Bilingual babies are better at detecting musical sounds, research shows

November 17, 2016 by Liquan Liu, The Conversation
Exposing babies to multiple languages can help them detect differences in musical sounds from an early age. Credit: www.shutterstock.com

Exposure to multiple languages may sharpen infants' music sensitivity in the first year after birth, new research has found.

Compared to infants learning one language (monolinguals), those who grow up with more than one language (bilinguals/multilinguals) are more sensitive to the subtle pitch variations in language.

To understand whether such sensitivity is specific to language in nature, we further tested monolingual and bilingual infants' sensitivity to music pitch.

Results showed that infants growing up in bilingual environments are more able to distinguish between two violin notes than their monolingual counterparts.

These findings suggest heightened acoustic sensitivity for bilingual infants. That is, infants' multilingual experiences may make them better at detecting the small differences in sounds in the ambient environment than monolinguals, whether the sounds are coming from language or music.

It has been shown that speaking a tone language like Chinese will facilitate music perception probably due to the extensive usage of pitch on words in that language. The current research suggests that bilingual experience may yield a similar effect.

Sensitivity to sounds

When a child learns two different languages, they form a more complex, detailed system, with overlapping sounds enabling better comprehension of acoustics in general.

These infants may benefit from their experience of detecting and distinguishing subtle differences between two languages, and transfer this ability to non-speech sound perception, like music.

Infants may also pay more attention to input acoustic details than monolinguals, with the constant switching between languages serving as a frequent exercise for the ears and the brain.

Benefits of bilingualism

The effect of bilingualism is not restricted to the language domain. When bilinguals talk, all languages they know are activated by the brain.

A bilingual's brain is constantly working on this language suppression and activation process.

Many scholars argue that bilinguals have better cognitive abilities such as executive control. This practice generates life-long cognitive benefits, and makes bilinguals think more adaptively, abstractly, and creatively.

Benefits surface early in infancy. Apart from their heightened acoustic sensitivity to language and music, have also been shown to outperform monolinguals in their:

Are there any drawbacks?

Regardless of anecdotes claiming that children growing up bilingually will have a slower developmental trajectory than monolinguals, researchers have found that bilingual children have the ability to separate their two languages early on, and that their pace of language development is not different from monolingual children given adequate exposure.

Whether it is learning a new language, picking up a you used to speak, or raising your child bilingually, becoming bilingual may change your perception, cognition, learning and even brain structures.

Explore further: Bilingual brains activate different networks when reading opaque and transparent languages

Related Stories

Bilingual brains activate different networks when reading opaque and transparent languages

October 26, 2016
Three Spanish researchers have discovered that bilinguals use different neural networks to read languages that are pronounced as they are written - such as the Basque language - from those in which this correspondence does ...

Multilingual or not, infants learn words best when it sounds like home

June 4, 2014
Growing up in a multilingual home has many advantages, but many parents worry that exposure to multiple languages might delay language acquisition. New research could now lay some of these multilingual myths to rest, thanks ...

Language juggling rewires bilingual brain

February 13, 2016
Bilinguals use and learn language in ways that change their minds and brains, which has consequences—many positive, according to Judith F. Kroll, a Penn State cognitive scientist.

Bilingual baby brains show increased activity in executive function regions

April 4, 2016
Many brain studies show that bilingual adults have more activity in areas associated with executive function, a set of mental abilities that includes problem-solving, shifting attention and other desirable cognitive traits.

Should parents raise kids bilingually?

March 31, 2014
As one in four Australians is now born outside of Australia, many children are growing up with other languages spoken at home. Should parents speak to their child in their first language, or attempt to speak to them in English?

Study examines role of bilingualism in children's development

February 8, 2012
A new study on children who are raised bilingual examined the effects on children's development of growing up speaking two languages. The study found that different factors were responsible for the language- and non-language-related ...

Recommended for you

New research has revealed we are actually better at remembering names than faces

November 14, 2018
With the Christmas party season fast approaching, there will be plenty of opportunity to re-live the familiar, and excruciatingly-awkward, social situation of not being able to remember an acquaintance's name.

The illusion of multitasking boosts performance

November 13, 2018
Our ability to do things well suffers when we try to complete several tasks at once, but a series of experiments suggests that merely believing that we're multitasking may boost our performance by making us more engaged in ...

Brain changes found in self-injuring teen girls

November 13, 2018
The brains of teenage girls who engage in serious forms of self-harm, including cutting, show features similar to those seen in adults with borderline personality disorder, a severe and hard-to-treat mental illness, a new ...

Major traumatic injury increases risk of mental health diagnoses, suicide

November 12, 2018
People who experience major injuries requiring hospital admission, such as car crashes and falls, are at substantially increased risk of being admitted to hospital for mental health disorders, found a study in CMAJ (Canadian ...

Nearly one in ten Americans struggles to control sexual urges

November 9, 2018
(HealthDay)—The #MeToo movement has given many Americans a glimpse into an unfamiliar world that may have left many wondering, "What were they thinking?"

Brain activity pattern may be early sign of schizophrenia

November 8, 2018
Schizophrenia, a brain disorder that produces hallucinations, delusions, and cognitive impairments, usually strikes during adolescence or young adulthood. While some signs can suggest that a person is at high risk for developing ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.