Arguments for the Input of Spoken Versions of Nursery Rhymes in the English Classroom

I strayed into phonetics rather than choosing this fascinating branch of linguistics. As non- speakers of English, the Anglistik professors at the University of Erfurt were reluctant to teach this area and so they ‘offered’ me the ‘opportunity’ of teaching this course at professorial level. The fact that all I knew about phonetics was the elementary application of phonetic script I had gleaned from my Sheffield course of teaching English as a second language (TESOL) did not deter them.
After asking for a course on phonetics, I was financed for the summer course at UCL (University College London). Most of the participants were university teachers and so the course was set at the appropriate level. UCL is generally recognised as the renowned centre of phonetics world- wide not really because Daniel Jones (the model for Higgins in George Bernard Shaw’s play ‘Pygmalion’) was Professor of Phonetics at UCL, but, because under John C. Wells amongst others, the department flourished with his team of dedicated and enthusiastic phoneticians to continue to retain its well deserved world-wide reputation.
When teaching several courses of phonetics and practical pronunciation at Erfurt, I discovered a huge gap both at the theoretical and practical levels – rhythm! Phonemes (the pronunciations of consonants and vowels) are comprehensively covered in John Trim’s ‘English Pronunciation Illustrated’, which is brilliantly and humorously illustrated. My students enjoyed the challenge of repeating tongue twisting exercises in the language laboratory. Also, there were several excellent courses on intonation but very little on rhythm. There is still no taxonomy of English rhythms, but I found so-called nursery rhymes many of which are hundreds of years old and some have a covert political message, but all of the established ones contain pleasing rhythms. Since (but not because of) publishing my article, several courses on rhythm have appeared and, interestingly, they are based on poems and rhymes in English poetry. I have also recorded a wide selection of well-known nursery rhymes with three native speakers. The rhymes are recorded with a strong emphasis on rhythms and include some sung versions. There is an accompanying text with brief notes suitable for teachers or advanced learners. These will be made available on the internet in due course. There are many different rhythms which I have classified in my workbook on practical pronunciation, which will appear on this site when the copyright requirements have been covered.
These aspects are covered in the article below which was published by Gunter Narr (see publications).

Download this publication free of charge.

One thought on “Arguments for the Input of Spoken Versions of Nursery Rhymes in the English Classroom

Comments are closed.