Sing and You Shall Learn: How Singing Enables Easier Language Acquisition

Thumyat Noe ’23

Figure 1: The same brain regions carry out both singing and language processing, suggesting that singing may expedite language acquisition.

Learning a new language is challenging, but several studies claim that music may improve the learning process. For instance, primary school children with prior musical experience tend to have greater developed auditory working and verbal memories, allowing for easier language acquisition. Furthermore, according to a previous study, singing increased phonological awareness in Spanish-speaking students, yielding an improvement in English vocabulary recall and pronunciation. Musical activities are enjoyable and can enhance positive emotions which in turn may support language acquisition. To explore the effects of singing on language learning and psychological well-being, Dr. Vera Busse and her team of researchers from University of Münster designed an experiment with a specific focus on the impact of singing on vocabulary development, grammar learning, and whether positive emotions induced by singing play a role in language acquisition. Researchers expected participants in the singing group to make greater progress in acquisition of the English language.

Busse et al. recruited 57 primary school students to participate in the study. Researchers randomly assigned participants to either the singing group or the speaking group. Before their assigned interventions, participants completed preliminary language and intelligence tests. Participants in the singing group then learned English via a singing puppet lesson while participants in the speaking group learned English via a speaking puppet lesson. After three weeks of English lessons, participants completed an English language test. A second test was administered six weeks later to measure retention of language acquisition. 

Prior to the English lesson interventions, participants in the speaking group showed higher scores on the language tests than those in the singing group. However, after the intervention, participants in the singing group received higher scores on the tests than the speaking group. Overall, the singing group showed the greatest improvement in learning and correctly spelling new vocabulary. While the singing group did show a greater learning retention after six weeks, it should be noted that participants in the speaking group showed greater retention of grammar rules. Lastly, participants in the singing group showed statistically insignificant higher positive affect.  Overall, this study suggests that singing can be beneficial for language acquisition especially in young children with shorter attention spans. Future studies should assess mastery of abstract nouns and grammar development between singing and speaking groups and explore how combining singing with discussions of content and idiomatic expressions may lead to improved understanding of lyrics.

Works Cited: 

[1] V. Busse, et al. Learning grammar through singing? An intervention with EFL primary school learners. Learning and Instruction 71, 1-11 (2021). doi: 10.1016/j.learninstruc.2020.101372

[2] Image retrieved from:
https://pixabay.com/illustrations/singing-children-song-sing-child-18382/

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