Academics from the Music Cognition & Communication Lab at Middlesex University London, published a study in the May 2019 journal Frontiers in Psychology that provides compelling and novel evidence about associations between musical skills and language development in preschoolers.
Lead authors, Dr Fabia Franco and Dr Nina Politimou, say that there is a gap in our understanding of the concurrent development of language and music skills across the pre-school years, starting from young 3-year-olds. In the study, forty 3 and 4 year-old children completed both a battery of novel musical tasks for very young children specifically designed for the project, and standardized tests of key language skills and non-verbal intelligence. The children’s parents provided information about music in their family, measured with a questionnaire later developed into Music@Home (Politimou, Stewart, Müllensiefen & Franco, 2018).
The authors were able to show for the first time the existence of systematic associations between distinct musical and linguistic skills, namely rhythm perception and production were the best predictors of phonological awareness, while melody perception was the best predictor of grammar acquisition. Importantly, these associations could not be explained by individual differences in the children’s general cognitive ability.
"These findings reveal part of the developmental trend of the music-language relationships and pave the way for the development of dedicated musical activities for pre-schoolers to support specific areas of language development." Dr Fabia Franco, Middlesex University
However, Dr Politimou highlights another key result from the study that children from more musically active families showed stronger connections between musical and linguistic skills, which suggests that musical play and singing may enhance interconnectivity between the areas of cognition that are engaged during these activities. The influence of informal musical activities occurring in families with young children had been so far neglected although research had already shown positive effects of formal musical training on language and cognition in adults and older children. By extending this kind of findings to informal engagements, this study revealed that higher levels of home music making, listening and singing can serve as scaffolding for the acquisition of early verbal skills.
Commenting on the study, Dr Franco said: “These findings reveal part of the developmental trend of the music-language relationships and pave the way for the development of dedicated musical activities for pre-schoolers to support specific areas of language development. This is relevant for both early years practitioners and parents, by suggesting musical enrichment as a powerful tool alongside other activities to potentially prevent language-learning difficulties, facilitate language development in challenging contexts (e.g., L2 acquisition in migrant children) and support language development in disadvantaged groups”.
This study was published as part of a special issue of the journal Frontiers in Psychology on “The Impact of Music on Human Development and Well-Being” and reported doctoral research conducted by Dr Nina Politimou under the supervision of Dr Fabia Franco at the Department of Psychology. It also involved a collaboration with Professor Simone Dalla Bella (International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research – BRAMS - in Montréal) and Dr Nicolas Faruggia (IMT Atlantique, France).
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