French Hard? Hakuna Matata! Learn French Through Disney Songs! Posted by Josh Dougherty on Oct 15, 2015 in Grammar, Music, Vocabulary
Have you ever been speaking a foreign language and you suddenly forget a simple word? It’s happened more times than I’d like to admit, but that’s part of foreign language experience. (Who am I kidding? Happens to me in English sometimes, too :-p ). Maybe I should start taking ginkgo biloba? Anyway, I’ll be speaking completely fine, and suddenly j’ai un trou (I have a hole[=I draw a blank]). Instead of standing there thinking forever, I’ll end up describing it just to get the point across. That’s the point of communication. I may forget the word for sidewalk (le trottoir) in the middle of a sentence, but certain words will never, ever escape me.
One of those words is un phacochère. Don’t know it? Not a problem. It’s not really a term people use in daily conversation. In fact, I don’t think I’ve used the word in English in ages! It means warthog. Why would such a random word that may seemingly fit better as part of my ‘passive vocabulary’ be so ingrained in my memory? Well, we can thank Disney for that.
Allow me to explain. When I started learning French, YouTube was still in its bootstrap stages, so finding multilingual versions of your favorite Disney songs wasn’t easy. I was able to get a hold of some movie soundtracks in French and found les paroles (the lyrics) online. I already knew the words in English, so why not learn them in French?
Studying language through something you enjoy makes learning more entertaining and much easier to retain. By studying some of those Disney songs, I learned an awful lot of vocabulary, expressions, and constructions.
Grâce à (thanks to) Ariel, I learned the word les claquettes (tap dance shoes). I learned that a necklace is accroché à un cou (hung around the neck). I learned what barboter means (to splash around). Je m’en fiche (I don’t care) was a new expression for me!
It’s through Shang in Mulan that I learned une fillette was its own word to describe a little girl – I wouldn’t have to always say une petite fille. Thanks to the soldiers, I learned sécher les cours means to skip classes. I also learned through Shang that when you have a plural adjective before a plural noun, the des article can be shortened to de [je saurai faire de vrais hommes de vous ! I will know how to make real men out of you].
Even good ol’ Phil Collins taught me a construction. For the film Tarzan, Phil recorded his song “Strangers Like Me” en anglais, en espagnol, en italien, en allemand et en français (in English, Spanish, Italian, German, and French). It’s thanks to him that I know the construction for a command with a direct and an indirect object. Je veux savoir ! Montre-les-moi ! (I want to know! Show them to me!). Merci, Phil 😉
With The Lion King I learned the most vocabulary, and it’s because of the French version of Hakuna Matata that I know the word for warthog.
Today I hesitated between 2 songs to share, but I decided on Je voudrais déjà être roi (I already want to be king). You may have noticed that the translators didn’t do an exact translation of the English title, I Just Can’t Wait to Be King. There are a few reasons for this. Word-for-word translation can be disastrous. Not all languages work the same. The translators work hard to find equivalents of what’s being said, and when it’s in a song or being dubbed in a movie or show instead of just translating a text, there is a limited amount of time that line can be delivered. In a show, if the actor speaks for 5 seconds, the translation needs to take up roughly the same amount of time. Songs are even harder – many of them rhyme, and you have to follow the same beats. Phew. Congratulations to the translators!
I enjoy reading the translations and comparing them to the original. How successful is the translation? What needed to be changed and why? How would I translate it differently?
Below I’ve included the lyrics to Je voudrais déjà être roi and the translation of what’s being said. Compare it to the original English version. What is different?
C’est moi Simba, c’est moi le roi
Du royaume animal
It’s me Simba, the king of the animal kingdom
C’est la première fois qu’on voit un roi
Avec si peu de poils
This is the first time we’ve seen a king with such little fur
Je vais faire dans la cour des grands
Une entrée triomphale
En poussant, très royalement
Un rugissement bestial
I’m going to make a triumphant entrance into the big league
Pushing out a beastly roar
Majesté, tu ne te mouches pas du coude ! *
Majesty, you are too pretentious !
(Simba) Je voudrais déjà être roi !
I already want to be king!
Tu as encore un long chemin à faire
Votre altesse, tu peux me croire
Your Highness, you still have a long way to go
You can believe me.
Au roi, on ne dit pas…
You don’t say to the king…
D’ailleurs quand je dis ça…
Now when I say that…
Tiens ta langue et tais-toi
Watch your mouth and be quiet
Ce que j’essaie de dire c’est…
What I’m trying to say is…
Surtout ne fais pas ça !
Don’t do that especially!
Il faut que tu comprennes que… Reste ici !
You have to understand… Stay here!
Reste ici, assieds-toi
Stay here, sit down
Ce lion a une tête de mule…
This lion has the head of a mule**
Sans jamais dire où je vais
Je veux faire ce qu’il me plaît
Without ever saying where I’m going
I’m going to do what I like
Il est grand temps votre grandeur
Qu’on parle de coeur à coeur
Your greatness, it’s time that you and I have a heart to heart talk
Le roi n’a que faire
Des conseils d’une vieille corneille
The king has to use for advice from an old crow
Si tu confonds la monarchie avec la tyrannie
Vive la république
Adieu l’Afrique !
Je ferme la boutique
Prends garde, lion, ne te trompe pas de voie***
If you’re confusing a monarchy with tyranny,
long live the republic!
I’m closing shop.
Watch out lion, don’t take the wrong path…
Je voudrais déjà être roi !
I already want to be king!
Regardez bien à l’ouest (Ah pitié, au secours !)
Regardez bien à l’est (Non ! Non !)
Mon pouvoir, sans conteste
Est sans frontière
Look to the west (Oh have mercy, help!)
Look to the east (No! No!)
My power is, without question, limitless [without borders]
Pas encore !
C’est une rumeur qui monte jusqu’au ciel
Les animaux répandent la nouvelle
Simba sera le nouveau roi soleil
It’s a rumor that reaches up to the sky
The animals are spreading the news
Simba will be the new Sun King****
(Simba et les Choeurs:)
Je voudrais déjà être roi ! x3
I already want to be king!
* Old expression meaning to be pretentious. Today you’re more likely to hear péter plus haut que son cul (literally, to fart higher than your ass – which explains why it wasn’t used in the film)
** He’s being as stubborn as a mule
*** This is a fun line for French speakers, and you can see a lot of comments about it on the YouTube. This line also sounds exactly like “Prends Gare de Lyon – ne te trompes pas de voie !” which means “Take the Lyon train station, and don’t confuse the platform!” Fun.
**** Do you know who Le Roi Soleil is? C’est Louis XIV.
To this day, I can still recite these lyrics, and knowing them has made some parts of communication easier (still waiting for that day to use warthog in a conversation, though). But the fun doesn’t end there: when my niece was going through her Little Mermaid phase a few years ago, I would sing “Part of Your World” with her, but in French. It drove her crazy! So, if anything, you can sing along with toddlers.
This method has gotten much easier now with the rise of sites like YouTube and Dailymotion. It’s extremely easy to go and punch in “lion king french” in the search bar and have all the songs with their translations. I haven’t retired this method, either. If you think I don’t know all the words to Libérée, Delivrée (Let it Go), you’re wrong 😉
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