Musical engagement in language learning

As you can well imagine, language learners spend a significant proportion of their studies engaged in auditory learning. This type of learning depends on the capability of our brains to effectively receive and process auditory signals from teachers and other students. Language learners thus can gain a huge advantage by using music during their education which also uses auditory learning!


Scientifically speaking, reading, understanding and talking in a language requires the ability to identify where syllables and words begin and end. This is called phonological ability and it uses the same areas of the brain to identify and break up sounds (just like music!). According to the Royal Conservatory of Music, musically-trained children have better phonological skills which could help young learners with learning words faster, developing a richer vocabulary and learning to read sooner. In a 2009 Canadian study mentioned by the Royal Conservatory of Music, young children taking music lessons showed dramatic improvement in their verbal intelligence scores after only four weeks of musical training. The improvements from studying music were much greater than in other types of arts training.


Learners with particularly diverse needs, such as dyslexia, often show differences in the perception of rhythm, according to a 2017 study published by Frontiers in Neurology. In these children, musical training may facilitate better results in spelling and phonological segmentation tests. Such children may therefore have even greater benefits to gain from musical practice!


Music is particularly beneficial in language learning given that it affects brain structure positively. Let’s examine the evidence as to why language learning can be enhanced through music.


My musical experiences:


An engaging way to integrate musical language learning into your child’s weekly routine (and entertain!) is to practise languages on musical language learning websites, such as, www.lyricstraining.com. A clever way, in English or foreign languages, is to perform a Google search for the top 10 songs in the country of the language you are learning. Copy and paste a song into the search bar on www.lyricstraining.com and play the song! While the music video plays, your challenge is to type the lyrics into the box below the video. If you make a mistake or stop typing, the song pauses automatically to give you time to work out the answer.


A further way to use auditory skills, is by engaging with podcasts or short videos on Deutsche Welle and TV5 Monde, for German and French learners respectively. Remember, you’re training your child’s brain to recognise sounds rather than to become fluent in the language so avoid focusing on every word and work towards simply understanding the gist of what is being said! Listening to the same video 3-4 times helps your child’s brain tune into the sounds of the language. If your child is learning clothes in French, why not engage with a short podcast or song about French fashion. Reassure them before starting that they won’t understand every word so listening to the rhythm of the language and writing words that they understand is best!


Why both sides of the brain matter


Bishka found that neuroimaging shows the sensing modalities (visual–auditory–kinesthetic) are actually interlinked in the brain so that they are triggered in unison, suggesting no single one can operate alone. This idea of using visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning in a combined way completely undermines previous ideas that teachers should focus on a specific learning style with students in the classroom. What a game changer!


To help interpret these learning styles, Vark defined visual learning as other ways “that people use to represent what could have been presented in words”, e.g. using maps, charts or pictures. Aural or auditory learners need to hear information ‘spoken’, ‘read/write’ learners need to see information as words and kinaesthetic learners prefer the “use of experience or practice”. Lastly, Multimodal learning refers to those who are flexible in their “communication preference”. So, it’s clear we should reap the benefits in many ‘multimodal’ ways, including using music in language learning if you’re not already! Why not take German cooking to a new level by watching a music video on www.lyricstraining.com to transcribe the words you understand (auditory modality), draw a picture of a bakery or restaurant scene labelled with German vocabulary (visual modality) and cook your favourite dinner in German (kinaesthetic modality).


As you’d expect, research shows that we need both sides of our brain: learners' “native language network (the leftward functional organization for language processing)” is related to learning success with speech sounds and words. However, when learning involves greater complexity, the subsequent shift from right to left sides of the brain and bilateral hemispheres are essential to ensure success.

So what wonderful things might await your child should they engage in musical activities?

  1. Improved auditory processing: Young learners do not have the ability to process auditory information as adults do given auditory skills are not well developed until adulthood. Some learners are sensitive to poor acoustic conditions in classrooms and this can interfere with learners’ development of spoken language, reading and writing skills which affects academic performance.

  2. Improved phonological ability: Reading, understanding and speaking a language requires the ability to identify where syllables and words begin and end.

  3. Speech benefits: Playing music improves a child’s ability to listen and pick up nuances of speech – the way words are spoken and the emotions, which in turn is a key aspect of emotional intelligence. In a journal published in Language Teaching and Research in 2019, an English teacher linked the rhythms of spoken American English to the rhythms of traditional American jazz, creating the Jazz Chants. The chants emphasise natural stress and intonation in American English. In French, Llorca developed Ritmimot, which emphasizes French language rhythms.

  4. Subject wide benefits: making improvements in speech and reading are critical to success in school, even in understanding mathematics!

  5. Softer benefits: engaging in music can aid relaxation and positive emotions especially at times of high pressure.

Share the benefits above with your tutor and ask that music is included regularly alongside other strategies. Ask your tutor which musical recommendations they have for you to use at home too!


Learning in a way that is meaningful will always be the most effective – gone are the days of learning languages by rote! Simply condensing children’s learning into learning styles, and thereby not using both parts of their brain is also ineffective! Naturally, a more varied approach to learning means taking your child out of their comfort zone. Having a structured approach is key, maximising times for learning when your child is most motivated and ensuring that you study consistently. Keep a diary to facilitate organisation and to record the most productive sessions. Encourage your child to choose the learning style used in each session and plan a few different visual, auditory and kinaesthetic styles to approach each topic of language learning, in case you need to switch focus at the last minute!


References:


Cuevas, J, Is Learning Styles Based on Instruction Effective? A Comprehensive Analysis of Recent Research on Learning Styles, Theory and Research in Education [2015], [online], [Available at: file:///C:/Users/Lenovo/Downloads/TheoryandResearchinEducation-2015-Cuevas-1477878515606621.pdf]


Degrave, P, (2019), Music in the Foreign Language Classroom: How and Why? Journal of Language Teaching and Research, Volume 10, No. 3, [online], [Available at: file:///C:/Users/Lenovo/Downloads/Degrave_2019_MusicintheFLClassroomHowandWhy.JLTR.pdf]


Iliadou, V, Ptok, M, Grech, H, Raben Pedersen, E, Brechmann, A, Deggouj, N, Kiese-Himmel, C, Śliwińska-Kowalska, M, Nickisch, A, Demanez, L, Veuillet, E, Thai-Van, H, Sirimanna, T, Callimachou, M, Santarelli, R, Kuske, S, Barajas, J, Hedjever, M,  Konukseven, O, Veraguth, D, Stokkereit Mattsson, T, Humberto Martins, J and  Bamiou, D.E, (2017), A European Perspective on Auditory Processing Disorder-Current Knowledge and Future Research Focus, Frontiers in Neurology, [online], [available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5702335/]


Piccioti, P.M, Bussu, F, Calò, L, Gallus, R, Scarano, E, DI Cintio, G,  Cassarà, F and D’alatri, L (2018), Correlation Between Musical Aptitude and Learning Foreign Languages: an Epidomological Study in Secondary School Italian Students [online], [Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5952984/]


The Royal Conservatory, (2014), The Benefits of Music Education, An Overview of Current Neuroscience Research, [online], [available at: https://files.rcmusic.com//sites/default/files/files/RCM_MusicEducationBenefits.pdf]


Vark Learn, (2020). Introduction to Vark: The Vark Modallities. [online] [Available at: https://vark-learn.com/introduction-to-vark/the-vark-modalities/]


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