Research has shown that a music-related hobby boosts language skills and affects speech processing in the brain. According to a new study, the reverse also happens: learning foreign languages can affect music processing in the brain.
Research director Mari Tervaniemi from the Faculty of Educational Sciences of the University of Helsinki investigated, in cooperation with researchers from Beijing Normal University (BNU) and the University of Turku, the link in the brain between language acquisition and music processing in Chinese elementary school students aged 8-11 by following, over a school year, children who had undergone a music training program and a similar program for the English language . Brain responses associated with auditory processing were measured in the children before and after the programs. Tervaniemi compared the results to those of children who had completed other training programs.
“The results demonstrated that the music and language program impacted neural processing of auditory cues,” Tervaniemi said.
Learning outcomes range from language acquisition to music
Surprisingly, participation in the English training program improved the processing of musically relevant sounds, particularly in terms of pitch processing.
“A possible explanation for the finding is the children’s linguistic background, as understanding Chinese, which is a tonal language, is largely based on pitch perception, which potentially equipped the study subjects with the ability to use precisely that trait when learning, which is why participation in the language training program facilitated early neural auditory processes more than musical training.
Tervaniemi says the findings support the notion that musical and linguistic brain functions are closely linked in the developing brain. Music and language acquisition modulate auditory perception. However, whether they produce similar or different results in brain development in school-aged children has not been systematically investigated in previous studies.
At the start of the training programs, the number of children studied using electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings was 120, of whom more than 80 also participated in EEG recordings a year later after the program.
In musical training, the children had the opportunity to sing a lot: they were taught to sing both hand signs and sheet music. The language training program emphasized the combination of spoken and written English, ie simultaneous learning. At the same time, the English language uses a different spelling from Chinese. The one-hour program sessions were held twice a week after school on school premises throughout the school year, with around 20 children and two teachers attending at a time.
“In both programs, the children liked the content of the lessons which was very interactive and had many ways to promote communication between the children and the teacher”, explains Professor Sha Tao who led the study in Beijing.
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Material provided by University of Helsinki. Original written by Mari Peltonen. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.