How does music help us learn to speak?
Three months ago I became an auntie! This is very exciting for me but even more exciting for my five daughters! When we visit baby Lotta, I am struck by how attentive the girls are to her.
Watching them has reminded me of when the girls were very young. They speak to Lotta in a high pitched sing-song voice and they gaze at her with wide eyes and big smiles. When they hold her they rock her and jiggle her up and down. Lotta responds to the girls with tight jerky actions and short squeals of sound. She is working hard trying to mimic what she is seeing and hearing and her brain is madly processing brand new information…
Tone, rhythm and pitch
Babies love to listen to voices, and very early on they will recognise the tone, rhythm and pitch of a familiar voice. During her first year, Lotta will pick up all the sounds she needs to know so that she can learn and develop the ability to speak in her ‘mother tongue’. As she is a relatively new born baby, she will still have the ability to perceive any phoneme* she hears but that ability will be lost within the first year. In listening to the girl’s sing-song, Lotta is grasping elements of her native language. She will practise making these sounds in preparation for producing her first recognisable words in a couple of months.
The accompanying rocking and jiggling actions are not accidental. Research has shown that when we move and sing at the same time we engage nearly all of our brain, which enables us to translate and store new information very efficiently.
How to incorporate music into your day
- It’s never too early to expose your child to live music. Take advantage of the host of different family friendly musical events at this time of year – go to any free dress rehearsals for local panto productions, stand at the back of family carol concerts, and stop to enjoy the sound of the Salvation Army outside Sainsbury’s.
- Instead of humming the tune of your favourite Christmas song or Carol, use different sounds to make up the tune – this way you are allowing your child to hear single syllable and vowel sounds from their mother tongue …ba ba baa baba ba ba ba ma ma maaaa dada da daaa!
- Try to punctuate your day with familiar tunes and rhymes so that your child associates a happy routine with positive musical sounds. For example, you could sing a ‘getting up and getting dressed song’ and a ‘getting ready for bed song’. This allows the child to hear your voice, which is their most preferred sound of all.
- Dance and sing whenever you can, especially in the kitchen on Christmas day!
As Lotta builds her sound bank, I know that it won’t be too long before she is asking her cousins to do a little bit more than just rock and sing to her!
Source: Dr Carla Hannaford, Smart Moves: Why Learning is not all in your Head.
*Phoneme – A phoneme is the smallest contrastive unit in the sound system of a language. A meaningful sound is one that will change one word into another word. For example, the words cat and fat are two different words, but there is only one sound that is different between the two words – the first sound. Most languages contain about 40 distinct phonemes. One month old babies are able to tell the difference between a ‘b’ sound and a ‘p’ sound.
Photography: Pat David @Flickr