Lyrical Language Lessons: 9 Essential French Songs for Teaching Key Language Skills
Ever heard a catchy tune once and had it stuck in your head the whole day?
Those musical earworms can really drill their way into your brain!
Singing is great entertainment. People sing in the shower, at sporting events, at church. Do you sing along with the radio? Do you have favorite songs that you play over and over?
Well, I’ve got good news for you—you can sing with your students and help them learn French in a catchy way.
Why songs? They can motivate your students and raise their enthusiasm level to new levels. French songs can be used for many different language lessons that focus on the following:
As you can see, there are plenty of options here, and lucky for your students, songs are easy to find online! In fact, you can even find them with built-in subtitles such as in the music videos hosted on FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
Now we’ll look 9 fantastic French songs for your classroom, and how you can get started teaching these key language lessons with them.
9 Quintessentially French Songs for Teaching Lyrical Language Lessons
1. “Adieu ma galaxie”
Teach Point: Vocabulary
Let us take this song as an example of what can be done with a fun, colorful song. The vocabulary is all about our galaxy, so it features great nouns such as:
- la planète (planet)
- la nuit (night)
- le ciel (sky)
- les constellations (constellations)
- la terre (earth)
- la voie (way)
- l’univers (universe)
- un système (system)
It also has adjectives such as:
- étoilé(e) (starry)
- solaire (solar)
- lacté(e) (milky)
And verbs in the passé composé like:
- reconnaître (to recognize)
- voyager (to travel)
- tomber (to fall)
- se mettre à (to begin)
It’s a good idea to draw up a list of this vocabulary and go through it with your students before letting them hear the full song. The students can listen to the song several times, and then can be asked to sing along as this will help them both with the pronunciation and with reinforcing the new vocabulary. I usually then ask students to make sentences with the new words.
Another good site for teaching vocabulary to beginners and primary school students is the Songs for Teaching site which has French songs about the weather, the calendar, the seasons, animals and so on, as well as old favorites such as “Frère Jacques” and “Alouette.” Teach them the vocabulary first and then get them to sing along with the song—it’s a good way to reinforce the acquisition of vocabulary.
2. “Le Parapluie”
Teaching Point: Grammar
To teach grammar, you can use any almost any song—they all contain grammar in some form or another—but you need to choose carefully if you want to reinforce a new grammatical rule such as the imparfait.
A good song (for advanced students) for this particular topic is Georges Brassens’ song “Le Parapluie” (The Umbrella). You can hand out a copy of the lyrics with or without the English translation. It’s a good exercise in mental translation if you don’t give the students the English lyrics.
The examples of the imparfait can be used to show how this tense is used for description in the past as well as for unfinished actions.
Another good way to use this song is to ask the students to summarize it. Then they can work on using reported speech such as, “Il a chanté qu’il pleuvait et qu’elle cheminait sans parapluie” (he sang that it was raining and that she was walking without an umbrella). This helps students learn how to use the past tenses.
My favorite song for teaching the French future tense is Celine Dion’s “Pour que tu m’aimes encore” (So That You May Love Me Again). It’s a very catchy song and can be used for A2 students. This is an excellent resource for reinforcing both irregular and regular verbs such as:
- aller (to go)
- j’irai (I shall go)
- jeter (to throw)
- je jetterai (I shall throw)
- faire (to make or do)
- je ferai (I shall make)
- trouver (to find)
- je trouverai (I shall find)
- dire (to say)
- je dirai (I shall say)
- s’inventer (to invent oneself)
- je m’inventerai (I shall invent myself)
- devenir (to become)
- je deviendrai (I shall become)
- se changer (to change oneself)
- je me changerai (I shall change myself)
Of course, as you may have guessed from the title alone, it can also be used to introduce the subjunctive tense.
Another useful way to reinforce grammar is to use the fill in the blanks method. Hand out the lyrics of the song with the particular grammatical aspect you want to focus on left blank. For example, omit certain verb forms in the Celine Dion song, or omit the use of de and des (some) in Jeanne Moreau’s song “Le Tourbillon” (The Whirlwind).
3. “Non, je ne regrette rien”
Teaching Point: Pronunciation
Once again, any song may theoretically be used to teach pronunciation, but it’s imperative that you choose a song that’s enunciated clearly and with a tempo that’s not too fast.
I find Edith Piaf’s song “Non, je ne regrette rien” (No, I Regret Nothing) is one of many that can be used for this purpose. Let your students listen to it a few times, then hand out the lyrics and ask them to read it all out loud. Check if there are any vocabulary problems, and then let them hear the song again and sing along.
Record them if you have the means, and let the students hear themselves!
If your students are advanced, you may want to dictate the song to them to see if they have understood it.
4. “Le Temps des Cathédrales”
Teaching Point: Listening Comprehension Skills
The site Learn French Free with Stories features the song “Le Temps des Cathédrales” (The Time of the Cathedrals) which can be used to train your students’ listening comprehension skills.
It’s always difficult to teach listening skills, although it’s one of the most important skills in foreign language learning. It’s a skill which will be tested if your students go to France and try to communicate with people.
The song “Le Temps des Cathédrales” may be used as a comprehension and listening test (obviously for a more advanced level). You should draw up some questions to test your students’ understanding, such as:
- Où a eu lieu cette histoire ? (Where did this story take place?)
- En quelle année ? (In which year?)
- Qui tentera de la transcrire ? (Who will try to transcribe it?)
- Où l’homme a-t-il voulu monter ? (Where did the man want to climb?)
- Où a-t-il voulu écrire son histoire ? (Where did he want to write his story?)
It depends on what aspect you want to focus on.
You can also teach more advanced students how to analyze a song, as this will contribute greatly to their understanding of the song and will act as a more in-depth comprehension exercise. Use the following questions to get this started:
- Quelles sont les réactions ressenties à la première écoute ? (triste, heureux, etc) (What are the reactions felt when listening to the song for the first time? (sad, happy, etc.))
- Quelles émotions suscite la chanson ? (What emotions does the song give rise to?)
- Quel est le thème principal de la chanson ? (What is the main theme of the song?)
A good comprehension exercise is also one where students have to fill in the blanks in a song (as mentioned previously). You give them the text of the song and ask them to listen to it and complete the text. You can use Charles Trenet’s “La Mer” (The Sea) or Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” (Life Through Rose-colored Glasses).
5. “La Vie en Rose”
Teaching Point: Speaking Skills
Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” is a good tool to get your students speaking. You can explain some of the song’s background to them and then ask them to discuss the song’s theme (love) or what the phrase la vie en rose means.
6. “Alouette gentille alouette”
Teaching Point: Vocabulary
The traditional song “Alouette gentille alouette” is great for teaching beginners the parts of the body (je te plumerai la tête, le cou, le dos – I shall pluck your head, your neck, your back).
You can use this song to get them to describe a person:
- il a une grande tête (he has a big head)
- elle a un long cou (she has a long neck)
Or to describe a bird:
- l’oiseau a un grand bec (the bird has a big beak)
- il a deux ailes blanches (it has two white wings)
- il a deux pattes (it has two legs)
- il a une petite queue (it has a small tail)
7. “Ballade à la Lune”
Teaching Point: Writing skills
The site South Western.edu has a good range of songs which can be used to improve writing skills. One such song is “Ballade à la Lune” (Ballad to the Moon) which is based on a 19th century poem of the same name by the French poet Alfred de Musset.
Play the song a few times then ask the students to write a paragraph about what’s happening in the song.
To increase the difficulty, introduce vocabulary for writing essays and get them started on a longer opinion piece.
If you really want to get a more intellectual conversation brewing among your more advanced (read: nearly fluent) students, print out the lyrics and print out the original poem (but be warned, it’s quite long). Have students read both for homework and try to compare and contrast. Have them circle or underline and unknown, difficult or antiquated vocabulary in the poem as they go.
8. “Mon amie la rose”
Teaching Point: Writing skills
An excellent song to teach writing skills and improve vocabulary is “Mon amie la rose” (My Friend the Rose) which is sung by Françoise Hardy or, if you prefer a more modern version, there’s always the Natasha Atlas version.
As a warm-up exercise, I get my students to listen to the song a few times. Then I divide them into groups of 4 and ask each group in turn to tell me one of the words they picked up on in the song. The group with the most points is the winner. Then I get the students to describe what’s happening and to describe the rose.
If there’s time, you can link to French poems that use the symbolism of the rose as something fragile and ethereal. Pierre de Ronsard’s poems are good examples: Try “Ode à Cassandre” (Ode to Cassandra) or “Comme on voit sur la branche” (As One Sees on the Branch).
9. “Les Champs Elysées”
Teaching Point: French Culture
Joe Dassin’s song “Les Champs Elysées” is excellent for teaching students about Paris.
The Champs Elysées, with its star design, is a well-known tourist attraction in Paris. You can teach your students about the New Year’s Eve celebrations that take place on this avenue as well as the military parade on the 14th July. You also have the opportunity to talk about the Arc de Triomphe and Place de la Concorde as the iconic Champs Elysées stretch between these two.
Another song about Paris is Maurice Chevalier’s “Paris sera toujours Paris” (Paris Will Always Be Paris) which can be used to explain the fact that Paris is called “la Ville Lumière” (the City of Light) and why.
Another song which is great for teaching French culture is the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise” as this gives you the opportunity to introduce varied vocabulary and give them a history lesson about its origins.
Of course, you can use any of the songs mentioned to teach a wide variety of activities.
Feel free to mix and match.
The choice is yours, teacher. So, pick your favorite French songs from the list and get started!
Hilda Thomas has a PhD in French and has taught French at a South African University for many years. Her two passions are French and travel which she combines in a blog.