However trite it may sound, but music is a very important and powerful part of human culture, and an immanent part at that. All human cultures and civilizations have some notion of music, and it is widely speculated that music was the first art form mastered by humans as a species. Therefore, its powers over various processes in our lives are unique – and far from having been completely studied and understood.
Impact of music on language learning is just one of its less obvious uses. While it is generally associated with enjoyment, music proved to be effective in wildly different fields: from enhancing the efficiency of physical labor to therapy, and scientists are getting more and more used to the idea of its benefits for learning languages in particular.
The use of music in this area can be roughly boiled down to two ideas. Firstly, it is the use of background music as a means of enhancing the efficiency of learning process. Secondly, it is the use of music with lyrics as an active tool in language learning.
A number of studies show that the ways language and music are processed in the brain bear many similarities. Consequently, highly complex music playing in the background taxes heavily on human brain’s ability to perceive language. However, surprisingly enough, there exists a considerable body of evidence suggesting that background music of low complexity can actually enhance human memory and cognitive capacity when encountering language tasks. This means that a correctly chosen background music can play passive role in improving students’ results.
As for active use of songs in learning, it is much more obvious. Music is highly emotional in its nature, and all people have a certain capacity for emotion – which means that perceiving the lyrics of a song you like has a powerful emotional charge. As a result, the listener is quicker to memorize the words, is more likely to set individual words apart and, in general, pays much greater attention to the whole process than when he/she reads them in a book or listens to the explanations of a teacher.
There is also some evidence that practicing music can increase one’s linguistic capabilities and cognitive functions, but it is a long-term investment best started in early childhood – so if you haven’t held a musical instrument in your hands until the age of thirty, it probably won’t help you learn a foreign language all that much.
- Merritt, Anne. “Music – a Gift for Language Learners.” The Telegraph. Nov. 9 2013
- Henriksson-Macaulay, Liisa. “Are Musicians Better Language Learners?” The Guardian. Feb 27 2014
- O’Conner, Anahad. “Really? Music Training and Language Skills Enhance One Another.” The New York Times. Apr. 8 2013
- Swaby, Jonross. “Saved by song: can singing improve your language skills?” The Guardian. Feb. 11 2015
- Gray, Richard. “Singing can help when learning a foreign language.” The Telegraph. Jul. 18 2013
- Cheung, C.K. “The use of popular culture as a stimulus to motivate secondary setudents’ English learning in Hong Kong.” ELT Journal 55 (1): 55-61. Print
- Fonseca More, C. “Foreign language acquisition and melody singing.” ELT Journal 54 (2): 146-152. Print