Nursery Rhymes and Their Magic Role in Language Learning

Many parents use one language at home but wish they could teach their children a second language from early on to give them a bilingual edge. But many don’t know how to do it naturally and in a playful way.
There are many things that parents can do to boost their child’s second language skills, such as listening to songs, reading books, watching cartoons or using a puppet that speaks only the second language. The best and most efficient results come from starting when your child is still small. And one of the best ways to get a start on that second language is with nursery rhymes!
Nursery rhymes are usually short and melodic poems that rhyme and that are passed on from generation to generation in many cultures. Their purpose is clear – develop language and communication skills from early on and boost the bond between a parent and child.

Great for infants as well as young schoolchildren
Small children love them because they are full of rhythm and melody and can be a great fun. In the early years, they are a fantastic help for learning a new language as they familiarize children with the natural sounds and patterns of the language, such as pronunciation, intonation, rhythm, and melody. All these features help children to form a solid base for further learning.
They are also a wonderful motivation for children that learn a foreign language a bit later in preschool or even their early school years. The short and easy to remember rhymes enable children to communicate in a more complex way for the first time, unlike learning single words.

The magic power of nursery rhymes
Nursery rhymes have magical educational value. They not only familiarize the child with the natural sound of the language but also stimulate the child’s brain. Repetition enables the child to exercise memory, expand vocabulary and develop imagination. All while having fun!
When combined with actions, they support muscle development and coordination. And last, but not least, they have a very positive influence on the social and emotional development of a child, being a perfect tool for bonding.

Tips on how to use them at home
1) Start as early as possible when your child is still a baby. Try to find finger plays, hand and knee-bouncing rhymes in the second language that you as a parent like. Such rhymes are a wonderful tool for bonding. Try Little Hand & Finger Plays, our hands-on and beautifully illustrated collection of our favourite rhymes that have been popular with my daughter as well as kids in our playgroup.

2) For a tired parent’s brain, nursery rhymes are not easy to memorise, particularly in the beginning. Buy a nicely illustrated collection of them in a bookshop and have it ready at hand or search them on the internet and note them down. Young children especially will appreciate a board book Treasury of Nursery Rhymes, beautifully illustrated by Lucy Cousins, that also includes a CD or Ladybird Classic Nursery Rhymes Collection. You can find them in a great online bookshop

3) Find inspiration on YouTube. Search videos with native speakers practising the rhymes you have chosen. Such videos will give you a grasp on how to accompany the rhymes with suitable moves and how to pronounce them correctly. Jbrary is one of our favourite interprets of popular nursery rhymes. Or try the Australian BubbleBox and their version of rhymes for little babies.

3) Don’t worry about using classical rhymes, even if they seem to make no sense. For young children, bonding, melody, rhyme and rhythm are far more important than the actual meaning of words.

4) Purchase nursery rhyme books with CDs. CDs become handy when travelling by car and enable your child to hear the native speaker version.

5) Older children may appreciate extra activities such as nursery rhymes colouring and sticker books or worksheets. My daughter’s favourite is Nursery Rhyme Time and Old McDonald Sing Along Sticker Fun that also comes with a CD.
Recite the rhymes anytime your child is in a good mood, not hungry, sleepy or overstimulated.
The best thing about rhymes is that they are portable – you can use them anywhere, at home or outside when your child needs soothing, is bored or when it is time for a change.
Pre-schoolers and young schoolchildren love action nursery rhymes. Movement is a great tool for learning languages. Last but not least, try not to be boring when reciting. Be a little actor, do your best.

Parents should always remember that learning a new language should be fun and playful and should not create any stress or pressure on the child or the parent. Just enjoy and see how magically nursery rhymes work when teaching a second language to your child.

Petra Vojtová is passionate about languages and passionately promotes ‘natural home playing’ for learning a second language. After her graduation in translation studies at the Charles University, Prague, Petra has been working as a translator and teacher. When her first daughter was born four years ago, she began educating herself in children’s language development. Since then, she has been sharing her knowledge with other parents through her DoubleBubble project.