Can Listening to Music Help Your Child with Language Development and Reading Comprehension?
As an adult, you probably have preferences when it comes to listening to music while doing something that requires a lot of attention: studying for a test, for example, or reading a book. But what may be simple background noise to you might mean a whole lot more for your young child — particularly if they’re just beginning to pick up rudimentary language for reading and speaking.
Although some biologists argue that language is an innate skill, there have been studies done to show that listening to music can help children with their language development, all based around the idea that music closely mirrors the pitch, timbre, and tempo of everyday speech.
But the benefits don’t end with the infant years. Carrying a musical education into the formative years can go a long way toward helping develop reading comprehension skills, and even help children further recognize tricky spoken verbal cues.
It’s a moment all parents wait for eagerly: their child’s first word. Once an infant or toddler begins to speak, it’s common to breathe a sigh of relief and take comfort in the idea that the language is right there inside of them — they just need to learn how to express and comprehend it. Yet although reading books and constantly speaking to an infant is a typical parent’s teaching method, playing music also can help babies recognize the way sounds are put together.
A Frontiers in Psychology whitepaper discusses in depth how music is a speech all its own. “Speech is sound. Its acoustic attributes — pitch, rhythm, and timbre — can serve strictly musical purposes … Just as composers have made music out of speech, so too does every human voice. As adults, we learn to tone down the features of speech that do not contribute to meaning. In contrast, infants rely on a complete battery of musical information to learn speech: timbre, pitch, dynamic stress, and rhythm.”
The whitepaper builds upon the idea that babies can pick up on the language of music as a template of sorts when it comes to understanding speech: “Put another way, infants use the musical aspects of language as a scaffolding for the later development of semantic and syntactic aspects of language. Infants are not just listening for affective cues nor are they focused exclusively on meaning: they are listening for how their language is composed.”
Lastly, a research summary by ABC Music & Me points out that because music and language aren’t that far apart, a baby’s speech and reading development is greatly furthered if they can comprehend how music is put together first:
Where spoken language is comprised of a stream of connected phonemes, music is comprised of a series of discrete musical notes, or tones. Understanding a spoken sentence requires successfully auditory processing of the individual phonemes combined with the intonation communicated by pitch, and hearing music requires listening for the individual notes combined with their rhythmic values. Because of these fundamental similarities, the human brain processes music and language in some similar ways.
When an infant — and later a young child — applies the familiarity of melody to the way sentences are spoken aloud, there is a much stronger chance that they could begin to understand the language more quickly.