NEWS Mental Health News A Developing Brain May Process Music Differently When Learning a Foreign Language By Krystal Jagoo Krystal Jagoo Krystal Kavita Jagoo is a social worker, committed to anti-oppressive practice, who has worked for three academic institutions across Canada. Her essay, “Inclusive Reproductive Justice,” was in the Reproductive Justice Briefing Book. Learn about our editorial process Updated on August 20, 2021 Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Nicholas Blackmer Fact checked by Nicholas Blackmer LinkedIn Nick Blackmer is a librarian, fact-checker, and researcher with more than 20 years’ experience in consumer-oriented health and wellness content. He keeps a DSM-5 on hand just in case. Learn about our editorial process Share Tweet Email Print Studio Omg / Getty Images Key Takeaways Group-based foreign language learning had a greater impact than music training on children's auditory predictive processes. The music program facilitated pitch encoding when focused on basic sound features. Musical and linguistic functions appear to be closely linked in the developing brain. Extra-curricular activities are often encouraged from a young age, but different activities have varied effects on the brain. A study published in Cerebral Cortex found that when children partook in foreign language classes it affected how their brains processed music as well, particularly in facilitating the processing of auditory signals. This research highlights the link between music and language in developing brains and emphasizes the importance of exposing children to both activities in order to strengthen auditory processing skills. Understanding the Research This longitudinal study was conducted among elementary school students aged 8–11 in China, whereby electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings were assessed before and after completion of various training programs. Researchers found causal evidence that a group-based foreign language training program facilitated neural auditory processing more than a music program when both were provided with similar content and intensity. Despite these novel research findings, a limitation of this study is that its participants all spoke Mandarin as their first language and were learning English, so this may not be easily generalizable to other groups. How Music Can Be Therapeutic Language Learning Should Be Promoted Behavioral health medical director at Community Health of South Florida, psychiatrist Howard Pratt, DO, says, “More research is needed to make definitive conclusions, but I think it points to the issue that the more kids are exposed to different languages, but music as well, that education is likely to have a positive effect on their overall academics.” Since funding issues tend to be addressed by cuts to the arts, Pratt explains how this research demonstrates the value of such programs. “We always like to stress math and science, which of course are very important, but equally important is exposure to music and different languages,” he says. Pratt says, “This research bolsters the greater body of research that has shown that music and language education help improve performance in other areas like math and science. They are vital parts of a well-rounded curriculum and countless studies have shown that they have immensely positive effects on children and their overall academic progress.” Howard Pratt, DO We always like to stress math and science, which of course are very important, but equally important is exposure to music and different languages. — Howard Pratt, DO Despite such research, Pratt cautions that this should not serve as a silent call for parents to enroll kids in piano, violin, Mandarin, etc., especially if not of interest to them. “It’s important to realize that every child is different, with varying interests. They will be drawn to different things and influenced by different things and that is totally okay,” says Dr. Pratt. Pratt says, “I was working with an 11-year-old who was doing horribly in school work, but wanted the latest electronic gaming system.” When his parents declined to buy it and instead enrolled him in piano lessons, Pratt shared that the child was obviously upset but he started excelling at music, which introduced him to a new social circle of peers who were performing well academically, which led him to do the same over some time. Pratt explains, “What’s interesting is that doing well in piano led him to approach his academics in the same way he would approach a piece of music that he had never played before. He had learned a new way of looking at a problem and solving it, and that not only helped him in his studies, but I think it’s a valuable life lesson he can now apply to any challenge.” Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences More Research Needed Psychology professor and director of the Auditory Cognition and Development Lab at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Erin Hannon, PhD, says, “This is a very nicely designed study and it would be great to see it replicated with other native language groups because it’s quite possible that these effects arise from factors related to differences between Chinese (a tone language) and English (a non-tonal language).” For example, Hannon explains that it would be beneficial to see such a research study repeated with native English-speaking children learning both Chinese and perhaps also Spanish. “With these kinds of studies, it is always critical to replicate them with larger and more diverse samples but this study provides an intriguing first piece of evidence,” she says. Hannon says, “The public should appreciate that there appear to be interesting links between language and music processing, especially during childhood. This is getting more attention lately, but language and music both develop in tandem and are key modalities of human communication.” While attention has long been given to how musical training impacts other abilities, such as language and academic pursuits, Hannon supports the idea that language experience could influence musical processing as important. “There are other studies showing that your native language can influence how your brain processes pitch, but this study is unique in suggesting that learning a second language could also impact pitch processing,” she says. Erin Hannon, PhD With these kinds of studies, it is always critical to replicate them with larger and more diverse samples but this study provides an intriguing first piece of evidence. — Erin Hannon, PhD What This Means For You As this research study demonstrates, linguistic and musical brain functions appear to be closely connected. Especially among children given their developing brains, such learning of a foreign language may support music training. This research reinforces the need for schools to invest more funding in the arts to support well-rounded development. 1 Source Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Tervaniemi M, Putkinen V, Nie P, et al. Improved auditory function caused by music versus foreign language training at school age: is there a difference? Cereb Cortex. Published online July 16, 2021. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhab194 By Krystal Jagoo Krystal Kavita Jagoo is a social worker, committed to anti-oppressive practice. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.