Alphabet songs around the world?
April 18, 2011 1:11 PM   Subscribe

Are there "alphabet songs" for alphabets other than English? THere is the familiar alphabet song, to the tune of "twinkle twinkle little star". Are there similar songs for children learning the alphabets of other languages, such as Finnish, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, etc.?

There is evidence that the alphabet song helps English-speaking children in the US (and Canada?) learn their letters, and that knowledge of letter names is strongly related to early reading achievement. If alphabet songs are indeed useful, one might expect them to occur in languages other than English. MeFites who are native speakers of other languages that use alphabets: did you learn an alphabet song? If so, did it refer to letters by their names or sounds? The standard, Twinkle Twinkle/Baa Baa Black sheep alphabet song for English uses names for letters (A is "ay", B is "bee", M is "em" etc.). A song could also use sounds associated with the letters (e.g., B is /b/, M is /m/), maybe. Anyone familiar with alphabet songs in languages other than English?
posted by cogneuro to Society & Culture (25 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
My son learned the Twinkle Twinkle version at school in Portuguese. He was singing it the other day and a Brazilian friend said, "I've never heard it in Portuguese before!" He loves this site, which is way more involved than just Twinkle Twinkle. For each letter it gives a vocab word which also turns into a mnemonic for remembering the shape of the letter.

At my Canadian French immersion school we learned the Twinkle Twinkle version.
posted by wallaby at 1:18 PM on April 18, 2011

I don't know if Francophone children sing it in France, but I learned to sing the alphabet with a French accent (the letters are the same, obviously) to the familiar Twinkle Twinkle tune: "Ah, bay, say, day, uhh, eff, jeh, ashe, ee, jay, kay, el, emm, en, oh, pay, kyuh, ar, ess, tay, ooh, vay, double-vay, ex, il grec et zed"
posted by oinopaponton at 1:19 PM on April 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

I don't think there's an alphabet song in Russian or Ukrainian, or at least one wasn't widespread in my childhood. Russian and Ukrainian elementary schools use a lot more direct instruction and a lot less singing.
posted by Nomyte at 1:21 PM on April 18, 2011

While this doesn't directly answer your question, you may be interested in this recent BBC Radio documentary, "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe" about children's counting songs in different languages. Look for the "download this documentary" link in the upper-right.
posted by monkeymonkey at 1:22 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here is the typical Hebrew one.
posted by milestogo at 1:23 PM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

I found this Russian Sesame Street alphabet song. My Russian is somewhat far along but I have a lot of trouble remembering the order of the letters, which makes using a dictionary pretty difficult. This helps a lot, and it's catchy.
posted by thebazilist at 1:29 PM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Twinkle Twinkle version is quite common danish, dutch and swedish.
Extra impressive in the case of swedish and danish as they have few ådditiønäl letters tö stick in thære.
posted by Sourisnoire at 1:33 PM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

like oinopaponton, when taking french class, we did the alphabet song with the accent.
posted by nadawi at 1:36 PM on April 18, 2011

Japanese doesn't have an alphabet -- rather it has a syllabary, and there are two ways the syllables can be arranged:

The more commonly used one nowadays, the one you'd use to find things in a bookstore or music store, goes a-i-u-e-o, ka-ki-ku-ke-ko, sa-shi-su-se-so, ta-chi-tsu-te-to, and so on (yes, "chi" and "tsu" are considered to belong to the same family as "ta")

The other one starts
(This is used, for example, in music scales; where we have A major, B major, C major, Japan has i major, ro major, ha major.)

Iroha order is actually... a Buddhist poem that's also a perfect pangram (i.e., it uses each syllable of the Japanese syllabary exactly once) that's nearly a thousand years old.

It's even been set to music.
posted by Jeanne at 1:58 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Greek has its own alphabet song which is very similar to the Twinkle Twinkle melody but I can't find it on YouTube to show you.
posted by fantasticninety at 2:11 PM on April 18, 2011

As a kid (in the US, learning from native speakers), I learned my ABCs in German to more or less the same tune. Obviously, letter names are in German not English, so we said "ah" not "ay" for A and so on. ä, ö, ü, and ß did not get their own spots in the song. I have since heard versions with different phrases at the end of the song.
posted by ubersturm at 2:25 PM on April 18, 2011

There is, however, a well-known Russian children's song about the multiplication table. You might even recognize the teacher.
posted by Nomyte at 2:40 PM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

20 years later and I still have the Hebrew alphabet song stuck in my head.
posted by ttyn at 2:41 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might also be interested to know that schools in some parts of England and Ireland teach a different alphabet song. You can hear it starting at 0:27 here:

It has the advantage of rhyming "Zed" with "M", which of course is not an issue in American English.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:57 PM on April 18, 2011

For Spanish: it is exactly the same twinkle twinkle melody as well.
posted by theKik at 4:07 PM on April 18, 2011

My friend's mother is a primary school teacher in Germany, and she uses the "twinkle twinkle" version.

For teaching non-native speakers the Maori "alphabet" (i.e. pronunciation of the letters) in New Zealand, they interestingly use a song with a syllabary "Ha ka ma na pa ra ta wha nga wha, he ke me ne pe re te whe nge whe" etc. I don't know if they use that in the Kohanga Reo system with preschool bilingual kids, though.
posted by lollusc at 4:35 PM on April 18, 2011

Sorry, wrong link. Here is the correct one.
posted by lollusc at 4:36 PM on April 18, 2011

And now I have to add this link because it's way better. But I'll stop now.
posted by lollusc at 4:38 PM on April 18, 2011

My dad taught me the Korean consonants using the first verse of the "twinkle twinkle" song: Ga na da ra ma ba sa, ah ja cha ka ta pa ha." But the vowels you just run off without singing them (ah yah uh yuh oh yoh ooh yoo euh ee).
posted by Rora at 7:23 PM on April 18, 2011

I was taught a Russian alphabet song to the tune of a Russian folk tune called Chizhik-Pyzhik. I assumed this was fairly common, but Googling is showing no evidence of it. Odd.
posted by JannaK at 8:02 PM on April 18, 2011

In Taiwan, they use Twinkle Twinkle to teach Zhuyin Fuhao (a phonetic system for transcribing Chinese, particularly Mandarin).
posted by thebestsophist at 8:11 PM on April 18, 2011

I think the Hebrew song linked above is a Debbie Friedman song used in the US. I've never heard it in Israel, though maybe things have changed.
posted by people? I ain't people! at 12:18 AM on April 19, 2011

theKik: "For Spanish: it is exactly the same twinkle twinkle melody as well."

That's not how my Spanish teacher taught it to us. It was more of a marching, almost military tune. Here's a Youtube video. (The letters start in after 20 seconds.)
posted by IndigoRain at 1:22 AM on April 19, 2011

Dutch alphabet is to twinkle twinkle
posted by jannw at 5:36 AM on April 19, 2011

I was living in Hawaii and taught myself the Hawaiian alphabet by using the usual song, humming the missing letters:
a - - - e - - h i - - l m n o p - - - - u - w - - -

This would be immensely more difficult to do if the alphabet didn't have l m n o p.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:21 PM on April 19, 2011

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