Using Nursery Rhymes to Teach American English Pronunciation Patterns

Nursery rhymes can be fun and effective way to teach American English pronunciation patterns.

That’s because nursery rhymes can be used to model the syllable stress, sentence stress and intonation patterns of spoken English. The repetitive nature of rhymes can help adults learn the rhythm of the language that is so important for a natural sounding accent. Rhymes also provide short phrases that can be used to demonstrate linking and reductions.

Dr. Olle Kjellin, a neurologist and language teacher from Sweden says that students must repeat a phrase 50-100 times in order to get a phonological “feel” for it. If that’s true, the repetitive nature of rhymes can be used to achieve this in a fun way.

Here is the popular nursery rhyme Jack & Jill marked with sentence stress. The CONTENT and FOCUS words are highlighted.

JACK and JILL went UP the HILL,
To FETCH a pail of WAter;
JACK fell DOWN and BROKE his CROWN,
And JILL came tumbling AFter.

Here it is again marked with sentence stress + the schwa vowel sound in reduced syllables.

JACK ən JILL went UP thə HILL

tə FETCH ə pail əf WAter

JACK fell DOWN ən BROKE his CROWN

ən JILL came tumbling AFter

American children learn the rhythmic aspects of English using rhymes, songs and poems. These should work for adult learners too. You can get nursery rhyme CDs at a bookstore or at a public library.