How do we learn new words? Reading books and magazines, hearing a professor or a TV commentator mention something new, or perhaps it’s hearing something unfamiliar on the radio? Like any great hookline, once you’ve heard it a few times, it’s stuck in your head and you’re singing along even if you don’t know what it means. Take “La Bamba”, do you know Spanish, do you have a clue what the song’s about? No! But everyone loves to join in on the chorus. Like many, cartoons even educate us. The first French words I ever learned were probably watching the ever persistent, romantic skunk, Pepe Le Pew trying to woo his feline amour. Although some may say Disney taught us more about sexual harassment with Pepe but I digress.
The first French words I could actually recite well were found in the lyrics of my classic 45 records. Who can forget Stevie Wonder’s beautiful paean to his love, “My Cherie Amour, lovely as a summer day, My Cherie Amour, as distant as the Milky Way”. Or Paul McCartney’s French love song, “Michelle, ma belle,sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble”. A decade later, Patti LaBelle was teaching us some sexier French, “Creole Lady Marmalade, Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir? Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?” Despite not knowing a lick of French, we were all singing with Stevie, Patti, and Paul in our best faux accents.
“MY CHERIE AMOUR” Stevie Wonder
“MICHELLE” The Beatles
“LADY MARMALADE” LaBelle