O di immortales! Carmina in Classe!

I wish I had known what to do with songs or just how awesome teaching with songs is…

Before I delve into what we’ve been doing in Latin I this week or just how excited all my Latin classes are to do songs, I have to start by saying thanks to a few folks. Latin doesn’t have much in the way of songs (commercially-produced for mass consumption) as other languages. Over the years I’ve picked up a few here and there, last year I discovered more on YouTube, and then this year, I found the mother-lode of translated songs collected by John Piazza. But, what to do with all these songs?

To be honest, I rarely did anything with them because I foolishly believed they were too hard for students to sing, worthless to spend time on translating (too much off-target vocabulary or grammar), and just plain cool only for novelty sake. The few times I used songs in class, it was as background music or just to kill some time when more than half of an already small class was absent. That’s the extent of it… almost. I once asked a student to translate a High School Musical song into Latin because she wouldn’t stop singing it in class – it was pointless punishment. (Now, I hate myself for not saving what she did.)

Onto how that’s all changed. The other day a link was shared on Facebook to “The Definitive Translation” of Baby Shark. My AP students a few years ago had requested to sing this exact song way back then. I redirected them, not having the time or inclination to accept their idea as worth it or even fun. Now, here it was again. I opened the link, opened the YouTube video of the song (I hadn’t actually known there was a whole song there beyond what I believed was the chorus), and listened to the song in English as I read it in Latin. Wow! It was so much fun! And this was me, a non-parent, grown adult, in a dark classroom by herself, having fun. Then, printing off the translation, I watched the song this time and sang along. Then, I did all that and the hand gestures. Still fun!

Right then and there, I decided I was going to teach my students to sing this too. But how?

This is where John Piazza comes in. He wrote an excellent beginner’s guide to using songs in the Latin classroom, then, at the end, shared his folder of songs. Like I said, the mother-lode.

Here’s what I gleaned:

  • have a handout with English and Latin
  • have the song ready to show students… I like to use YouTube videos with the lyrics
  • have a plan to introduce and teach the song in bursts
  • let the students know what the end goal is

With Baby Shark, I didn’t follow his exact guide… it is too short of a song, very simple even in Latin, and overly well-known or well-hated by every student. So, from handout to performance, the class and I sang Squalulus in about 25 minutes. I used it as an introduction to the idea of singing a song in Latin as a class activity. I got all the students on the same page and worked out some quirks in explanations and expectations. It is a good song to begin with to get the complaining and aghast-ing out of the students before looking into other songs.

In order to help the transition to this activity, I created a captioned video version of Baby Shark on Kapwing. You can find it here.

At the next class, though, my students and I jumped right into learning a complete “real” song translated into English the John Piazza way: The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?) by Ylvis.


[I translated it myself, so I can’t guarantee it is perfect, but it’s the best I got. If you use, and edit/change it, please let me know. I’m open to suggestions.]

Here’s what we did:

  1. I handed out the lyrics in English and Latin. I let the students read through them.
  2. I played the YouTube video in English. I asked them to watch and/or watch and read along.
  3. We practiced saying the first stanza and chorus aloud in Latin until everyone was comfortable with pronunciation.
  4. I played the video/song again (just the parts we were focused on) while students chose to whisper, say, or think the Latin as they heard the English. Meanwhile, I sang the Latin (loudly and off-key) over the video for students to hear. We then did this again.
  5. I asked where they were having trouble. We reviewed those spots specifically.
  6.  Then, just playing those parts again on the video, I asked students to sing aloud. Then, I quieted the video and we sang together with the music in the background quietly in English.

It was magic! Students, mind you these are high schoolers, sang in Latin with me, without fear, and while having fun. And, believe it or not, they learned something. They learned the words for animals, some words for animal noises, and the verb dicit. Not to mention, all of a sudden, they aren’t so afraid to speak in Latin… their pronunciation is almost spot-on.

And, we’re only part way through the song…

But, the best part of all of this is that students are now requesting songs to be sung. They want to choose the song. They want to sing more in Latin. They want to actually learn how to translate songs into Latin on their own. Through song, I’ve tapped into their enthusiasm and desire to learn. They aren’t thinking about how hard Latin is or why it is in such a weird order… they just want to use it. They’ll listen to me explain how complicated translating a song is (meter, vocabulary, syllables, order…) and actually want to try – no fear. Why did I wait so long to do this? I’m seriously impressed by how awesome teaching a song is!

Oh, and now I’m being asked to teach not only a song, but a dance in Latin – Scary, Spooky Skeletons… here we go!

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