The Music of Language

Did you see the fascinating recent article in Time about the connection between early piano lessons and language ability?  http://time.com/5322121/music-lessons-language-learning/

The findings resonate because I have long had strong feelings about the connection between musical ability and facility for languages. While it’s only anecdotal, I notice that many people around me with good musical ears also have good ears for language. (and more than a few people around me who lack a musical ear have difficulty with their foreign language pronunciation) For example, I have a beloved older cousin who regularly played piano from the time he was a little boy well into middle age. He also grew up to become fluent in Mandarin, Russian, Hungarian, and German. And I have always credited my own music lessons starting at age 8 for my interest in and ease in pronouncing a variety of languages. That facility has occasionally gotten me into minor trouble, too, because my native-sounding pronunciation far exceeds my limited vocabulary in some languages, creating some awkward exchanges. (That will have to be the topic of a future blog in the category of humor!)

There really is a “music” to spoken language — mastering the articulation, tempo, and rhythm of the words adds another layer of communication and nuance beyond the vocabulary and grammar.  I’m reminded of the hilarious scene in the classic 1966 film THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, when the stranded Russian submariners try to pass themselves off as New Englanders, walking the streets saying earnestly, “ee-MAIR-gen-cee … everybody to get from street!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOZuLD1u_K4

The study in the Time article looked specifically at the connection between children who had piano lessons, while speculating that the music/language connection may well exist for those learning other instruments, too. I will not be at all surprised if/when greater connections are revealed between music and language.

What about you? Did your early musical training help you with language learning? Do you hear the music in language, too? What did you think of the Time article?

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