Blogger Kaitlin Frick

Monolingual in a Multilingual World? Let’s Talk (and Maybe Sing) about It

Some experts believe New York City is home to as many as 800 languages, making it the most linguistically diverse city in the world. But whether you work at a small rural library or in the middle of a bustling city like New York, at least some of your patrons speak another language – maybe even exclusively.

If you aren’t already fluent in a second language, the challenge of learning now can be a bit daunting, especially if your library doesn’t have the resources to support you. But incorporating other languages and cultures into your storytime isn’t as hard as you think. After all, there’s a difference between bilingual storytime – where your focus should be on splitting the program fairly between two languages, so everyone can understand and participate – and multilingual storytime. When I lead Family Storytime at 53rd Street, we read in English but almost every song is in a different language represented by our patron base. The focus is placed on making everyone feel included and represented, no matter what language(s) they speak at home.

Now, let’s be clear here: I’m a native English speaker with four years of high school Spanish over a decade in my past. I’ve learned a few words and phrases in a variety of languages in my two and half years in the city, but I’m by no means fluent in the languages represented at our branch. But early on our patrons expressed a desire to be more included in our programs – culturally and linguistically. So the question became: How can we use the resources available to us to meet this need?

You, brilliant youth librarian that you are, may be a step ahead of me at this point, because the most obvious resource was literally right in front of my eyes: the very patrons making this request. I started asking patrons as well as my fellow librarians for songs they’d loved as children. An amazing children’s librarian working in Chinatown sent me a song in Mandarin, while an adult librarian at my branch coached me through a Korean song. I’ve had moms send me Hindi songs, nannies teach me German and Russian… In short, the people you spend over half of your waking life with are often your biggest asset!

Beyond that, I can’t recommend enough Mama Lisa’s World, which includes songs and rhymes from a variety of cultures, often accompanied by videos or audio clips. When a patron requests a language but doesn’t offer song suggestions, Mama Lisa is always my jumping off point.

As I’ve spent the time gathering this knowledge myself, I’ve had numerous requests to share songs and rhymes with other librarians, teachers, caregivers, etc. So below, you’ll find 7 of the songs I’ve learned so far, accompanied by lyrics and translations. Looking for further information and inspiration? This SLJ article includes a great resource list!

La araña pequeñita  (The little-bitty spider)

Subió, subió, subió.  (climbed, climbed, climbed)

Vino la lluvia  (The rain came)

Y se la llevo.  (and took the spider away)

Salio el sol  (The sun came out)

Y todo lo seco,  (and everything was dry)

Y la araña pequeñita  (and the little-bitty spider)

Subió, subió, subió.  (climbed, climbed, climbed)

Samolet postroim sami.  (We’ll build an airplane)

Ponesiemsia nad lesami,  (We’ll go over the forests)

ponesiemsia nad lesami, (we’ll go over the forests)

a potom vernemsa k mame!  (and then we’ll return to Mommy)

Musunde, hiraite  (Close hands, open hands)

Te o utte  (Clap your hands)

Musunde  (Close them)

Mata hiraite  (Open them again)

Te o utte  (Clap your hands)

Sono te o ue ni  (Put your hands in the air)

Musunde, hiraite  (Close hands, open hands)

Te o utte  (Clap your hands)

Musunde  (Close them)

Liǎng zhī lǎohǔ, Liǎng zhī lǎohǔ,  (Two tigers, two tigers)

Pǎo de kuài, Pǎo de kuài,  (Run fast, run fast)

Yī zhǐ méiyǒu yǎnjīng,  (One has no eyes)

Yī zhī méiyǒu wěibā,  (One has no tail)

Zhēn qí guài, Zhēn qí guài.  (It’s really weird, it’s really weird)

Staccia Minaccia  (Staccia Minaccia)

Babbo andato a caccia  (Father went hunting)

A caccia del bubù  (Hunting for the boogeyman)

Il bubù lo buttiamo giù?  (Should we throw the boogeyman over?)

Kom-sae-mari-ga han ji-bae iss-eo  (The bears live in a house)

A-pa-gom, eo-ma-gom, a-gi-gom  (Father Bear, Mother Bear, Baby Bear)

A-pa-gom-eun dung-dung-hae  (Daddy Bear is fat)

Eo-ma-gom-eun nal-shi-nae  (Mommy Bear is slim)

A-gi-gom-eun neo-mu gi-yeo-wa  (Baby Bear is so cute)

Eu-seuk eu-seuk chal-han-da  (shrug shrug, you’re doing well)

Machli jal ki rani hai  (Fish is the queen of the water)

Jeewan uska pani hai  (The water is her life)

Haath lagao toh darr jaegi  (If you touch her, she’ll get scared and swim away)

Bahar nikalo to marr jaegi  (If you pick her up, she’ll die)

Pani me daalo toh ter jaegi  (But if you put her back, she’ll swim away)

Pani me daalo toh ter jaegi  (If you put her back, she’ll swim away)


This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, II. Research and User Services, and III. Programming Skills.


  1. Lizzie

    Hi Kaitlyn – great article thank you! Do you have your own blog?

    Children’s Librarian

  2. Pingback: Cinco ranas verdes: an action song for Spanish story time – Meet Lindsay

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