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The Music of Language

Updated on February 11, 2012

Foreign Language Learning and the Effects on Brain Development

As parents we all want to give our children the best start in life. We may have them listening to classical music before they are born and even read books to them while they are still in the womb, With any new research that comes out we want to be on top of it if it has the remotest possibility of benefiting our children in any way. So naturally if we hear that there is a way to encourage brain growth and stimulation in our little ones we want to provide that and what parent wouldn't? You may not have thought, however, about the benefits of teaching your child a foreign language.

We all know the benefits of foreign language learning for adults: Career opportunities, travel, etc. But did you know that before a baby is 6 months of age they are able to incorporate 70 sounds into their babble that make up all the languages in the world? After 6 months they start to imitate sounds from their parents and other caregivers so that by the time they learn to talk the sounds of other languages not heard in their current environment are discarded. This presents the question: is this decline in the recognition of foreign language phonetic units reversible?

There was an interesting study done on a group of 9 month old infants, all from English speaking American parents. During a 4 week period, the group of 32 infants were exposed to native speakers who read them stories, sang songs and played with them all in mandarin Chinese for a 25 minute duration. Similarly, a control group of 32 infants had the same interactions only in English. Both groups were then brought back for testing using a test that measures head turns (HT's) to determine the infants detection of the native phonetic contrast. The results found that the infants that had the foreign language exposure were able to consistently identify the phonetic sounds of the Mandarin Chinese, compared with the control group of infants who did not turn their heads or show an interest when the sounds were played. [Source:phonetic perception test; Patricia K Kuhl, Feng-Ming Tsao, and Huei-Mei Liu]

Even if you have missed the opportunity to expose your child to a foreign language as an infant, research shows that there are many advantages to introducing a foreign language to preschoolers and elementary students. Is some countries elementary students are required to learn at least one foreign language. Despite all the facts that support the benefits on learning and test scores, U.S. public schools, perhaps due to lack of funding still do not as a whole require or even offer a foreign language to students.

Although the earlier a child is introduced to foreign language the better he or she will be able to imitate the native accent, there are benefits across the board no matter the age of your child. Like any other other muscle, the brain gets stronger with exercise and foreign language learning has been proven to increase the density of the grey matter in the brain. These cognitive advantages have translated into higher tests scores in students, not only in language, but surprisingly in math and logic as well.

Research studies in Canada showed that bilingual children were able to get a better grasp of object permanence at a younger age than their mono-lingual peers. For example, a foot still functions as a foot rather labeled "foot" in English or "un pied" in French. Further touting the benefits of bilingualism in children, there was a study conducted in Harwich, Massachusetts in 2007 that showed how students who had studied a foreign language significantly outperformed their peers on a Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment test after 2 to 3 years and continued to outperform then on the same assessment after 7 or 8 years.



Schools that offer foreign language and music score higher on standardized testing.
Schools that offer foreign language and music score higher on standardized testing.

Elementary Schools that offer a foreign language-By state

State
Number of School offering foreign language
 
Alabama
14
 
Alaska
4
 
Arizona
13
 
Arkansas
3
 
California
49
 
Colarado
31
 
Conneticut
90
 
Delaware
6
 
District of Columbia
5
 
Florida
64
 
Georgia
53
 
Hawaii
15
 
Idaho
17
 
Kentucky
36
 
Lousiana
101
 
Main
25
 
Maryland
34
 
Massachusettes
44
 
Michigan
21
 
Missouri
21
 
Montana
6
 
Nebraska
13
 
Nevada
5
 
New Hampshire
12
 
New Jersey
27
 
New Mexico
5
 
New York
100
 
North Carolina
77
 
North Dakota
4
 
Ohio
31
 
Oklahoma
27
 
Oregon
15
 
Pensylvania
67
 
Rhode Island
13
 
South Carolina
40
 
South Dakota
4
 
Tennessee
24
 
Texas
32
 
Utah
6
 
Vermont
18
 
Virginia
40
 
Washington
15
 
West Virginia
10
 
Wisconsin
42
 
Wyoming
2
 
Source:Branaman, L.E., & Rhodes, N.C. (1998).

My 6 year old twins speaking in French

Music Develops the Brain Also


Just as in the learning of a foreign language, studies have shown that learning to play a musical instrument creates new synapsis in the brain leading to better academic performance. In fact the two, foreign language learning and music, actually complement each other as the stimulation to the brain carries over from one to the other. Cognative scientists have unveiled a strong and profound relationship between music and language acquisition showing that the rhythm, tone discrimination, melodic recognition, involve and require the use of the same areas of the brain.

Do you want to introduce your child to a foreign language and or music lessons?

Here are some suggestions for how to get started depending on the age of your child.

Infant to toddler:

There are some great DVDs available free to check out from the library, such as Bilingual Baby (comes in different languages), .

Also check your library for music CDs that include songs in French, Spanish, and other languages.

Read books to your child in a whichever foreign language you are familiar with.

Preschool to Kindergarten:

Free online sights that help your child learn a foreign language, such as Live Mocha, Busu Garden, etc.

There are a number of preschools that offer the perfect combination of music and foreign language. Montessori for one or Kindermusic. Check for preschools in your area with these offerings.

Elementary:

Since most public schools don't offer a foreign language, we are left with these options:

Books, CDs, DVDs

Hire a tutor that speaks the language natively (check Craiglist)

Private schools that offer music lessons combined with foreign language lessons.

There are a number of different options out there, just make sure it is fun and pressure free for your child.


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    • KrystalD profile image

      KrystalD 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Interesting hub. I agree with you on how valuable it is for children to learn languages early. I was surprised that while teaching in Cairo, my first grade students were taking three languages! It was a foundation that would help these students socially and professionally.

      Thanks for making this hub so personal with all the pictures and packed full of information with the tables.

    • asherruth profile image
      Author

      asherruth 5 years ago

      KrystalID, That is interesting about your students in Cairo. It is nice that some countries at least recognize the value of kids learning more than one language,as it seems that is one area that the U.S. lags behind.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on my hub and for nice compliments.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 5 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      That's an interesting graph you posted with this hub. Great information on the research that has been done regarding the benefits of learning a second language. Mandatory now in Canada where I'm from. The only possible problem with it is when the child turns into an adolescent and continues to learn French and then completes the program, going into English-only classes for high school, their spelling in English isn't always up to par. But this is something that can be worked on.

      Great hub. Thanks for SHARING.

    • asherruth profile image
      Author

      asherruth 5 years ago

      Hi Pamela,

      Glad you enjoyed the article.So, in Canada children are required to learn French and English?

      That is awesome! Thank you so much for reading and commenting on my article.

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