Singing can facilitate foreign language learning

Abstract

This study presents the first experimental evidence that singing can facilitate short-term paired-associate phrase learning in an unfamiliar language (Hungarian). Sixty adult participants were randomly assigned to one of three “listen-and-repeat” learning conditions: speaking, rhythmic speaking, or singing. Participants in the singing condition showed superior overall performance on a collection of Hungarian language tests after a 15-min learning period, as compared with participants in the speaking and rhythmic speaking conditions. This superior performance was statistically significant (p < .05) for the two tests that required participants to recall and produce spoken Hungarian phrases. The differences in performance were not explained by potentially influencing factors such as age, gender, mood, phonological working memory ability, or musical ability and training. These results suggest that a “listen-and-sing” learning method can facilitate verbatim memory for spoken foreign language phrases.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    An additional eight students completed the experiment but were excluded from the analysis due to technical problems with the audio recording equipment (four participants) or a score higher than 50% on the multiple-choice Hungarian vocabulary pretest (four participants).

  2. 2.

    At least in part, this result was due to the two high-performing female outliers in this group.

  3. 3.

    Wilks’s lambda was used for the multivariate F tests because we used more than two groups.

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Author note

We thank Krisztina Nagy, Zsuzsanna Kontra, Lucinda Smallman, and Pat Power for their time and help with this study. We also thank the anonymous reviewers who provided useful feedback on an earlier version of this article. This experiment was supported by funding from the Reid School of Music and by a College Award from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Edinburgh.

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Correspondence to Karen M. Ludke.

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Ludke, K.M., Ferreira, F. & Overy, K. Singing can facilitate foreign language learning. Mem Cogn 42, 41–52 (2014). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13421-013-0342-5

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Keywords

  • Verbal memory
  • Foreign language learning
  • Singing
  • Speaking
  • Rhythm