Let the Music Speak: Examining the Relationship Between Music and Language Aptitude in Pre-school Children

  • Markus ChristinerEmail author
Part of the English Language Education book series (ELED, volume 16)


Research focusing on musical expertise and its relation to language function has gained increasingly more interest in the past decade. Various interdisciplinary investigations focusing on musical expertise and language functions reported positive correlations between both faculties. Evidence, therefore, is mounting that musical abilities (e.g. singing ability and the instrument playing) and working memory capacity are the most important mechanisms for predicting individual differences in imitating, memorizing and repeating unfamiliar (foreign) speech material among adults. Most investigations, however, tested people who were musically trained leading to the fact that educational influence undeniably was impacting the performances of individuals. Thirty-six pre-school children with no training in music and foreign language learning between the ages 5 and 6 were tested for their ability to discriminate paired musical statements (PMMA), their singing ability, their ability to remember strings of numbers and their ability to repeat Turkish a language that was completely unfamiliar to the participants. The results revealed that the participants who performed better in the musicality test also had better results in the imitation tasks and possessed high working memory capacity compared to their peers who scored lower in musicality measurements. It can therefore be concluded that musical expertise and talent for speech imitation are linked in children. It seems to be the case that there are innate factors which predetermine musical expertise and positively affect speech imitation aptitude as well. Moreover, the success rate in language and music acquisition processes can be seen as based on both innate and educational factors.


  1. Aliaga-García, C., Mora, J. C., & Cerviño-Povedano, E. (2011). L2 speech learning in adulthood and phonological short-term memory. Poznań Studies in Contemporary Linguistics PSiCL, 47, 1–14. Scholar
  2. Baddeley, A. D. (2003). Working memory: Looking back and looking forward. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 4, 829–839. Scholar
  3. Bangert, M., Peschel, T., Schlaug, G., Drescher, D., Hinrichs, H., Heinze, H.-J., & Altenmüller, E. (2006). Shared networks for auditory and motor processing in professional pianists: Evidence from fMRI conjunction. NeuroImage, 30, 917–926. Scholar
  4. Benner, U. (2005). Syllables in speech production: A study of the mental syllabary. Linguistic Master thesis at the University of Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany.Google Scholar
  5. Bunge, S. A., & Wright, S. B. (2007). Neurodevelopmental changes in working memory and cognitive control. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 17, 243–250. Scholar
  6. Buschkuehl, M., Jaeggi, S. M., & Jonides, J. (2012). Neuronal effects following working memory training. [supplemental material]. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 2, 167–179. Scholar
  7. Cerviño-Povedano, E., & Mora, J. C. (2015). Spanish EFL learners’ identification of /iː–I/ and phonological short-term memory. In Proceedings of the 32nd International Conference of the Spanish Association of Applied Linguistics (AESLA): Language Industries and Social Change. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 173, 18–23. Scholar
  8. Christiner, M., & Reiterer, S. M. (2013). Song and speech: Examining the link between singing talent and speech imitation ability. Frontiers in Psychology, 4(874).
  9. Christiner, M., & Reiterer, S. M. (2015). A mozart is not a pavarotti: Singers outperform instrumentalists on foreign accent imitation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9(482).
  10. Christiner, M., & Reiterer, S. M. (2016). Music, song and speech: A closer look at the interfaces between musicality, singing and individual differences in phonetic language aptitude. In G. Granema, D. O. Jackson, & Y. Yilmaz (Eds.), Cognitive individual differences in second language processing and acquisition (pp. 131–156). Amsterdam: John Benjamis. Scholar
  11. Christiner, M., Rüdegger, S., Reiterer, S. M. (2017). Sing Chinese and tap tagalog? Predicting individual differences in musical and phonetic aptitude using language families differing by sound-typology. International Journal of Multilingualism. Scholar
  12. Costa-Giomi, E. (2003). Young children’s harmonic perception. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 999, 477–484. Scholar
  13. Daneman, M., & Merikle, P. M. (1996). Working memory and language comprehension: A meta-analysis. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 3, 422–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. DeCasper, A. J., & Fifer, W. P. (1980). Of human bonding: Newborns prefer their mothers’ voices. Science New Series, 208, 1174–1176.Google Scholar
  15. Fitzpatrick, C., & Pagani, L. S. (2012). Toddler working memory skills predict kindergarten school readiness. Intelligence, 40, 205–212. Scholar
  16. Fonseca-Mora, C., Jara-Jiménez, P., & Gómez-Domínguez, M. (2015). Musical plus phonological input for young foreign language readers. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 286. Scholar
  17. Gagné, F. (2005). From gifts to talents: The DMGT as a developmental model. In R. J. Sternberg & J. E. Davidson (Eds.), Conceptions of Giftedness (2nd ed., pp. 98–119). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gathercole, S. E., Alloway, T. P., Willis, C., & Adams, A.-M. (2006). Working memory in children with reading disabilities. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 93, 265–281. Scholar
  19. Gordon, E. E. (2003). A music learning theory for newborn and young children. Chicago: GIA.Google Scholar
  20. Gordon, E. E. (2006). Primary measures of music audiation. Chicago: GIA.Google Scholar
  21. Halwani, G. F., Loui, P., Rüber, T., & Schlaug, G. (2011). Effects of practice and experience on the arcuate fasciculus: Comparing singers, instrumentalists and non-musicians. Frontiers in Psychology, 2(156), 156. Scholar
  22. Hannon, E. E., & Trainor, L. J. (2007). Music acquisition: Effects of enculturation and formal training on development. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11, 466–472. Scholar
  23. Hannon, E. E., & Trehub, S. E. (2005). Tuning in to musical rhythms: Infants learn more readily than adults. PNAS, 102, 12639–12643. Scholar
  24. Hu, X., Ackermann, H., Martin, J. A., Erb, M., Winkler, S., & Reiterer, S. (2013). Language aptitude for pronunciation in advanced second language (L2) learners: Behavioural predictors and neural substrates. Brain & Language, 127, 366–376. Scholar
  25. Iverson, J. M. (2010). Developing language in a developing body: The relationship between motor development and language development. Journal of Child Language, 37, 229–261. Scholar
  26. Jaeggi, S. M., Buschkuehl, M., Jonides, J., & Shah, P. (2011). Short- and longterm benefits of cognitive training. PNAS, 108(25), 10081–10086. Scholar
  27. Juffs, A., & Harrington, M. (2011). Aspects of working memory in L2 learning. Language Teaching, 44, 137–166. Scholar
  28. Kleber, B., Veit, R., Birbaumer, N., Gruzelier, J., & Lotze, M. (2010). The brain of opera singers: Experience-dependent changes in functional activation. Cerebral Cortex, 20, 1144–1152. Scholar
  29. Klingberg, T., Forssberg, H., & Westerberg, H. (2002). Training of working memory in children with ADHD. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 24, 781–791. Scholar
  30. Koelsch, S., Schulze, K., Sammler, D., Fritz, T., Müller, K., & Gruber, O. (2009). Functional architecture of verbal and tonal working memory: An fMRI study. Human Brain Mapping, 30, 859–873. Scholar
  31. Kuhl, P. K. (2004). Early language acquisition: Cracking the speech code. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 5, 831–843. Scholar
  32. Linck, J. A., Osthus, P., Koeth, J. T., & Bunting, M. F. (2014). Working memory and second language comprehension and production: A meta-analysis. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 21, 861–883. Scholar
  33. Loosli, S. V., Buschkuehl, M., Perrig, W. J., & Jaeggi, S. M. (2012). Working memory training improves reading processes in typically developing children. Child Neuropsychology, 18(1), 62–78. Scholar
  34. McMullen, E., & Saffran, J. R. (2004). Music and language: A developmental comparison. Music Perception, 21, 289–311. Scholar
  35. Milovanov, R. (2009). Musical aptitude and foreign language learning skills: Neural and behavioural evidence about their connections. In Proceedings of the 7th triennial conference of European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music (ESCOM 2009), 338–342.Google Scholar
  36. Moreno, S., Bialystok, E., Barac, R., Schellenberg, G. E., Cepeda, N. J., & Chau, T. (2011). Short-term music training enhances verbal intelligence and executive function. Psychological Science, 22, 1425–1433. Scholar
  37. Moreno, S., Marques, C., Santos, A., Santos, M., Castro, L. S., & Besson, M. (2009). Musical training influences linguistic abilities in 8-year-old children: More evidence for brain plasticity. Cerebral Cortex, 19, 712–723. Scholar
  38. Moyer, A. (2014). What’s age got to do with it? Accounting for individual factors in second language accent. Studies Second Languages Learning Teacher, 4, 443–464. Scholar
  39. Murphey, T. (1990). The song stuck in my head phenomenon: A melodic din in the lad? System, 18, 53–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Nardo, D., & Reiterer, S. (2009). Musicality and phonetic language aptitude. In G. Dogil & S. Reiterer (Eds.), Language talent and brain activity (pp. 213–256). Berlin, Germany: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  41. Oikkonen, J., Huang, Y., Onkamo, P., Ukkola-Vuoti, L., Raijas, P., Karma, K., & Vieland, V. J. (2015). A genome-wide linkage and association study of musical aptitude identifies loci containing genes related to inner ear development and neurocognitive functions. Molecular Psychiatry, 20, 275–282. Scholar
  42. Pastuszek-Lipinska, B. (2008). Influence of music education on second language acquisition. In Proceedings of Acoustics ’08 Paris, 5125–5130.Google Scholar
  43. Patel, A. D. (2008). Music, language, and the brain. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Patel, A. D. (2011). Why would musical training benefit the neural encoding of speech? The opera hypothesis. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 142. Scholar
  45. Patel, A. D., & Daniele, J. R. (2003). An empirical comparison of rhythm in language and music. Cognition, 87, B35–B45. Scholar
  46. Reiterer, S., Hu, X., Erb, M., Rota, G., Nardo, D., Grodd, W., et al. (2011). Individual differences in audio-vocal speech imitation aptitude in late bilinguals: Functional neuro-imaging and brain morphology. Frontiers in Psychology, 2(271).
  47. Roman, A. S., Pisoni, D. B., & Kronenberger, W. G. (2014). Assessment of working memory capacity in preschool children using the missing scan task. Infant and Child Development, 23, 575–587. Scholar
  48. Rota, G., & Reiterer, S. M. (2009). Cognitive aspects of language talent. In G. Dogil & S. M. Reiterer (Eds.), Language talent and brain activity. Berlin, Germany: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  49. Schön, D., Magne, C., & Besson, M. (2004). The music of speech: Music training facilitates pitch processing in both music and language. Psychophysiology, 41(3), 341–349. Scholar
  50. Schulze, K., & Koelsch, S. (2012). Working memory for speech and music. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1252, 229–236. Scholar
  51. Schulze, K., Zysset, S., Mueller, K., Friederici, A. D., & Koelsch, S. (2011). Neuroarchitecture of verbal and tonal working memory in nonmusicians and musicians. Human Brain Mapping, 32, 771–783. Scholar
  52. Skehan, P. (1998). A cognitive approach to language learning. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Sloboda, J. A. (2005). Exploring the musical mind: Cognition, emotion, ability, function. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Strait, D. L., Hornickel, J., & Kraus, N. (2011). Subcortical processing of speech regularities underlies reading and music aptitude in children. Behavioral and Brain Functions, 7(7), 44. Scholar
  55. Thompson, W. F., Schellenberg, G. E., & Husain, G. (2004). Decoding speech prosody: Do music lessons help? Emotion, 4, 46–64. Scholar
  56. Wechsler, D. (1939). The Measurement of adult intelligence. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins. Scholar
  57. Williamson, V. J., Baddeley, A. D., & Hitch, G. J. (2010). Musicians’ and nonmusicians’ short-term memory for verbal and musical sequences: Comparing phonological similarity and pitch proximity. Memory & Cognition, 38, 163–175. Scholar
  58. Wong, P. C. M., & Perrachione, T. K. (2007). Learning pitch patterns in lexical identification by native English-speaking adults. Applied Psycholinguistics, 28, 565–585. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Linguistics and Centre for Teacher Education, Unit for Language Learning and Teaching ResearchUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria

Personalised recommendations