Thursday, February 21, 2008

Does music facilitate language acquisition?

The latest issue of Cognition contains a brief, yet interesting study on the role of music in language acquisition. While several authors have shown that language learning can be modeled according to the statistical properties of syllable sentences, just a few studies showed that for musical information a similar case for statistical learning can be made.

Daniele Schön (Marseille, France) and collaborators show in their study that a group of French participants, with an average age of 23, do better in learning new words associated with distinct pitches –a melody- than those being spoken in monotonous fashion (In this case really monotonous since it was a speech synthesizer). The study is especially interesting in the context of research on infant-directed speech that turns out to be quite ‘musical’ (i.e. melody and rhythm play an important role), especially when compared to ‘real’ speech, as such indirectly supporting the idea that these musical aspects actually facilitate communication and learning in infants.

However, since only language learning was tested, it could not be shown that the participants relied more on musical than on linguistic information. An effect one could expect since several studies have shown that musical information can help in memorization and learning. While the authors were able to show that
“learning a new language, especially in the first learning phase wherein one needs to segment new words, may largely benefit of the motivational and structuring properties of music in song”
unfortunately —because of the experimental design used— no conclusion can be drawn about whether learners rely more on musical or linguistic information. What could be shown was that linguistic information took precedence over musical statistical cues. I would have expected the opposite, like it was found in infant studies.

SCHON, D., BOYER, M., MORENO, S., BESSON, M., PERETZ, I., KOLINSKY, R. (2008). Songs as an aid for language acquisition. Cognition, 106(2), 975-983. DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2007.03.005


  1. Interesting. Some of our tutors at have talk about using music in their lessons and having it be quite effective.

  2. Hello Jon,
    I'm a college student doing a bachelor degree in education. It's my final year and I'm working on an action research which revolves around the use of music in teaching English as a second language. I was wondering if it was possible to communicate with you to help me find resources for my project or offer me possible suggestions for activities or topics to narrow down my research.
    Kind regards,
    Afra from United Arab Emirates

  3. I am a student doing a project on music's or vibration's use as a language. I was wondering if you had any information that might be helpful. Please write back as comment on this site . . .