Music, memory and language learning

Combining language and music seems to be a effective way of learning. The rhythmic nature of music can apparently stimulate parts of your brain that ordinary studying cannot reach, and this makes words and phrases stick in your memory. Moreover, listening to music is something that most people enjoy, so it can make learning enjoyable and perhaps makes you more receptive to new information.

The Suggestopedia teaching method, developed by the Bulgarian doctor and psychotherapist Georgi Lozanov, uses carefully selected classical music to help make student’s feel relaxed and receptive. Has anybody experienced this?

I certainly enjoy learning songs in other languages. In fact it was partly or mainly music that sparked my interest in quite a few languages, particularly Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Spanish and Portuguese. When listening to foreign songs I find it quite difficult to understand them, but after hearing them many times I start to pick out some of the lyrics. Sometimes I’m listening to a song and suddenly realise what part of it means – it’s like a picture that’s come into focus after being a bit fuzzy. Moments like that help sustain my enthusiasm for language learning.


This entry was posted in Language, Memory, Music.

11 Responses to Music, memory and language learning

  1. TJ says:

    Yep, it’s music for me also that made me go deeper into languages.
    Mainly, the greatest achievment my brain did for my case is in the field of Hebrew. Though it is close to Arabic but I can’t understand it easily just like that (and yet I’m not a hebrew speaker) but for now after listening to some songs for Eyal Golan specifically (I like his accent because he speaks the eastern hebrew which is close in sounds to Arabic rather than western one) I can say I learnt more words from him and from reading the lyrics of his songs. Also, I like Sarit Hadad, but I can’t understand much of it because she uses the western hebrew!

    I’m trying to look for more breton songs (mainly for Denez Prigent) and finally I could collect the lyrics for his famous folk song “Ar Rannoù” (the numbers, the series). It is a folk song sung long time ago in Brittany even long before the advent of Christianity they say, and it was sang by farmers while they do their work. I got the full lyrics but in fact Denez Prigent doesn’t sing all of it but only few parts of it and that was the challenge! To collect the pieces together and trying to catch the sounds from the song, and it is in a rap style (I don’t listen to rap at all but this one is a must!).

  2. Sean says:

    If I’m not mistaken, Suggestopedia also heavily relied on things like guided visualization and subliminal messaging…Lozanov was keen to get language learners “over themselves” (not his terminology) and into a more emotionally and mentally relaxed state for learning. It’s all a bit new-agey for my personal taste, but I think the research on the positive effect of Baroque (Mozart is often mentioned…he came at the tail end of that movement) on cognitive stimulation is pretty sound. (no pun intended)
    As for the other commenter’s slightly different suggestion of using music with lyrics sung in your target language…that’s something I’ve always enjoyed. Singing has formed an important part of my language classes, because I find that it puts the language into a rhythmic context that seems to stimulate the students’ memory and gets them all actively participating.
    When I first started studying Russian years ago, I included poetry as an important part of my language study. I found the natural cadence of Russian in poetry to be a powerful tool for me. I memorized dozens of poems which have stuck with me for more than ten years.

  3. Sam says:

    I haven’t experienced it, but it certainly sounds plausible.

    I’ve been in language classes where we learned Christmas carols in French and Spanish, and the idea of translating a song from one language to another fascinated me. The lyrics have to fit the tune, and there’s a whole other question of rhythm. It seems easier to memorize words with music than without.

    Music might also help students to learn intonation. As a former English as a Second Language instructor, I’ve noticed that students are easier to understand when they get the intonation right even if there are lots of pronunciation errors.

  4. PJ says:

    I have found that music is an invaluable tool for me when learning language. As a classical singer (both solo and choral) I need to learn a smattering of many languages. It’s not enough to simply be able to pronounce the words, one must also have a sense of what one is singing, in order to interpret and communicate effectively with the audience. Ideally, one should know precisely the meaning of each word, and colour them appropriately. A good example of this is a song in Icelandic that I particularly enjoy singing. The high point of the piece occurs on the word graetur (the ‘ae’ should be a digraph) meaning weep or cry. If the singer does not know this, he/she could easily give the high note entirely the wrong character.
    I attribute my success in learning Icelandic to my choral experience. I attended the University of Iceland for only two years, but joined the University Choir and many other community choirs as soon as I arrived. During the first year, I learned many pieces by rote without really understanding everything I was singing. As I progressed through the language course, I found that:
    A) my pronunciation of the language was better than most students, because I had to learn to match the native speakers in the choir
    B) as I learned new concepts, terminology and grammatical constructs in class, I’d often remember a phrase from a memorized song, reinforcing the new information, and since it was already memorized, it instantly became a part of my lexicon
    C) I had more confidence in forming sentences, because I knew when a certain ending or structure sounded ‘natural’. When in doubt, I could refer to the memorized songs as a mnemonic
    D) because of the memorization, matching and listening involved in choral singing, I quickly moved from a written and translational learning style to an aural, imitative learning style
    E) the close personal relationships I developed in the choir made it easier to immerse myself in the language and culture. My fellow choristers were always eager to assist me in learning, and often refused to allow any other languages in conversation with me
    With regards to other languages, the structure and rhythm of the music makes it easier for me to begin learning. Not only does this help in learning the correct pronunciation of words, but also for getting a sense of the meaning. Important words that are essential to the sense of the text are emphasized in the musical phrasing and rhythm (cf. the word ‘graetur’ in the first paragraph), while unimportant words are de-emphasized. One soon learns to equate the secondary words (conjunctions and pronouns) from one piece to the next, and identify the words that convey the meaning.

  5. Cameron says:

    This is very true, it helped me learn Spanish quickly.

  6. Self Help says:

    Yeah I agree with this…..

  7. Don Lapre says:

    Regardless of the situation, I still feel very strongly about our prior discussion. Don

  8. I have experienced this myself and was wondering why there wasn’t any studies about it . At least I did not see anyone before this. Thanks for the post and the links to sources too.

    Don Lapre is a Superstar

  9. Kate says:

    Whre can I find out more information about this topic?

  10. Kisakookoo says:

    Hi! Why I can’t fill my info in profile? Can somebody help me?
    My login is Kisakookoo!

  11. Grace Lin says:

    Hi, dear friends,

    I am a Mandarin Chinese teacher from Taiwan.My beginning students in Thailand are happy to follow my way to sing songs for learning the pronunciation of Mandarin.
    I think this way make their studies easier and more fun. I would like to share this result with you.

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