How to train your brain to learn a language though music


You may have heard people refer to music as a “language,” or even made the comparison yourself. Like language, music has a rhythm, structure, 和 rules surrounding its use. 

这是不是有点牵强, 然后, that music could be a useful tool for learning foreign languages? According to research in multiple disciplines, from neuroscience to educational psychology, 这一点也不夸张, 和 may even be one key to quicker mastery. 

在这篇文章中, we explore some of the most exciting research linking music to language, 和 offer up a few tips for harnessing both in the classroom. 


Drums 和 drum stick symbolic of grammar language learning 和 rhythm

If music 和 language are so similar, shouldn’t they overlap in the brain? The answer is yes, 和 it’s probably been that way for many thous和s of years. In fact, we often end up in a chicken-or-egg situation when we talk about music 和 language. Which one came first, evolutionarily speaking?

“Music is a fundamental part of our evolution,” says Jay Schulkin, a scientist at Georgetown University’s Department of Neuroscience. “We probably sang before we spoke in syntactically guided sentences.”

如果这是真的, it means music 和 rhythm probably had an impact on the formation 和 use of language. 

So, do our brains process music 和 language in a similar way?

In 2015, researchers found that we may use the same part of the brain—the Broca’s area, under the left temple—to process both music 和 language. But there was an important nuance to their discovery: specifically instrumental music (no lyrics) 和语法 (not the meaning of words) were processed in the same area. 

That means there may indeed be a close relationship between music 和 language, but it’s grammar 和 rhythm in particular that justify the comparison.

他们的研究 是很聪明的. After asking participants to read simple 和 complex 短语 while listening to a short clip of music, the researchers had them judge the “closure” of the music—in other words, 感觉多么完整. Did they think the clip had been played fully, or cut off before the end of the sequence? When they’d been reading more complex 短语, participants reported the music to have less closure; when they’d been reading simpler 短语, they judged the music to be more complete. 

这是什么意思? The structure of the music 和 the structure of the sentence was being processed in the same part of the brain, so the two information streams were competing with each other for the participants’ attention. “This is the first direct evidence which suggests that music 和 language syntactic processing interact in Broca’s area,研究人员写道.



A research team at the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of 教育al Sciences, 北京师范大学,) 和 the University of Turku found that music 和 language both have an impact on the 听觉信号的神经处理

他们的研究 involved Chinese primary school students aged 8-11 who were attending music training courses as well as 英语 classes. Chinese speakers are known to be “tonal language speakers,” meaning the language relies heavily on the perception of pitch. 

The music courses involved singing practice in one-hour-long sessions twice a week throughout the school year. The 英语 classes trained them in both speaking 和 writing. The researchers measured their brain activity in response to auditory stimuli before 和 after the courses. They found that students who took the 英语 classes showed enhanced processing of musical sounds in their brain, 特别是与音高有关的. 

“A foreign language program is able to foster auditory 和 music neurocognition, 至少在有声调的bte365官网使用者中, in a manner comparable to that by a music program,“他们得出的结论. “Our results support the tight coupling of musical 和 linguistic brain functions also in the developing brain.”

在评论这项研究时, 艾琳Hannon, a psychology professor at the University of Nevada, 说, “The public should appreciate that there appear to be interesting links between language 和 music processing, 尤其是在童年. This is getting more attention lately, but language 和 music both develop in t和em 和 are key modalities of human communication.”

If music 和 language are so closely tied in the brain, we may have a great opportunity on our h和s to leverage this connection for better foreign language learning outcomes.


Young child with microphone learning language through music

今年早些时候, a group of 德国 researchers found that singing improved EFL students’ 词汇ulary 和语法 skills in a primary school setting. Compared to students who learned 词汇 和语法 through speaking lyrics only, students who sang the lyrics made greater strides in spelling, 词汇, 和语法. “Results indicate a potential benefit of singing for grammar learning,” the researchers wrote [source].

与此同时, at the V和erbilt Kennedy Center in Nashville, another group found that children with strong musical rhythm perception skills also have strong grammar skills [source].

测试25 6岁的孩子, the team measured musical aptitude 和语法 skills using a series of melody-based computer games 和 questionnaires, 分别. Kids who aced the rhythm games also scored higher on the grammar questionnaire, 与非bte365官网智商无关, 社会经济地位, 或者之前的音乐经验.

“在语法, children’s minds must sort the sounds they hear into words, 短语, 和句子, 和 the rhythm of speech helps them to do so,Reyna Gordon解释道, 谁领导了这项研究. “在音乐, rhythmic sequences give structure to musical 短语 和 help listeners figure out how to move to the beat.”

In 2014, Ludke、费雷拉、 & Overy研究 the effects of foreign 词汇ulary learning in “three listen-和-repeat” conditions: hearing sung 短语, 有节奏的bte365官网短语, 或说短语. While student performance was highest in the sung condition for all tests, the researchers found a significant difference between sing/rhythmical versus spoken conditions for students speaking their target language (匈牙利).

另一项关于匈牙利学习者的研究 found that “rhythmic priming” (being played a rhythm before a 词汇ulary task) improves young children’s grammatical processing. 具体地说, they found that it improved performance on grammatical tasks but not word retrieval or non-linguistic tasks. 

Children with developmental language disorder were tested as well, 和 they too showed improvements on the grammar task after rhythmic priming. “The results highlight the importance of rhythm in spoken language processing, 和 point towards a possible intervention tool in language disorders,研究人员写道. 

Learning languages with music in the classroom


Despite the research on music 和 foreign language learning still being in its early years, there are a few things we can try out now to help boost our skills. 波林Degrave, 比利时鲁汶大学的研究员, outlines three main ways we can leverage music in the classroom:

1. 声音和背景音乐 

Sometimes simply having music can simply be a good backdrop for language learning. Referencing a 2006 study on the effect of background music on 词汇ulary recall in university students, Degrave says memory for new words can be enhanced just by playing the right music in the background. 

“Half of the students learned the pairs in silence 和 the other half learned while a Bach’s concerto played in the background,”Degrave说. “Recall scores were higher for the musical condition compared to the silent condition.”

2. 歌曲

Degrave notes that from the 1950s through the 1970s, songs were sometimes used with the 通过听说的方法, which is an “approach in the teaching of foreign languages based on a system of drills in which the student repeats or adapts model sentences delivered orally or played aloud by the teacher.” 

从那时起, instructors have developed a range of different foreign language teaching methods using songs, 包括 Anton’s Contemporary Music Approach (1990)莫拉的旋律法(2000).

3. 有节奏的活动

In 1993, 英语 teacher Carolyn Graham came up with an ESL teaching method using the rhythms of traditional American jazz to teach American 英语. She called these lessons the “Jazz Chants.” 

The chants reflect the link between music 和 language within a culture. Around the world, foreign language instructors have developed similar methods, such as the 荷兰 Taalriedels 和法国 Ritmimot.

Despite convincing evidence from neuroscience 和 foreign language literature, 然而, teachers are still slow to adopt music-based lessons in the classroom. In a survey on the incorporation of music in 英语 classrooms in Brussels Secondary 法国-speaking schools, Jamoulle (2017) found that music was seldom used as more than a fun activity.

“Teachers seem to be positive about the use of music in the foreign language classroom, but the incorporation appears rather occasional,”Degrave说. “A lack of resources 和 a lack of theoretical grounding could explain this discrepancy.”

With so many students taking learning into their own h和s these days, whether through language learning apps or extra time spent studying outside the classroom, making language learning more musical can be a fun challenge to take on independently. 

Memorizing lyrics to songs in your target language, or simply playing foreign songs in the background as you go about your other daily activities might be good ways to experiment with boosting your skills.



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