When I was teaching French to beginners at Dartington Hall School I found that they enjoyed singing songs in French, and it occurred to me that there were more useful sentences to learn than ’Do you know how to plant cabbages?’, ‘Skylark, I shall pluck you’ and ‘Ring the morning bells.’ I remembered that I had learnt the words “Donnez-le-moi” before I learnt anything much else in French, and found it a useful model that I could use without having to worry about the order of the pronouns, for instance, or the fact that ‘moi’ is not a dative, like the vaguely similar ‘lui’, but a disjunctive pronoun, only used instead of the normal ‘me’ at the end of an imperative.

I also realised that singing rounds involves repeating the same words over and over again, and that rounds can become a competitive game, teacher against pupils, girls against boys, the right-hand side of the room against the left-hand side of the room, and so on. If the singing didn’t break down, children would go on singing the same words over and over again. As I have since heard, many my pupils remembered some of the words for the rest of their lives.

Some of the songs are just a sequence of useful phrases, one contains the present tense of the verb ‘aller’, in another every line is an example of the passé composé with a pronoun object, another (which is not a round) is about waiting for a train that never arrives, and consists largely of a list of times – ‘Une heure, une heure cinq, une heure et quart. Une heure et demie – à quelle heure est-ce que mon train part?’ etc.

Music score