Language, Memory, Poetry.

Today is national poetry day, (in the UK). While poetry has its fashions and both waxes and wanes in popularity. It is often a little used resource in the classroom, more of this a little later. Anyway, right now, here is a poem, to be precise a limerick, for you.

There once was a man who said “Damn!
It is borne in upon me I am
An engine that moves
In predestinate grooves;
I’m not even a bus, I’m a tram.”
Maurice E. Hare (1886-1967)

Some argue that the human mind and language is natural or pre-determined, we call these theories nativism. And Hare’s poem is often used to support, frame or introduce this argument.

One suggestion as to why many plays, and stories were originally recorded in a poetic form is that this made it easer for them to be memorised in a preliterate society. Additionally sung poems, raps or jazz chants (or 5 beats if you’re UK based) are often used in both childhood and the earlier stages of adult foreign language learning. Indeed my first memories of learning French are songs. Over the years I’ve had many students who got into music that had English lyrics much more readily than learning the same words or grammatical rules needed to understand or reproduce the song.

There are a number of theories as to why poems, and song lyrics are so easy to remember.

  1. They repeat themselves and are easy to play again, (at least since recorded music).
  2. The rhythms and rhymes of the lyrical structure often mean one or two grammatical patterns are repeated throughout the song.
  3. Any new vocabulary in the song is likely to belong to a lexical set, (a group of words linked by usage or context).
  4. Songs activate a listener’s musical intelligence to complement their linguistic intelligence, any singing or even dancing done also ties in the physical intelligences, and it seems that the more of the brain you use to learn language the better this works.
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