Learning Russian through song

Songs  are a great way to help memorise phrases and practise pronunciation in a foreign language. As a schoolgirl learning French in the 1970s, my radio was permanently tuned to ‘Europe 1’, the French pop music channel, and I would learn by heart and sing along to every success in the “Hit Parade” (that’s French for “Charts”). Even today, 40 years on, I can still recite word for word Michel Sardou’s La Maladie d’amour.

How useful then, to have a bunch of songs to hand to aid in language learning? MFL teachers love a sing-song. Un Kilo de Chansons is quite simply the best collection of learning French songs ever –  and any way of getting rhythm and rhyme into numbers, days of the week, verb endings are all a fun way to practise.

So when faced with the challenge of learning Russian letters, I went to YouTube, happy to sing (at home, alone..) songs designed for children if the end result was mastering the алфавит. The quality is mixed however; some went too fast for me, some too slow, some actually missed out letters or rearranged them to fit the song. I went for this very simple one in the end. I downloaded it as an mp3, loaded it into Audacity, copied and pasted it about ten times and put it onto my cheap mp3 player to play to myself every time I go for a walk around the block.

As well as songs specifically for language learning, why not learn real Russian songs? My son gave me a book he’d used – the Ruslan Russian songbook which has genuine Russian folksongs, with transcripts in Russian and English translations. Most of them go way above my head at the moment, but the first, and simplest one, is a catchy  song called миленький ты мой (‘My dear’) It’s performed by a man and woman, alternating, in a lovely sweet melody. The man is going far away and the woman repeatedly begs him to let her go with him -first as a wife, then a sister, than just any stranger. He repeatedly turns her down saying he’s already got each of those. In the version in the Ruslan book  she finally retorts: The devil take you! I’ve got someone else too! Sadly, in this Youtube version she doesn’t get a chance to have the last word – but it’s nice to listen to anyway.

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