Singing helps you learn a new language
I don’t know about you but back in the 80s…ahem, I learnt my times tables along to a ‘rap’ tape ( oh yes! it had beats and everything) and the UK based ‘Sing Up! in schools has proved really popular in primary schools. So this article featuring the connection between learning a language and sing was really fascinating.
Singing, rather than saying, phrases in a foreign language makes them easier to remember, and can make learning a second language easier, according to new research.
A new study published in the journal in Memory and Cognition, has found that adults learning phrases in Hungarian were better able to match the words with their English counterparts when they learned the phrase by singing it.
Lead author, linguist Dr Karen M Ludke of the University of Edinburgh, became interested in whether singing could help in learning a language when she was teaching English as a second language in New York.
“I started using a lot of song and music in my lessons, so they could practise when I wasn’t around,” she says.
“Then I started to doubt myself a little bit. I thought, ‘Is this scientific?, Is this actually beneficial to use song to teach?'”
“I started to look into it, using Google Scholar to find out what research there was out there, and I did find a lot of stuff from teachers [saying it worked], but I couldn’t find anything that actually compared singing with a spoken presentation.”
Ludke decided to answer the question herself and enrolled for a Masters and then a PhD.
In her study, sixty people aged between 18 and 29 were split into three groups.
It’s all Hungarian to me
One group heard spoken English phrases followed by a spoken Hungarian translation, another group heard the Hungarian phrase being sung, and a third group heard the Hungarian phrases being spoken with the same rhythm as the song, rather like a chant.
She says Hungarian was chosen as the test language because it is unfamiliar to most English speakers and it is quite different from both the Germanic languages and the Romance languages such as French and Italian.
The study results showed that people who had heard the Hungarian phrases being sung performed significantly better than the other groups. In particular, when they heard the English phrases again they were better able to repeat the correct Hungarian phrase. And they were more likely to be able to translate the Hungarian phrases back into English as well.
Powerful mnemonic device
Commenting on the work, Professor Michael Thaut of Colorado State University says it is an interesting and well-designed study, which shows the importance of melody, in particular, in helping us to remember things.
But he feels there is more to learning a second language than just being able to recall phrases without necessarily understanding them.
“Learning a language involves many different processes such as vocabulary learning, sentence structure, grammar and practising speaking,” he says, and he thinks singing may not necessarily help with all of these.
“I think it is more of a memory study than actual cognitive learning.”
He’s not surprised that singing phrases led to better recall than hearing them spoken in a rhythm.
“In all musical tests when we clap rhythms or play melodies, melody has the more salient features,” he says.
“I think what they’ve demonstrated [confirms] the general idea that music is a very powerful mnemonic device,” he concludes.
Ludke thinks there may be more to it than just improving memory, but further research needs to be done.
“This study really just opens the door for future research because there are so many different questions still to answer,” she says.