Tag Archives: songs

Hey Diddle Diddle- the fiddly business of song translation.

Twenty days ago, we were asked if we would translate 36 English Nursery Rhymes and Songs into German. We said, “Yes of course!”.

We started to translate songs when we first met 21 years ago, as it was a fun thing to do. For our last album “Mostly German”, we translated some traditional German nursery rhymes into singable English versions
As we looked more into the English nursery rhymes, we realised that many were hundreds of years old and did not have a good German translation. As we wrestled with them to match meaning, rhyme and rhythm we realised why! Songs like “Hey Diddle Diddle” and “Mary Mary Quite Contrary” make no sense at all in English, so where do you start with translating them into German? Many of the songs could be political commentary I have heard, but this does not make translation any easier.

Here’s an example from “Three Blind Mice”:
“They all ran after the farmer’s wife
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife
Did you ever see such a thing in your life,
As three blind mice”
It has four consecutive rhymes to be translated and still rhyme, as well as the words being sung at the speed of a tongue twister. Absolute nightmare!

We started off by plugging the text into google translate to start ideas flowing. Some of these first translations are hilarious.
Once I caught a fish alive became
Eins zwei drei vier fünf
Einmal habe ich einen lebendigen Fisch gefangen

It is German alright, but there is no way those words will fit with the rhythm. The other major difficulty with this song is that nothing much rhymes with “fünf”, except Strümpf’ (socks) or Schlümpf’ (smurfs). So, we had to change to structure of the song to still convey the original meaning. Here’s what we did:

Eins, zwei, drei und vier
Ich hab’ ein kleines Fischlein hier
Fünf, sechs, sieben, acht
Jetzt hat er sich fort gemacht

We found some German translations for a few of the songs but that just served to give a few ideas..
Maik and I had a lot of back and forth, and middle-of-the-night bright ideas in order to pull this project together. So now we have 36 nursery rhymes with singable German translations, a really intense project but well worth it for the finished product.

And we eventually did find a way of rendering the “three blind mice” into German. It’s one heck of a tongue-twister even for a native speaker, but it rhymes while still conveying the meaning of the original English. Here it is:

Drei blinde Mäuse, drei blinde Mäuse.
Sieh, wie sie laufen, sieh, wie sie laufen.
Sie liefen hinter der Bauersfrau
Die wollte ihnen die Schwänze abhaun,
Mit ‘nem Messer, ja das glaube ich kaum,
Drei blinde Mäuse.

We translated and recorded some songs in 2015 for our Lingotastic “Mostly German” album. We took some traditional German Kinderlieder and translated them so they were singable in both German and English to help learn German. We also included verses in French, Spanish, Mandarin and Esperanto. In singing along language learning happens without even thinking about it. Get hold of your own copy here.

Polyglot Gathering – my awards

So, you may have heard me shouting about how awesome the Polyglot Gathering was. I could give a simple, boring, chronological account but I’m thinking it may be a bit of a snooze fest so….

 

Welcome to the Lingotastic Polyglot Gathering Awards.

Many of the talks deserve an award so here are mine:

 

The award for One Who Talks the Most Common Sense goes to…

Gareth Popkins “Fluent in Three Decades”.

Forget your sparkly language “get rich quick schemes”, your languages are more sustainable if you invest for the long haul. There was a very funny section on thinking about relationships with other languages.

“Negotiate that relationship”
True love and a life long commitment?
Monogamy -till death do us part?
Serial monogamy – It’s ok to walk out.
Two – timing?
Polygamy? Don’t confuse it with promiscuity.

I may have wet myself laughing at this point… I know a great number of promiscuous polyglots!

 

The award for Most Random Talk goes to…

“Introduction to Klingon” by Kelvin Jackson and Philip Newton.

I was inordinately excited at having the chance to learn Klingon. I’m by no stretch of the imagination a Star Trek geek but I love the sound of Klingon, and studying another new language makes me go weak at the knees..

 

The award for Most Interactive Talk goes to…

”Learning Some Slovak Folk Songs” by Betka Dorrerova.

She has such a passion for Slovak music and life in general. She quickly recruited other attendees to teach songs, too. I was singing the songs for the rest of the week!

 

The award for Most Baffling Talk goes to…

“Using Deep Learning to Accelerate Grammar Acquisition” Bartosz Czekala.

If I am totally honest, I only went along as I had met Bartosz the night before, and he seemed like a fun bloke. Grammar is usually a real snooze fest for me but what on earth is Deep Learning? Confusing to start with but it did become clearer as the talk went on and it was a really interesting and informative presentation.

 

The talk with Best Long Term Applications For Me goes to…

“Yes, You Can Be The Person Who Talks To Anyone” by Kirsten Cable.

After all, what is the point of learning a language if you never speak it?

Brilliant applied psychology on getting over yourself, and getting out there and using your languages.

 

The award for Silliest Talk goes to…

“Don’t Say Quite!” and “The Joy of Phrasal Verbs” Tim Morley.

Obviously the title was not at all funny but the game show format and silly examples made for a very, very silly talk. I even learned some things, too.

The talk I connected most to was…

“Learning by Eye vs Learning by Ear: Which is better?” Idahosa Ness.

The talk totally confirmed the way I teach. Hearing and mimicking and, in time, seeing text. The way we learned our first language.

The talk which surprised me most was…

“How to learn other languages through Esperanto: Russian and French.”

Charlotte Scherping Larsson, Alexey G

I’m a novice Esperanto speaker yet I managed to follow the majority of this talk.

 

 

My award for Funniest Talk goes to…

“Being Funny in a Foreign Language” Dimitrios Polychronopoulos.
As he talked about humour in a particular language, he switched to that language, which was awesome to see. It was great how he threw the floor open for us to bring our own jokes, which was a lot of fun.

 

My award for Most Fun Talk goes to…

Charlotte Scheping Larrson for “Singing in Swedish (dialects edition)”.
We learned two Swedish songs including a silly song about jumping in the river if I can’t have a sausage. Prior to this I only knew 3 words of Swedish, so I was so happy to learn the songs and hear Charlotte’s family stories behind them.

 

The award for the talk that most tested my language skills goes to
“De skandinaviska/ skandinaviske språkende/ språkene/ sprog” with Kristoffer Broholm, Karl-Eric Wångstedt and Irena Dahl
With my German I understood about a third of the Danish and Norwegian, Swedish remains a mystery. I still only know three words! It was really fun talk, especially laughing as they tried to read in each others languages.

The award for Most Inspiring Talk goes to…

“Life in Multiple Languages” by Richard Simcott.
I loved how he shared about his day-to-day life and that of his family, and how languages are woven through it all.

 

The award for Most Innovative Talk goes to…

Florian Heller with his five languages talk.
The way he seamlessly switched languages and just continued the talk was awesome.

 

The internationally culinary event on the first evening was a brilliant way to meet new friends, experience other cultures and sample some lovely regional food and alcohol.

There were so many more amazing, inspirational people there, that there are too many to mention here. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming and I really was sad to leave.

 

All that remains is to thank the amazing team who organised the conference and created a space for us all to get together.

 

Hope to see you there next year.

Singing four languages in forty minutes.

Yesterday as a family we went along to a multicultural, multinational event called Go Fest.

As a family we think it is very important for our children to see and experience different cultures.
We went along to a multicultural concert by Resonance
Resonance

In forty minutes we had learned and sung along in Farsi, Hindi, Bemba and Urdu. My young girls were soon singing along and shaking their shakers. They loved the Indian drum and handheld Indian cymbals. We found a few phrases we recognised like “Jai Ho” There was a lot of repetition of phrases which really helped us pick the songs up quickly. Us older ones had a lot of fun as well!

One of the group, Rob Baker is an Ethnomusicologist. He studies music in it’s cultural context and spent a long time in West Africa capturing local music and helping people compose songs in their own language. Exciting stuff!

Music is a brilliant way to engage with other cultures and languages. Is there an event you know about your family can join in? Let us know how it goes!

Resonance
run song writing workshops encouraging groups to write songs in their native language and so strengthen their cultural identity. The band are from Singapore, Britain, Italy and Germany. Some of the band members have spent a lot of time in Mali and Tibet and so studied the culture and music of the countries.