Do Musicians Make Better Language Learners?

The article written by Aneta Pavlenko begins with the naming of singers who perform in several different languages, from Italian to Spanish, French to German, Portuguese, Arabic, Czech, and of course English. According to Pavlenko, these examples provide evidence for those who believe that people with musical talent- or at least musical training- have an easier time learning foreign languages. Pavlenko states that this can be due to the musicians ability to pick up sound patterns of the second language because of their years of training with pitch and sound patterns.

However, the link between musical ability and second language learning is not as direct as one would think, because each area (music and language) is represented in different areas of the brain. Further evidence of this separation comes from people with language impairments, who still retain their musical ability, and vice versa. Both language and music reply on similar processes: detection of differences in pitch, meter, rhythm, phrasing and interpretation, tonal memory, memory for long sequences, and the ability to imitate and improvise based on familiar sequences. This ultimately lead researchers to two questions: Are abilities in one domain easily transferred to another? And are musicians better second language learners than the rest of us?

To help answer these questions, researchers turned to languages that differ in uses of pitch or perceived frequency, how musical ability affects the learning of L2 Mandarin by L1 English speakers. They found that months of private music lessons were better predictors of the accuracy of tonal word learning than general cognitive ability and L2 aptitude, according to Pavlenko. Other studies done provided evidence that musical variables were not powerful predictors, but instead that a key predictor was the success on linguistic tasks involving tone discrimination. Despite these findings there was no conclusive evidence that musicians were better at L2 learning or had superior pronunciation skills.

Due to this data Diana Deutsch and her colleges hypothesized that perhaps speakers of tonal languages would have superior sensitivity to pitch. This hypothesis was tested along with other studies and found that speakers of tonal languages were better at identifying musical pitches than speakers of English or French and were more likely to have absolute pitch, according to Pavlenko. In conclusion, that author states that there is much more to L2 learning than tonal discrimination and when it comes to syntax, vocabulary or pragmatics, musicians have no advantage over the rest of us. However, this does not mean that music cannot be useful in learning a language.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/life-bilingual/201707/do-musicians-make-better-language-learners

 

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