Can listening to music (lyrics) help increase listening skill?

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Music is usually everywhere and in every language known on Earth probably. They also contain lyrics in foreign languages - which seemingly can help improve our skills and fluency with that particular language. There have been claims (and experience) that listening to music can improve your listening skills.

So, can listening to the music (lyrics) improve your listening skills? If so, in what ways?

Anthony Pham

Posted 2016-04-06T01:42:31.617

Reputation: 3 777

Answers

23

Definitely!

Listening to music lyrics is a great help when learning a language!

Understanding Words

When native speakers speak, they speak quickly with little break between words. For example, if I pronounced "lookathat" as pretty much one word, if you speak English, you will probably be able to distinguish it into "look at that". This is because you can understand where the words begin and end.

A team led by Daniele Schön invented just six words: gimysi, mimosi, pogysi, pymiso, sipygy, and sysipi, and after seven minutes of listening to these words repeated in random order, student volunteers couldn’t distinguish between them. It took over 20 minutes for listeners to learn where one word started and the next one ended. 1

The following time, the volunteers were played music and they learned the word boundaries much quicker and better.

The image from the study http://scienceblogs.com/cognitivedaily/wp-content/blogs.dir/262/files/2012/04/i-0911601da2b7a814846cff8c9597c98f-schon1.gif

You can see the average accuracy is significantly increased when listening to music.

Memorization

Music can also play a big role in aiding in memorization of words. 2.

How? When you need to think of what letter comes before K, you probably sing the alphabet song. This is because we can quickly associate a distinct tune with a unique set of memories directly.

Because of music, we can memorize ungodly amounts of information without real effort.

The source also provides steps to memorizing your own song which I'll put here:

  1. Count the number of syllables of your sentence. In this case, “Un momento, por favor” has seven syllables.
  2. Find a song or a nursery rhyme with the same number of syllables. This step is the crucial one, so be sure to choose songs you’re really familiar with. For our example, the first line of the chorus from “Do-Re-Mi” fits perfectly: “Doe a deer, a female deer…”
  3. Now swap the target phrase in place of the original lyrics, maintaining the melody. So this time, you sing “Un mo-men-to por fa-vor” to the tune of “Do-Re-Mi.”
  4. Repeat as often as possible. This last step is another important one. You’ll find that it can sound a bit awkward at first. Don’t be discouraged and stick with it. Keep on singing until it stops being awkward. And when it stops being awkward, sing it around 30 more times. 2

Downgoat

Posted 2016-04-06T01:42:31.617

Reputation: 833

This seemingly well-researched answer shows how melodies and harmonies may be actively used to improve language learning, but it does not answer the question whether listening to recorded songs does aid learning. (At least, that’s how I understood the OP and therefore I’m puzzled why this is the accepted answer.) – Crissov – 2016-06-14T19:51:59.173

lookatthat* :-) – Peter verleg – 2018-02-13T12:41:08.243

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There are some classes of languages where listening to music (and musical ability) holds a distinct advantage in learning that language. Those languages are called TONAL languages, where differing pitch is semantically significant and lexically distinctive (linguistic jargon for syllables with different pitch have different meanings). An example of a tonal languages is the Chinese Language Family (Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, Minnan, &c.).

A (relatively) recent article in the Huffington Post discussed the link between musical ability and Cantonese speakers. A Chinese learning website (HackingChinese) has an article about how Chinese music can help in language learning. Additionally, the Guardian published an article in 2014 about the effect of music learning on language learning and overall learning ability:

According to the studies, just one hour a week of learning music is enough for the full brain benefits to take place – including an all-round boost in language skills and a significant increase in IQ.

[...]

Music training started during this period also boosts the brain's ability to process subtle differences between sounds and assist in the pronunciation of languages – and this gift lasts for life, as it has been found that adults who had musical training in childhood still retain this ability to learn foreign languages quicker and more efficiently than adults who did not have early childhood music training.

So, the answer is a resounding YES!!!

callyalater

Posted 2016-04-06T01:42:31.617

Reputation: 1 530

I would be careful about making conclusions about all tonal languages. There is a big difference even between Mandarin and Cantonese in this regard: in Mandarin songs, tones are usually ignored, while in Cantonese, they are retained, at least to some degree. – michau – 2016-10-08T09:39:18.427

1Interesting thing about Cantonese. That might explain why I am good at music. – SMS von der Tann – 2016-04-07T01:12:36.667

Good answer +1. However I believe this effect applies to the learning of all languages (as mentioned in the Guardian article), not only tonal languages. – user3169 – 2016-04-08T22:50:53.660

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There are two kinds of listening, Passive and Active. The one you are talking about falls in Passive Listening while the Active Listening is where you listen something in your target language and respond to it quickly.

Active Listening is the one that improves your listening skills more. You can watch movies with subtitles or listen to a song with lyrics, but if you talk to a person whose native language is your target language and respond to it, this is far better than listening to music with lyrics.

You will have to listen carefully to what he or she is saying and respond accordingly. In this way, your listening skills will be improved.

Listening to music or watching movies with subtitles, you will memorize more words, but it will not improve listening skills as much. (A little bit, but not better than Active Listening.)

A J

Posted 2016-04-06T01:42:31.617

Reputation: 337

2You might think it doesn't help, and maybe you're right that it didn't help you, but do you have any actual evidence that passive listening doesn't usually improve listening skills? Both passive and active listening helped my listening skills, and I'm sure I'm not the only person with that experience. – Dan Getz – 2016-04-06T13:55:58.947

@DanGetz I didn't say that only Active Listening improves listening skills. Combination of both of them will improve listening skills greatly. It is also possible that both active and passive listening have improved your skills, not of all people. I also must say that this question is primarily opinion based. – A J – 2016-04-06T17:15:42.713