Learning Mandarin may give kids a headstart in music

New York, Jan 19 (IANS) Want your children to have enhanced perception of pitch in music? Give them Mandarin lessons, a study suggests.

The study has suggested that learning Mandarin — a tonal language — may learn to identify the subtle changes in pitch to convey the intended outcome, even before formal training and at a much earlier age than previously thought.

The research showed that children between the ages of 3 and 5 who are native speakers of Mandarin chinese fare better than their english-speaking counterparts at processing musical pitch.

“The study revealed for the first time that tone-language experience is associated with advanced musical pitch processing in young children,” said lead author Sarah Creel from the University of California-San Diego.

It’s the linguistic attention to pitch that gives young Mandarin speakers an advantage in perceiving pitch in music, the researchers said.

Both language and music contain pitch changes, so if language is a separate mental faculty, then pitch processing in language should be separate from pitch processing in music. The study stated that brain skills learned in one area affect learning in another.

“Our research suggests that there’s permeability and generalisation across cognitive abilities,” Creel added.

For the study, the team conducted two separate experiments with similar groups of young Mandarin Chinese learners and English learners.

They tested a total of 180 children on tasks involving pitch contour and timbre. Where the English and Mandarin speakers performed similarly on the timbre task, the Mandarin speakers significantly outperformed on pitch, aka tone.

The study also has far-reaching theoretical implications for neuroscience and behaviour as well as for designing early intervention programmes, or “brain training” regimes, Creel noted.

However, parents should not ditch children’s music lessons for language, or language lessons for music, the researchers cautioned.

The study was published in the journal Developmental Science

–IANS

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