It is not without reason that playing an instrument is often listed among the best hobbies a language learner can have. Early childhood musical education has been proven to have positive effects that last a lifetime and one of these benefits is the ability to pick up languages quicker, even in adulthood. While it’s still not entirely sure how these two things are connected, evidence exists that even if your child quits their instrument, they’ll still be able to reap the rewards later on. But that is not all. Music can help you acquire your target language in other ways as well. From improving your concentration to providing a great way of improving your vocabulary, the right music can really improve the way you learn.
Tonal languages have never been easier
The first way music can help you learn has to do with how musical training can help you pick up languages quicker. Somehow the increased sense of rhythm that comes with musical training seems to be beneficial for the brain’s ability to process language. While this apparently works for all languages, it comes especially handy when learning the ones that use tones.
While all languages use tones to convey some meaning, tonal languages take this to the next level and actually use pitch to distinguish between words. So, since musical training primes you to distinguish the different notes you’re playing or listening to, it makes sense that you’ll develop a better ear for them in spoken language as well. In fact, the effect works both ways. Native speakers of tonal languages, such as Cantonese, seem to have a leg up when it comes to processing pitch and tone.
Music will help your concentration
For millennia, different cultures have used music to put the brain into alternate states, out of which one has to do with concentration. While, again, it’s not entirely certain how music helps you concentrate, it is clear that it does. It might have something to do with giving your subconscious something to process while you consciously dedicate yourself to learning. Whatever it is, experimenters in Stanford did seem to confirm that music helps your brain to pay attention for longer.
You should, however, be quite mindful of what type of music you choose as your background when studying. It should be something pleasant so that it doesn’t start to annoy you and yet mellow enough to keep you focused on learning. Check out this blog post if you need further help in choosing.
Learn vocabulary through song
Another way music will help you improve your fluency is by making learning new vocabulary a lot easier. Listening to music in your target language will help you pick up new words a lot quicker than word lists because music simply has a way of sticking in your head.
You can use this effect to your advantage in several ways. For example, if you’re having trouble memorising new vocabulary, you should try setting it to rhythm. This makes even word lists into songs and that much easier to learn, as researchers at the University of Edinburgh demonstrated. Another way is to learn new vocabulary directly from songs. If you have a favourite song in your target language, it can be excellent practice to look up the lyrics since the tune has already made them easier to remember.
Sing like a native speaker
Another excellent reason to dedicate your time to learning about the music in your target language is improving your pronunciation. All singers (but especially classical ones) go through extensive training to help their diction while performing. You can use this over-pronunciation to your advantage when learning your target language by watching your favourite singers very closely and then trying to mimic what they’re doing.
Yet another great thing about music is that it cries for repetition. Once you’ve learned a few songs in your target language, it’ll be easy to simply keep going over them again and again, committing both the lyrics and correct sounds to memory. This relentless repetition will do wonders for your accent without you even having to think about it.
Motivation is music to my ears
You can also use music as a source of motivation when learning your target language. After all, few things are as inspiring as the right tune at the right time. Finding something you’re passionate about in your target language is key to keeping yourself motivated, so dedicate some time to learning about the artists performing in the language you’re trying to learn. Find some (or many), whose music you enjoy. Appreciating their art will provide plenty of motivation to you to keep improving your language skills.
Conclusion – Music provides many benefits for language learners
Research has shown that children who have music lessons growing up, will have an easier time learning a foreign language, and the effects are especially clear when it comes to tonal languages. But even if you haven’t learned to play an instrument, music can provide other benefits. For example, you can learn about the artists in your target language to keep yourself motivated, use song lyrics to memorise vocabulary, or even improve your pronunciation through singing in the shower. Add to that the cognitive benefits you can reap by choosing the right background music, and you’ll see how music is really a language learner’s best friend.