How Music Helps Children Learn Language
All parents know that a quiet, gentle lullaby can soothe a fussy baby. As adults, a magnificent symphony can make us swell with excitement. But music also can affect the way we learn. Music is one of the few activities that involves using the whole brain. It is inherent in all cultures and can have surprising benefits not only for acquiring language, improving memory and focusing attention, but also for physical coordination and development. Music encourages learning and enhances communication. In recent years, we’ve learned a lot about how the brain develops. Babies are born with billions of brain cells. During the first years of life, those brain cells form connections with other brain cells. Over time, the connections we use regularly become stronger. Children who grow up listening to music develop strong music-related connections that in turn strengthen their language skills.
Music plays a very important part in learning both our native language, as well as additional ones. As children, we can imitate the rhythm and musical structure of our mother tongue long before we can say the words. Most of us are able to remember several songs and nursery rhymes we learned as children. Music helps us retain words and expressions much more effectively. The rhythm of the music, as well as the repetitive patterns within the song, help us memorize words. Bilingual children, in particular, can benefit from singing songs in their second language. Even if most of the words are unfamiliar at first, mimicking the words in a song can help children practice producing sounds in the new language. Eventually the sounds give way to actual understanding as the song is practiced over and over again.
Exceptional musical ability is common among multilingual individuals. Likewise, musical people have increased aptitude in foreign language learning due to their superior ability to perceive, process, and reproduce accent. Understanding how music can help with language learning is important, as when listening to music, following the lyrics and melody and/or rhythm requires both sides of our brains to be active, making it easier to remember information that’s simply read.1
Music and songs play a very important role in all of the Helen Doron English programmes. Helen Doron explains, “For language learning, music is extremely important. We pick up the intonation, the syntax, the rhyme, pre-reading abilities, everything through music. Learning becomes much more integrated into our very being through music.”
Besides making sure your young child attends Helen Doron’s Baby Best Start classes, you can empower your baby’s learning by:
Playing music for your baby. Expose your baby to many different musical selections of various styles. If you play an instrument, practice when your baby is nearby. But keep the volume moderate. Loud music can damage a baby’s hearing.
Singing to your baby. It doesn’t matter how well you sing. Hearing your voice helps your baby begin to learn language. Babies love the patterns and rhythms of songs. Even young babies can recognize specific melodies once they’ve heard them.
Singing with your child. As children grow, they enjoy singing with you. And setting words to music actually helps the brain learn them more quickly and retain them longer. That’s why we remember the lyrics of songs we sang as children, even if we haven’t heard them in years.
Starting music lessons early. If you want your child to learn an instrument, you don’t need to wait until elementary school to begin lessons. Young children’s developing brains are equipped to learn music. Most four- and five-year-olds enjoy making music and can learn the basics of some instruments. Starting lessons early helps children build a lifelong love of music.
Encouraging your child’s school to teach music. Singing helps stimulate the brain, at least briefly. Over time, music education as a part of school can help build skills such as coordination and creativity. Learning music helps your child become a well-rounded person.
1. Music and your baby, S. Jhoanna Robledo, September 2011
2. Diane Bales, Ph.D. Building Baby’s Brain: The Role of Music