Kid’s songs are a wonderful resource to help you learn Japanese better. They are often overlooked because… well, they are a bit silly, but I think they are worth a second look. I’m going to cover a bit of theory here (I promise not too much), and then look at 6 kid’s songs you might use in your studies.
Now I can see you scratching your heads. How can stupid kid’s songs help me learn Japanese? Right? Hold that thought. Let me ask you a question: Can you remember any of the children’s songs you learned when you were a kid? I’m guessing yes.
The basic problems with learning Japanese are pretty well known at this point. If you are a regular Tofugu reader, you probably know many of them. Two of the biggest ones, I think, are that we make our study too hard and we don’t have fun. These are actually two parts of the same problem.
The effects of these two problems are so common they almost go without saying: 1) loss of motivation and 2) burn-out. Kid’s songs help combat this by adding a bit of fun back into your study routine, and also by secretly working on your listening, recognition and (if you are brave and sing out loud with them) your pronunciation and speaking.
How’s that work, huh? Have you heard of a fella by the name of Alexander Arguelles. He’s a professor of languages, a polyglot who can speak some 30+ languages to varying levels of mastery (including some Japanese) . His primary method for learning is the shadow method. I’m sure you all have heard of this, right? This is where someone says something and we attempt to repeat it back at nearly the same moment, maybe only a second or two behind. Now the shadow method is common enough in language learning these days, but he recommends starting with a very strict version of it where all you do is shadow. No looking at text (reading), no looking at the translation to figure out what you are saying, just shadowing.
Crazy you say? How will I know what I’m saying/learning? That’s the point. By only shadowing you are narrowing your learning focus to just a couple things: listening, that is focusing on the actual sounds, and speaking. Interestingly, these are often the hardest areas for language learners to master. You can memorize as many words/sentences, as much grammar as you want, but if you have trouble understanding when someone talks to you or if you have trouble finding the right words when you speak, all that knowledge is for waste.
(If you want to know more about Prof Arguelles and his theories, start with this video on youtube, where he discusses his shadowing approach)
Still awake? Apologizes for all that boring theory. I think it’s useful to consider this stuff. At any rate, on to the list of songs. Most or all of these are very well known by the Japanese, so you will be sure to pleasantly surprise people if you manage to memorize any.
6 great Japanese kid’s songs
First, Mary had a little lamb.
This is about as easy as you are going to get. Unfortunately, the video has English in it. Remember, at this point we really aren’t concerned with what the Japanese actually means. Concentrate on the sounds, both hearing them and reproducing them as best you can.
The acorn song!
This is a fun song. Can you clearly understand the kids’ singing? Listen a few times before you try to shadow it.
Pushing the difficulty up a little, here is The Dog Policeman.
This one is one of those everyone loves. I hear kids singing it all the time in the stores. The video is funny, too. The kana is on the video, but remember, we are working our listening not reading. Try to use your ears to figure out what sounds they are making.
Both the songs from My Neighbor Totoro are fun and easy to learn. Here’s a video with both of them.
As an added bonus, the kids in this video are adorable.
Ah, the Taikaki Song. This song is long and a little challenging, but he sings slowly and you should be able to follow along after a few trys. Unfortunately the one I want to embed here has embedding disabled. Go watch that version at youtube for some animation that will help you understand the song. Here’s another version with the guy who sings it. Awesome hair!
Do you know what Taiyaki is? It’s kind of a hotcake with anko inside in the shape of a fish. This is quite an old song, but mention it or hum a few bars and you’ll bring a smile to the face of anyone over 30 .
Finally, the Japanese dub of one we probably all know. Challenge yourself and learn this version.
Follow any of these videos to youtube and you should find a great many video links to other kid’s songs. Find some you like and learn them. You’ll enjoy yourself and it really will help your Japanese.