johnny (touch ring finger)
Johnny (touch middle finger)
Johnny (touch index finger)
Whoops! (slide the opposite hand's index finger from the tip of the index to the tip of the thumb)
Johnny (touch thumb)
Whoops! (slide from thumb to index)
Johnny (touch middle finger)
Johnny (touch ring finger)
Johnny (touch pinky)

And that's all there is to it! Repeat multiple times for fascinated baby until you regret having two hands to play this game. Vary it by switching up the speed and the volume.

I've tried it with French names, but it never quite feels natural ("Whoops François!" "Whoops Jean-Marc!"), so now I just stick with "Griffy."

Now here's one that isn't from storytime; it's actually an honest-to-goodness French knee-bouncing rhyme that describes riding a horse to various cities in France as the horse goes faster and faster:

À Verdun
À Verdun, à Verdun (to Verdun, to Verdun)
Sur mon petit cheval brun (on my little brown horse)
Au pas, au pas (walking, walking)
Au trot, au trot (trotting, trotting)
Au galop! (galloping)

À Paris, à Paris
Sur mon petit cheval gris (my little grey horse)
Au pas, au pas
Au trot, au trot
Au galop!

Now, there's nothing wrong with the original version, but it doesn't mean a thing to a toddler in northern Colorado! So I wanted to add a few local cities while keeping the rhyme. For example, we live in Lafayette, which, fortunately, "violette" rhymes with. "Violette," that is, not "violet." "Violette" is the feminine form of the adjective which must be used only with feminine nouns. "Horse" (cheval), unfortunately, is a masculine noun. So that means that our horse is no longer a horse:

À Lafayette, à Lafayette
Sur ma girafe violette
Au pas, au pas
Au trot, au trot
Au galop!

Yep, the brown and grey French horses have turned into a purple giraffe in our house!

This rhyming challenge, plus the fun of introducing a whole menagerie of galloping animals, also leads to verses such as:

À Boulder, à Boulder/Sur mon petit poisson vert (my little green fish)

À Denver, à Denver/Sur mon petit chat brun clair (my light brown cat)

À Green Bay*, à Green Bay/Sur mon p'tit ours brun foncé (my little dark brown bear)

À NCAR**, à NCAR/Sur mon petit oiseau noir (my little black bird)

Okay, enough animal silliness! On to the cuckoo clock silliness. This is the one English nursery rhyme that totally stumps me.

Cuckoo Clock

Tick-tock, tick-tock, Griffin is a cuckoo clock (hold baby in front of you with your hands under his arms, swinging him from side to side)
Tick-tock, tick-tock, now it's one o'clock
Cuckoo! (toss baby gently in the air)

Tick-tock, tick-tock, Griffin is a cuckoo clock
Tick-tock, tick-tock, now it's two o'clock
Cuckoo! Cuckoo! (toss baby gently in the air for each "cuckoo")

(Continue up through twelve cuckoos if you can hold your kid that long!)

Griffin LOVES this rhyme (and it's a great upper-body workout), but I have no clue how to render it in French (and keep it rhyming and charming). Suggestions?

*No, Green Bay, Wisconsin is nowhere near us, but Griffin knows that's where his other grandparents live.
**Pronounced en-car, that's the National Center for Atmospheric Research, located on the outskirts of Boulder.


  1. I really love these ideas! How inspiring! I did some finger plays with my German class, but with adults, they don't really get into it LOL.

  2. Love these! Thank you and can't wait to use them with L!

  3. Your translations look great to me, but don't forget that classic "original French" ones exist out there too (and many you can find on the Internet), and those are fun as well.

  4. @Jeanne--Well, then those adults were missing out!

    @K--Have fun!

    @BOB--Oh, don't worry, we do plenty of traditional French rhymes too. YouTube has some fun video clips of animated and live-action comptines that I like a lot.

  5. OH I LOVE IT!
    Those songs are so cute in French :)
    Thank you for sharing this! SO fun!
    Thank you for linking to French Obsession Party!

  6. Wow, how adorable!!! I LOVE seeing these in French!
    Cindy Adkins

  7. Revisiting these rhymes with Griffin's baby sister reminds me that I have a few more translations to share:

    The "Eency Weency Spider" was originally "L'araignee Gypsy":

    "Baby Put Your Pants On" (a rhyme to sing while dressing or undressing your child; click on the Book Babies link in the post to hear the melody and see the lyrics) becomes:

    Bebe met ton pantalon, pantalon, pantalon
    Bebe met ton pantalon, un deux trois
    Bebe met ton pantalon, pantalon, pantalon,
    Bebe met ton pantalon, comme ca

    (Change the name of the garment to reflect what your child is actually wearing)

    Then there's "Baby Goes Boom":

    Boom, boom, baby goes boom-boom
    Baby goes boom-boom down
    You might cry, but everyone does it
    Everyone boom-booms down.

    I have rendered it:

    Boum, boum, bebe fait boum-boum
    Bebe fait ba-da-boum
    Tu pleures, mais tout le monde le fait
    Tout le monde ba-da-boum

    (Obviously, you sing this when your child falls down! Unlike lots of children's songs in English, this one is in a minor key.)

    And finally, I changed "Sweetly Sings the Donkey" too, because I wanted some new rounds to sing in French with Griffin (see Book Babies link for the melody):

    Sweetly sings the donkey
    At the break of day
    If you do not feed him
    This is what he'll say
    Hee-haw, hee-haw, hee-haw hee-haw hee-haw

    L'ane chante doucement
    Au lever du soleil
    S'il ne mange pas
    Voici ce qu'il fait
    Y-en, y-en, y en y en y en.

    As always, let me know if you have suggestions for how to finesse my French or for other rhymes to include here!

    1. Looking forward to trying a couple of these- thanks so much! My one addition is Baa Baa Black Sheep- Mouton, Mouton, est ce que tu as de laine? Oui monsieur, oui monsieur, j'en ai trois sacs plein. Un pour le monsieur et un pour la dame, et un pour le p'tit garcon qui habite sur le chemin.