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The Bilingual Benefits of Foreign Music

A few years ago, I began to extend my music choices beyond the scope of the English language. Though I can’t remember why or how I made the choice to divert, I began browsing Spotify and YouTube for artists within the specific indie/ rock genre that I enjoyed listening to, albeit without the familiarity of my own language to guide me through the meaning of the new song titles I came across.

Over the course of several years, I began to notice that my library of foreign music had branched off into different cultural influences and flourished with diverse singers and styles, and I became interested in why I was so attracted to music I didn’t connect to directly through a common language. According to an article entitled “The Relationship Between Music and Languages,” listening to music from other cultures can carry similar benefits to bilingualism and multilingualism. It was observed that word retention is actually strongest through tone, melody and harmony as opposed to phonemes, which are the basic distinctive units of speech that are very unique to different languages around the globe. From the Greek word for “sound,” these units of language often consist of individual letters and their distinct sounds. For example, the letter r in the word ring and the letter s in the word sing, which make these similar-sounding words distinct in their individual meaning.

While this experience was new to me, there are plenty of people my age who were born with or grew up surrounded by multicultural music and language. When children are young, studies have found that their brains absorb and soak in language much better through song because of the slowed speed, the patterns of melody and its direct similarity to patterns of speech and word structure. Young children are also set up for successful language acquisition when they are exposed to a variety of cultural sounds because the more auditory stimuli a child listens to, the better prepared they will be to differentiate between the patterns of song and those of spoken language.

Another amazing gift that diverse types of music can give us is the ability to relate to and feel comfortable with the history and everyday lives of cultures different from our own. Even in a different language, a linguistic study with a group of volunteers showed that when listeners heard lullabies and dance music from vastly different regions of the world, they were always able to recognize the quiet, soft-spoken notes of a sleep song from that of a fast and upbeat dance beat. Even though we see our music as different from those around the world, the harmonies and melodies are often similar enough for us to recognize and relate to.

Consistently listening to music in a different language has had the ability to shape the fundamental way that I hear different languages and connect to them. It’s a small chance to view a different region of the world in one of the most intimate ways possible, aside from direct conversation with a native speaker. Music can not only promote intense feelings of belonging, comfort and happiness over time, but dedicating one’s self to the immersion of other cultures’ music could potentially help us free ourselves from feelings of hate and “otherness” that exist through the persistence of ignorance and highlighting what makes us all different, rather than what makes us the same.

By Emma Fry, News Editor



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