Ukulele & Languages

Different countries,
Different cultures
one common language... the ukulele.

Language Fun Posts

Learning Icelandic on Learn Icelandic Online takes up a lot of my time these days. I have promised myself I would not travel to Iceland before I am able to hold a basic conversation in Icelandic.
As part of my learning, I like to read Icelandic newspapers online, both in Icelandic and in English.
Tonight I stumbled upon this post on IceNews and felt I had to share this extract with you :

Reykjavik is the most expensive capital to visit in Europe, if you look at average prices of a large local bear, a three course meal in an average restaurant, a night in a three star hotel and a taxi ride in cities like Oslo, Stockholm, Paris, Copenhagen, London, Dublin, Rome, Berlin and Barcelona.

Even though the prospect of spending a lot of money to visit Iceland didn’t really cheer me up, the post still made me smile.

So what’s the price of a large local bear in your area ?


Picture Source : Alan Wilson on Nature’s Pics Online

A friend of mine pointed me to this great video in which David Crystal, a renowned British linguist and his son, Ben Crystal, actor and writer, explain how Shakespeare‘s plays performed in the accent that was in use at Shakespeare‘s time reveal many puns and jokes that are lost in modern pronunciation. Read more on Original Pronunciation (OP), on David Crystal’s dedicated website.

In this video, you will be able to listen to several excerpts from a few Shakespeare‘s plays in both modern and original pronunciations. Ben Crystal also explains how performing Shakespeare in Original Pronunciation affects his acting. You need not worry, although there are many differences between modern and original pronunciations, you will still be able to understand the plays performed in original pronunciation !

I strongly recommend David Crystal‘s The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, one of my favourite books. Whether you’d like to read about the origins and history of English, about the evolution of English grammar and vocabulary, or about the different uses of English, the book is a richly illustrated mine of information on all aspects of the English Language.

Thanks to Ken from Ireland for pointing me to this video.

If you’ve been trying to learn French lately and have used the following method, well… you might have found it dead easy too.

I am however not convinced that you have managed to impress any French speakers.

All right, don’t look so miserable, I do sympathize. Let me try and suggest an alternative method for improving your French vocabulary. An alternative method involving our favourite instrument, the ukulele.

A French singer-songwriter who can help you come up trumps with your French vocabulary is Thomas Fersen. His lyrics are always clever and he really has a way with words.

Here is Thomas Fersen performing Les Cravates (ties) live at the Bataclan.

You can find the lyrics to follow the song here. For better sound (no image), check this video.

How about some deadly vocabulary ? Thomas Fersen in a ukulele session from Le Soir, performing Mon Macabre.

Lyrics and chords for Mon Macabre can be found here

Last but definitely not least,  a song Thomas Fersen wrote about our favourite instrument, called Ukulélé.

Lyrics are available here. Non-French speakers will find my English translation of the song below the video so everyone can get a glimpse of Thomas Fersen‘s universe.

Here is my attempt at translating the song in English so you can fully enjoy the lyrics even if French is not your cup of tea.

Hi customs officer,
I am the bard
Raise your halberd
This tiny bag
This small case
Does not belong to a hitman

It is my shrimp, my tadpole
My guitar runt
My keyring guitar
A doll’s guitar

Muzzle your watch dog
Open your eyes and look
At the bottom of the cave
There lives a genius
Coming out of the dark
When I strum it.

The police officer
Does not want to be bitten
He thinks I am a nutter
At the sound of the Ukulele
He is seized with terror
“This log is really alive!”

“It is my shrimp, my tadpole
My guitar runt
My keyring guitar
Would you like to try it?”

The customs officer is not paying attention
And gets a splinter,
A sliver of wood
In his little finger.
It gets infected,
Alas, he has left us.

There he is in the clouds
With my tiny bag
He reaches paradise
And this is what he says

Hi customs officer,
I am the bard
Raise your halberd
This tiny bag
This small case
Is not that of a machine gun.

It is my shrimp, my tadpole
My guitar runt
My keyring guitar
A doll’s guitar

When the world is too stupid
I take out my little cricket,
When the world is barbed wires
I take out my ukulele.

Just like my previous trips to China, last week’s trip to Beijing brought quite a few opportunities to chuckle at some weird uses of English displayed on various signs.

Let me show you some examples, ahem… this way please… I mean, this way…

One thing you can’t complain about in China is the lack of directions… nothing is left to your imagination…

In case you don’t really know what to do with your money, why not try the local Cash Recycling System

Just for the story, I almost ran into trouble taking this picture. My eye for languages was so focused on the sign and what it could imply that I didn’t see the ‘no photo‘ sign which was clearly displayed on the wall.
Within seconds a guard came out of nowhere with a nasty-looking weapon, a kind of metal stick with several pointed tips, the sight of which sent a shiver down my spine. The guard looked crossly at me while pointing the ‘no photo‘ sign.

Needless to say I didn’t linger to ask what that ‘Cash Recycling System‘ was all about. Nor did I smile at the camera…

Apparently, one way to walk undisturbed around Beijing, especially if women, children and old people bother you, is to walk your dog. Notice the before last line of this sign…

A good illustration of the various interpretations of the verb ‘to strike‘.

It wouldn’t do Chinese culture justice to only point out mistranslated signs, the next two cool-looking signs were spotted in a district of Beijing close to the ukulele shop I visited.

There were quite a few of these signs in the street and it felt very much like walking within The Blue Lotus Tintin comic-strip.

Feel like an English language and ukulele challenge today ?

Today I’d like to share a very funny song, The Court of King Caractacus written by Australian singer songwriter Rolf Harris and covered on the ukulele by itallstartedthere.

Try to learn the lyrics and chords (easy chords : C, G and F) for the song from this site first and then attempt to sing along at the right speed whithout making any mistakes while strumming in time…

Have fun !

A trip to Australia without the mention of didgeridoos would be incomplete so here is a didgeridoo song, This Is a Didge, by Rolf Harris.

Language Fun

A place for language lovers where I’m trying to demonstrate how fun it is to learn other languages and how much of a culture you understand through its language.
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