Happy Birthday Song

Susan Gross invented over 200 games and countless other activities that, now in her workshops, she says had no real value because they didn’t deliver the key ingredient of language acquisition: comprehensible input. I have seen teachers bristle at her workshops when she said that. That is because if they accepted the fact that it’s either CI or it’s not CI, then they would have to change. They would have to accept that the one leads acquisition and the other one leads to wasted time that could have been used for acquisition.
Sometimes, however, little activities and games actually do deliver comprehensible input, and in ways that can be quite fun. Here is one that Bryce sent in and thanks Bryce for sending it. By the way, just FYI, Bryce is presenting again this year at NTPRS and his sessions are not to be missed – they are idea factories for teachers.
So, when you start the year and that first little magical moment happens when you are ready to start class and some kid announces that it is so and so’s birthday today, and you either have to acknowledge it or face the wrath of children scorned, you may want to remember this and then if you forgot the details you can click on “Bryce Hedstrom” in the category list to the right of this page or just do a search on Happy Birthday, the latter probably being the more efficient choice because Bryce has so much stuff here on this blog over the years that it would be a more lengthy search.


¡Cumpleaños feliz!  (4x) Happy birthday!
¡Sapo verde eres tú!  (4x) You are a green toad!
If you say “Happy birthday” with a Spanish accent, it can sound something like the Spanish phrase “sapo verde” (green toad). So when a Spanish speaker hears the birthday song sung in English, they may fill in the missing sounds in their mind and think that the singers are saying “green toad”.  Spanish speakers good-naturedly mock their own accents with this song.  “Sapo verde” is now even slang for “Happy birthday” in some parts of Mexico and Central America and many people enjoy singing the “Happy Birthday” in English or in something like English instead of Spanish (check on YouTube for examples).
I use this song to remind my students that they are not alone in this language learning thing.  Just as they are learning Spanish, there are Spanish-speaking students that are learning English.  We are all in this together, and if we learn to speak another language, we will be able to communicate with one another.
When someone in my classroom has a birthday we sing both verses of this song to him/her.  The first verse is sung sweetly and well, the second verse is sung loud and ugly.  I have a big green toad hand puppet that leads the class in singing.   The person with the birthday gets to keep the toad puppet on his/her desk for the rest of the class.  Sounds corny, but even high school kids like the attention.
Level:  Spanish I, Semester 2
Vocabulary:  All is review, but focus is on “cumpleaños feliz” and “sapo verde”
Structures:  me está insultando;  me están diciendo;  te está insultando;  te están diciendo
Chico: –¡Estoy tan triste hoy!
Chica: –¿Por qué?
Chico: –¿Sabes que hoy es mi cumpleaños, verdad?
Chica: –O sí, claro.  ¡Cumpleaños feliz!  ¿Qué pasa?  ¿Por qué estás tan triste?
Chico: –Hoy es mi cumpleaños y todo el mundo me está insultando.
Chica: –¿Qué?  ¿Cómo?
Chico: –Todo el día todos me están insultando, y no me gusta.
Chica: –¿Qué te están diciendo?  ¿Cómo te están insultando?
Chico: –¡Cosas feas!  Cuando voy a una clase, alguien me dice algo feo.  Cuando voy a otra clase, alguien me dice algo feo.  Hoy en cada clase alguien me dice algo feo.  Alguien me insulta.
Chica: –¡Qué triste!   ¿Qué te están diciendo?
Chico: –¿No entiendes?   ¡Hoy es mi cumpleaños!  Y en vez de decirme algo simpático como “¡cumpleaños feliz!”,  o “¡qué tengas un buen día!”,  parece que todos me están insultando.
Chica: –Sí, claro.  Entiendo, pero, ¿cómo te están insultando?   ¿Qué te están diciendo?
Chico: –¡Todos me dicen “sapo verde”!



3 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Song”

  1. I put the games approach this way: games, by and large, are poor generators of 2nd-lang. acq. because they generally do not proceed beyond a preliminary and momentary establishment of meaning. They lack high repetition of targeted items in varying contexts of high personal interest, and so they fail to generate enough internal electricity for developing the appropriate dendrites and synaptic connections.
    On the other hand, birthdays within a sizeable group of adolescents not only come up regularly and excite them, but also can trigger personally interesting conversations that differ according to the identity of the “birthday person”. Each such conversation implies various narratives, and even extended jokes, that can be subsequently developed for even more CI.
    Great birthday stuff!, Bryce. Now if only someone can come up with an equivalent “drolerie” for “Joyeux anniversaire.” But even without that stroke of genius, birthdays still provide opportunities for an abundance of personally interesting CI and even humor.

    1. Indeed, I am now thinking of an equivalent bit of “Scherz und Spass” in German…. Trying to think of one, anyway…. Thank you for a very useful idea, Bryce.
      And indeed, those kids’ wrath at snubbed birthdays can get so intense!
      I get so very annoyed at the games, too. [You wouldn’t know it from my newest wiki that I’m using as my website marker right now, but I am — and I suspect that the urge to even refer the kids to the page will diminish as I get better at the CI-Game.]
      On the flipside, I cannot wait until the fellow at contentgenerator.net comes out with new versions of his software where the text can be changed to other languages, e.g., the mean, derogatory teacher nearing the plank because his “bad” student knows so much suddenly has to change his tune and say [tardis-translate for your language]: “But you are really my favorite student! / You are the smartest pupil I have! / Here, have a Toblerone, just stop answering questions right!” With carefully worded questions and high-frequency L-2 expressions, I can easily see getting a modest amount of CI from a weekly 10-minute class game of Walk the Plank or other game, technology-based or otherwise — provided the class was trained to respond and negotiate everything in the target language–

    2. One game that I do play is “Bingo” – it can be done in a very short span of time, my students love it, and they hear numbers in random sequence.
      Yes, birthdays are a big deal. I have some students who try to hide their birthday, but their friends “rat them out” so we can sing to them.
      BTW, for other German teachers: I use “Hoch sollst du leben!” rather than a translation of the Birthday Song. My students really get into the “zicke-zacke-zicke-zacke, Heu! Heu! Heu!” Then we cheer the celebrant. While that doesn’t have the same tongue-in-cheek panache of “Sapo verde”, it is more fun that “Zum Geburtstag viel Glück”.

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