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Children's Rhymes - Rhythmic Inception

As a native English speaker, I never fully appreciated my innate understanding of the English language. Only after trying to explain the rules of English to others have I realized English is full of exceptions and rule-breaking.

gh- at the beginning of a word makes a /g/ sound but put it at the end of a word and you get an /f/ sound. That makes a lot of sense.

Oh, and the o-sound could be a 'short o' in awe or a 'long o' in oh or might not even sound like an o-sound like in women or town.

Somehow, the human mind grasps all these things without explicitly being taught it. However, for non-native English speakers, when you are older, your own preconceptions and rules that you've learned in your first language may influence and shape your approach to English.

Sayakhan & Bradley (2014) try to explain this with regards to English rhythm. How are native English speaking children learning the pacing and rhythm of English and why is it so hard for non-native English speakers?

Nursery rhymes

Nursery rhymes are key. Native English speaking children are taught fundamentals of English within the context of silly, catchy poems. Humpty dumpty, Georgie Porgie and Mother Goose were my teachers! Sayakhan & Bradley (2014) identify the drum-like rhyme scheme as teaching the stressed/unstressed pattern of English speech. No one remembers that no one helped Humpty Dumpty when he was broken into pieces or that Ring around the rosie was talking about the black plague but we can hum the rhythm in our sleep.

So if you are struggling with learning English rhythm, read some nursery rhymes to your children. Try to intuitively figure out the rhyming pattern. Which words do you stress? Why words do you skip over or say quickly?


Najat Ismael Sayakhan, Darcy H. Bradley, Nursery Rhymes as a Vehicle for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, International Journal of Literature and Arts. Vol. 2, No. 3, 2014, pp. 84-87. doi: 10.11648/j.ijla.20140203.15

#suprasegmental #research

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