My daughter is taking her Mock GCSE exams this month. When she started senior school she did well enough in her initial assessments to be selected for Mandarin classes. She was in the “MEP” (Mandarin Excellence Programme), a pathway that offered extra tuition in the language and the prospect of an extended trip to China In Year 9 or 10. She studied Mandarin for two years and then chose not to continue on the MEP path. The students who did were not able to travel to China after all. Covid-19 saw to that.
She has been learning French instead, a language that my wife and I both studied at school. We were unable to help her with a single word in Mandarin, or any of its written characters, but we can just about keep up with her French homework. Over the weekend I played her this YouTube clip of Edith Piaf’s recording of “Milord” accompanied by the French lyrics. It’s a song I grew up with. My son remembered it from this dance on last year’s series of “Strictly Come Dancing”, an engaging Charleston performed by Johannes Radebe and John Waite.
Our closest neighbours were a couple who moved to the UK after World War Two. The husband was Polish, his wife was French. They gave us an Edith Piaf EP which included “La Vie En Rose” and “La Goualante du Pauvre Jean” along with “Milord”.
I could sing along with the chorus, more or less, but with the aid of that YouTube clip, with the French lyrics, I corrected all my mistakes. I have done the same with this charming rendition of “La Vie En Rose” (an updated recording, not by Edith Piaf).
Back in 2016 I wrote this piece (“100 songs to learn a language”) which suggested three 1960s hits that could help an English Language student to learn correctly formed sentences. I finished with the words “Only 97 to go.” If I succeeded in learning the lyrics to these two French songs my now-rusty schoolboy French would be markedly improved. If I could find, and learn, another 98 the change would be enormous. It’s unlikely to happen but it’s far more likely than me improving on the number of songs I can sing in Mandarin Chinese. That will stay at zero for the foreseeable future.