We hear them, we read them – we write stories and symphonies using them. They both enrich our lives in countless ways. Music and languages serve as essential modes of communication and wonderful expressions of creativity.
Some researchers contend that humans first started creating music 500,000 years ago, yet speech and language were only developed 200,000 years ago. Evolutionary evidence, as interpreted by leading researchers such as Robin Dunbar from Oxford University, indicates that speech as a form of communication may have evolved from our development and use of music.
Perhaps this explains why our music and language neural networks have significant overlap and why people who have studied one of these may find it easier to learn the other (http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/feb/27/musicians-better-language-learners). Consider these similarities:
- Both music and language can be spoken, listened, written, and read.
- Both have rhythm, flow, tempo, pauses, and the chance to convey emotions.
- Collaboration/Interaction: Interacting in groups with music and language learning enhances your learning experience.
- Singers have an additional connection; the more languages you speak, the more songs you can sing.
- You can start learning a language with small words and short sentences, then graduate to more complex speaking and reading abilities. You begin learning a musical instrument by playing just a few notes, then progress to playing larger phrases of notes and more complex rhythms.
A Beautiful Duet.
With all these similarities, can we conclude that studying one of these skills can help us in learning the other?
Consider this important step in learning a language, which is figuring out where one word ends and the next one begins. As a French language “hobbyist,” this is huge for me. Dave Munger conducted two experiments with speaking and singing specific foreign words to see how quickly and accurately the participants could detect and parse the words. Since fluent speakers don’t generally pause between words, it can be a daunting task. Munger found that the sung words were detected significantly faster with more accuracy. While, they’re not saying that music study is a requirement for learning a foreign language, the extra aural information that music provides does seem to help with in learning a language (http://scienceblogs.com/cognitivedaily/2008/06/19/does-music-help-us-learn-langu).
We should also be reminded that the sense of achievement when you play a musical instrument or speak another language in public for the first time is unparalleled. I’m a music teacher – not a scientist – but I’ve seen many children and adults become transformed individuals because they learned Spanish, Italian, Chinese – or music. Better job prospects, social lives, and major shots of self-confidence – who wouldn’t want that?
Terry Smith (www.applegatemusicstudio.com) teaches piano and voice privately in the Phoenix, Arizona, USA area and teaches piano online anywhere. He uses the innovative Simply Music piano curriculum. He also serves as music director at a local church and directs music for local theater.