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  • Writer's pictureJenny Ferris

Songs from Other Mother Tongues

In today's multicultural age, it is important that the music we teach in our classrooms is reflective of the multitude of languages, nationalities and cultures represented in our student body.

As someone who doesn't speak any other language than English fluently, I initially struggled with songs from other mother tongues, but was reminded of the importance of including them when a student of mine who was usually quite reluctant to join in with anything singing-related suddenly lit up and started singing at the top of his lungs when I introduced Ye Toop Doram - a song his family had sung at home many times!


Below are a few examples of songs in languages other than English that you may commonly encounter in a Kodaly classroom. For a more detailed song analysis of each one (and many more!) check out the pack on my Teachers Pay Teachers page.


I love teaching these two French folk songs for a number of reasons. They're both melodically and rhythmically rewarding, they're great teaching tools and linguistically speaking, they're probably some of the most challenging foreign language songs in my repertoire to learn as they are both quite wordy for someone who doesn't speak French.

Son Macaron is a beat-passing game in which students stand in a circle palms up with right hand resting on top of their neighbour's left. Each student passes a high 5 on the beat around the circle and at the end of the song, the passer has to try and "catch" their neighbour's hand before they escape. Whoever loses the exchange is out!

I turn this into an instrumental activity by having each student who gets out go and pick up a percussion instrument and play along with a section of the song. You can read more about that here.

J'entends Le Moulin is another staple of my ti-tika repertoire. The kids find it musically rewarding and are happy to sing it over and over. I use a chopstick tapping game along with this song, adding increasingly complex rhythmic ostinati (depending on the ability of the group) to keep them interested and engaged.


One Japanese folk song that I adore is Kaeru. It's all about frogs croaking in a pond and features some excellent saa practice. I love handing out a few of these frog guiros and having my kids play during the rests as a means of aural saa practice.

I love this piece so much that I actually included it in my recent Junior Concert program!

Frog guiro

Another piece I love is a Japanese rhythmic chant called "Omotchio" and it's great for practising steady beat with older beginners. When performed in pairs, if either person doesn't clap in time, they wind up crashing into each other! Take a look below for the game


One of my favourite welcome songs comes from Liberia in the form of Funga Alafia. It's the gift that just keeps giving, as it is a pentatonic song featuring high do, but also has some isolated so-mi and mi-re-do sections so you can use it with preps or older beginners who aren't quite up to pentatonic yet. It also features a lot of syncopa!

Funga Alafia Book

My favourite find for this song was a published book as part of the MusicMap series, where the melody is shown with different sized elephants over a few pages, showing both the pitch contour and the rhythm (bigger elephants for crotchets, smaller ones for quavers!)


You can of course include some excellent choral repertoire too - either with your ensembles or even in your more advanced classes. Here are a few favourites of mine:

Sesere Eeye - Torres Strait Islands

Wau Bulan - Malaysia

You can check out all these resources and more as part of my "Other Mother Tongues" booklet on Teachers Pay Teachers

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