Nursery Rhymes Posted by Gabriele on May 18, 2012 in Culture
Having lived abroad and having taught ESL for a number of years I have heard many people talk about what it means to be “fluent” in a second language. I set a very high standard for fluency myself and I think true fluency comes with both linguistic and cultural knowledge. In discussing how to determine a person’s true level of language knowledge or fluency I have always held nursery rhymes as my gold standard. That is, if a person knows and can easily recite nursery rhymes in a language then that person properly has a level of language knowledge that is fluent or close to fluent. It is my opinion that a person has to be very entrenched in a culture (or born into it) to learn the nursery rhymes of a particular language. Thus knowing these types of childhood rhymes says a lot about a person’s level of fluency. I’m sure you can think of a number of nursery rhymes in your native languages without much effort, right? This is just my quick “test” of fluency, it is not scientific and you may think it is a little silly, but I find it has been helpful in the past for me to do a quick test of language knowledge when I meet a new English speaker.
Today I will introduce you to a few very popular nursery rhymes in English. Knowing these rhymes won’t make you fluent in English of course, but I hope that reading them will give you more insight into English and the culture of the English-speaking world that created these rhymes.
Just to be sure everyone understands what nursery rhymes are, here is a definition: nursery rhymes are traditional poems for young children. Most nursery rhymes are old and have been passed down from generation to generation, some are sung while others are spoken. Here are four very common nursery rhymes in the English-speaking world.
Baa, Baa Black Sheep
Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full!
One for the master, one for the dame*,
And one for the little boy who lives down the lane.
Jack and Jill Went Up The Hill
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.
Georgie Porgie*** pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran away.
Little Miss Muffet
Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet
Eating her curds and whey****,
Along came a spider,
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away
*dame = not a word commonly used in today’s English, this is a formal word for ‘woman’
**crown = this word refers to the head or the top of the head, not an actual crown
***Georgie Porgie = this is the nick name for George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham who lived in the 1500s in England and who reportedly had an “angel face”
****curds and whey = curds and whey are the lumps and liquid found in cottage cheese
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