Using Music to Facilitate Speech and Language Development

Many parents are surprised to learn the significant benefits music can have on a child’s speech and language development.

At just a glance, music can help early language and literacy skills such as:

  • the ability to differentiate sounds (auditory discrimination);
  • the awareness of sound structure (phonological awareness);
  • the acquisition of new vocabulary and concepts (vocabulary development); and
  • hearing information, processing it, retaining it, and then later recalling it (auditory memory).

But like all things, not all music is created equal.

What we really have in mind here is children’s music. Specifically, the sort of catchy tunes you might hear at Story Time, songs that are sung in Play School or classic rhymes we remember from our own childhood.

“Does Katy Perry or Coldplay count? Not really. Sorry.”

So what makes listening to children’s music more effective for speech and language development than, say, listening to Katy Perry or Coldplay?

The difference is that music that helps develop a child’s speech and language has:

  • A catchy rhythm and beat (okay, yes, so Katy Perry has that covered!)
    well articulated speech – you should literally hear the initial, middle and final sounds of each word sung)
  • A slow rate of speech (it would need to be slow in order to articulate all those sounds!)
  • Clear production of multisyllabic words (“wat-er-me-lon” springs to mind)
  • A repeatable tune (that even a preschooler can catch on to)
  • LOTS of repetition of key words and phrases

Critically listen to one of Justine Clark’s songs or a Play School favourite and you’ll be able to tick off each one of those factors!

Building in opportunities for your child to participate during songs, and using repetition to help you child learn new words, “encourages your child’s social, cognitive and communication development while the two of you connect and have fun together” (Pepper and Weitzman, 2004)

Once a child is engaged by music and song, you can then use it as a method of intervention. For example, the tune from Play School “this is the way we…” can be used in all manner of situations:

“This is the way we brush our teeth, brush our teeth, brush out teeth, this is the way we brush our teeth, early in the morning!”

“This is the way we wear our shoes, wear our shoes, wear our shoes, this is the way we wear our shoes, before we play outside!”

“This is the way we pack our toys, pack our toys, pack our toys…”

….you get the idea!

A study done by Madsen (1991) found that first graders were able to comprehend more nonsense words from an activity involving singing and hand gestures than speaking and gestures.

Using rhythm can also really help an older children with their production of multisyllabic words and phrases. Clapping out complicated words and phrases can help identify the “beats” in words for children so they can then produce them correctly.

For example – hos-pi-tal… I – go-to-hos-pi-tal.

And, let’s face it, just about any instruction or statement sounds better to music.

 

Written by Claire Follent

Claire Follent is MumLife Australia’s Speech and Language Development Expert.

Claire has over 12 years experience working as a paediatric speech pathologist and is a mother herself to three young children.  She is passionate about early childhood speech and language education and intervention.

This article appears at www.mumlifeaustralia.com and is republished with permission.