Learning a foreign language can change the way the brain processes music


Research has shown that a music-related hobby improves language skills and affects speech processing in the brain. The reverse is also happening, according to a new study: learning foreign languages ​​can affect the processing of music in the brain.

Research director Mari Tervaniemi of the Faculty of Education, University of Helsinki, in cooperation with researchers from Peking Normal University (BNU) and University of Turku, studied the link in the brain between language acquisition and music processing in Chinese elementary school students aged 8-11 by following, for one school year, children who have completed a music training program and similar language program English.

Brain responses associated with auditory processing were measured in children before and after the programs. Tervaniemi compared the results to those of children who attended other training programs.

“The results demonstrated that music and the language program had an impact on the neural processing of auditory signals,” explains Tervaniemi.

Learning outcomes range from language acquisition to music

Surprisingly, participation in the English training program improved the processing of musically relevant sounds, especially in terms of pitch processing.

“One possible explanation for this finding is the children’s linguistic background, as understanding Chinese, which is a tonal language, is largely based on the perception of tone, which potentially endowed study subjects with the ability to use precisely this trait when learning. new things. This is why participation in the language training program facilitated early neural auditory processes more than musical training.

Tervaniemi says the findings support the idea that musical and linguistic brain functions are closely related in the developing brain. Music and language acquisition modulate auditory perception. However, whether they produce similar or different results in the brain development of 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 one year later after the program.

During the musical training, the children had the opportunity to sing a lot: they learned to sing both from hand signs and from sheet music. The language training program emphasized the combination of spoken and written English, that is, simultaneous learning. At the same time, the English language uses a different spelling than Chinese. The hour-long program sessions were held twice a week after school at the school premises throughout the school year, with around 20 children and two teachers attending at a time.

“In both programs, the children liked the course content which was very interactive and included many ways to promote communication between the children and the teacher”, explains the teacher. Sha Tao who led the study in Beijing.


Barbier G, Merzouki R, Bal M, Baum SR, Shiller DM. Visual feedback from the tongue influences the adaptation of speech to a physical change in the oral cavity. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 2021; 150 (2): 718-733. doi: 10.1121 / 10.0005520

This article has been republished from the following documents. Note: Material may have been edited for length and content. For more information, please contact the cited source.

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