Do we learn to speak before we can sing? Or is singing instrumental in our language development? Several studies have drawn a powerful link between singing and speech development, highlighting the important role singing and music plays in all stages of life.
Many people take on singing at school or in their adulthood, however, it’s recommended that we are taught to sing from the very early stages of our life. Learning a foreign language? You wouldn’t believe how much singing can help! In this article, we will explore why our speech and language would not be the same without songs.
Singing and language development in children
As parents, it’s fascinating to watch children evolve their communication skills from gurgling, screeching, vocal play to speaking their first words. Those initial noises often sound more like singing rather than talking. Researchers have long known about the importance of singing in speech and language development, however, many children lack appropriate language and communication skills once they enter nursery or school. This often happens because parents haven’t helped them develop those vital forms of communication. You may think that more emphasis on reading, writing and numeracy will assist your child’s academic and language development, however, putting more emphasis on singing could actually help guarantee educational success. Singing to and with your child is one of the easiest and most effective ways to develop their language skills. We respond differently to live music, as opposed to recorded music, so hearing a parent sing boosts your child’s reciprocal communication abilities.
How does singing help?
Here are just some ways that singing and speech development have been linked to communication and language:
- Auditory discrimination – singing helps babies discriminate sounds in their native tongue, promoting language development
- Phonological awareness – classic nursery rhymes and other songs we listen to are full of alliteration and rhymes. These help your child develop phonological awareness, which promotes their literacy skills. Rhyming can be taught to children as young as 3 and it’s a really fun activity for them to enjoy!
- Enriching their vocabulary – singing helps your child discover new words and meanings, as well as teaching to construct sentences and phrases. This will make their vocabulary broader, which later helps in an academic setting.
- Improved memory – singing will assist in processing information, retaining and later repeating it, which is a crucial part of academic learning. Songs that build with each verse like ’12 Days of Christmas’ really help challenge their memory skills. You can also try singing to your child by changing dynamics, performing songs faster, slower, using different voices, as this will engage them with the activity.
Want to add more benefits? Move!
While singing on its own already enriches your child’s language development and acquisition, you can make the activity even more fun and engaging by adding movement. Music and dance go hand in hand, so including actions like clapping and encouraging them to dance along will also teach them rhythm, body awareness and balance, as they coordinate their movements to fit the music.
Sing your way to learning a new language
Many of us would love to learn another language. Often, we struggle with memorising anything more than a few basic phrases, and even if we succeed in mastering a language, it’s easy to forget if you’re not using it frequently. What’s the magical ingredient in helping you learn and retain a foreign language? You guessed it – singing. A study from 2013 chose English-speaking participants to learn Hungarian. This is a different language to master and English speakers are usually unfamiliar with it, which is why it was chosen for the study. The subjects were split into groups of twenty and performed a series of five tests. The groups then had to listen to and repeat spoken words, the phrases were repeated rhythmically or sung. Each were given 15 minutes of learning and then had to perform a series of tests to measure their abilities. The group who had learned the language through singing performed the best in all exercises, and even twice as well as the rest in one of the tests. When tested for their long-term memory and language retention, the singing group were able to recall Hungarian phrases much better than the other participants. Importantly, the participants didn’t sing the phrases during the tests, they simply learned through singing.
Your brain on singing
While this study was one of the first of its kind, it is actually unsurprising why we find it easier to memorise and recall information through singing. You probably find it easy to remember lyrics from your favourite songs that you love to sing along to. These stay with you for years to come, right? Singing and music, in general, engages both parts of your brain, and not just certain spots but large, meaningful areas of it. This level of engagement helps us develop our brains and retain information much more effectively when we add singing and music to our learning experience.
Singing and speech therapy
Not only is singing instrumental in our speech and language development, but it is also an effective tool in speech and language therapy. Singing and literacy are often seen as two separate activities, and many specialists focus on speech when working with clients in speech and voice therapy. If the same vocal structure is used for speaking, it is possible and even effective to include singing in a therapy setting. This has been proven successful in patients who have lost some of their speaking abilities due to stroke and have found it easier to sing their words instead. It can be explained by the simple fact that singing uses the right side of the brain, therefore, if damage is incurred on the left hemisphere, patients may still be able to sing their words as an effective way of regaining their communication skills.
Melodic Intonation Therapy has also been used in children with speech disorders like Apraxia, where the brain can understand words but the mouth is struggling to form them. Singing speech language therapy can take on many forms and will vary across different therapists and their clients. Some use piano to help with singing, while others use rhythmic tapping instead. As children progress in speech therapy, they will move on to silent singing, whereby, if they’re having trouble with a word or a phrase, they will be asked to imagine singing it first, instead of actually vocalising it out loud.
Singing, speech and aging
As we age, we experience changes in our body, including our voice. Women experience a reduction in pitch, while men show an increase in their vocal pitch. Due to cognitive decline, we may also see a decline in our control of speech and language function. Some elders with diseases like Alzheimer’s may lose their ability to speak, but, are still able to sing in their native language. That is why singing can be such an important tool in maintaining our brain health and slowing cognitive decline into late adulthood. Attending local choirs and singing groups, and simply singing together as a fun activity can bring numerous health benefits to yourself as an adult, as well as your elder, so be sure to consider implementing this hobby into your lifestyle.
It is amazing to see the enrichment singing can bring to people of all stages and walks of life, from early years to language enthusiasts, and those with speech and vocal disorders. It is a powerful tool at our disposal that requires little to no equipment yet brings endless benefits to our life.
Want to enjoy singing and improve your vocal?
We offer beginner singing lessons for adults in London. Our team of experts will give you the necessary tools and knowledge so you can progress in your vocal abilities while keeping those precious vocal cords healthy and supple. Contact us today to find out more about our adult singing lessons.
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