Rhythm, movement and language learning

Published 15th October 2013
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I was reading an article on BBC news the other day, about this very interesting research on the way moving to a steady beat is closely linked to better language skills. We already suspected that music and language are somehow linked, but it seems that researchers are determined to further investigate the issue, now extending it to rhythmic motor activity.

According to a report published in the Journal of Neuroscience, practising music could improve other skills, particularly reading, as rhythm is an integral part of language. Indeed, a team of researchers tested the hypothesis by means of experimenting with more than 100 teenagers. Participants were tested on the basis of their ability to tap their fingers to a steady beat, and the electrical activity in their brain in response to sound was measured with electrodes. What was found is that those who had better musical training also had enhanced neural responses to speech sounds.

Nina Kraus, of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University in Illinois, argues that “kids who are poor readers have a lot of difficulty doing this motor task and following the beat”.

“It seems that the same ingredients that are important for reading are strengthened with musical experience. It may be that musical training – with its emphasis on rhythmic skills – can exercise the auditory-system, leading to less neural jitter and stronger sound-to-meaning associations that are so essential for learning to read”, added professor Kraus.

This study adds to the emerging (and fascinating!) correlation between musical-rhythmic skills and performance in other areas related to language, highlighting the importance of alternative methods of teaching which also embrace non-verbal elements, such as kinaesthetic learning.

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