Music & Language

A music professor once asked me to suggest to international students that they take choir as a class. It’s an easy credit, a good way to meet people and travel, and singing helps with English pronunciation. Even if you do not consider yourself a singer, music is a good way to give your English-learning a boost. Spoken language and music both have a rhythm to it, volume, and speed. The rhythm in music pulls you along, creating a vehicle for natural expression of word order. Even when you listen to music recreationally, you are absorbing some of the sounds and rhythm of the language. Music is a language, in and of itself, that activates more parts of your brain to work together and can increase comprehension of the vocabulary more quickly. If the tune is catchy, you will find yourself rehearsing it effortlessly in your head, increasing memorization.

 We all remember singing as children to learn things in our own language, such as numbers or letters. Music is not just for children. It can help people of all ages learn a new language. Experts have some recommendations for using music to improve your language acquisition:

  • Pick music you like to listen to. If you don’t like a particular genre in your own language you won’t be interested in listening to it in another language.

  • Find songs with lyrics. That way you can follow along visually as well as orally. It will help you hear sounds correctly. Watching people sing a song can also give you clues about how they are producing the sounds you hear.

  • Sing the songs with the music. Interpreting and producing language are two different functions. At least if you are creating sounds yourself, you have a feel for how it feels to produce the language.

  • Practice writing down what you hear. This will help you connect what you see to the sounds you are hearing. Even if you are watching a music video, different languages sometimes spell the sounds they use differently.