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Brain Remembers Language Better If You Sing It


Your brain likes music, especially for remembering. So, the next time you have a test, try singing the information out loud.

Your brain likes music, especially for remembering. So, the next time you have a test, try singing the information out loud.


From VOA Learning English, this is the Health and Lifestyle report.

Have you ever found yourself in this situation: You hear a song you used to sing when you were a child – a bit of nostalgia or “blast from the past,” as we say.

But it is not a distant childhood memory. The words come back to you as clearly as when you sang them all those years ago. Here is an example:

I had not heard this song in years. But when a deejay played it recently at a children’s birthday party, I sang it word for word.

“A noun’s a special kind of word. It’s any name you’ve ever heard. I find it quite interesting – a noun’s a person, place or thing.”

This is the Schoolhouse Rock song that taught me what nouns are and I never forgot it.

It seems there is a scientific reason for this.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh studied the relationship between music and remembering a foreign language. They found that remembering words in a song was the best way to remember even one of the most difficult languages.

The Hungarian experiment

Here is what they did.

Researchers took 60 adults and randomly split them into three groups of 20. Then they gave the groups three different types of “listen-and-repeat” learning conditions.

Researchers had one group simply speak the words. They had the second group speak the words to a rhythm, or beat. And they asked the third group to sing the words.

All three groups studied words from the Hungarian language for 15 minutes. Then they took part in a series of language tests to see what they remembered.

Why Hungarian, you ask? Researchers said they chose Hungarian because not many people know the language. It does not share any roots with Germanic or Romance languages, such as Italian or Spanish.

After the tests were over, the singers came out on top.

The people who learned these new Hungarian words by singing them showed a higher overall performance. They did the best in four out of five of the tests. They also performed two times better than those who simply learned the words by speaking them.

Dr. Katie Overy supervised the study at the university’s Reid School of Music. She says singing could lead to new ways to learning a foreign language. The brain, it seems, likes to remember things when they are contained in a catchy, or memorable, tune.

Dr. Overy worked with Dr. Karen Ludke and Professor Fernanda Ferreira on this study. Their findings are published in the journal Memory and Cognition.

Dr. Ludke said the findings could help those who struggle to learn foreign languages. On the University of Edinburgh’s website Dr. Ludke writes, “This study provides the first experimental evidence that a listen-and-repeat singing method can support foreign language learning, and opens the door for future research in this area.”

Language teachers know using music works

Language teachers already know the value of using music and singing.

A teacher at a Chinese language school in Washington, D.C. relies heavily on songs and chants to teach Chinese. Hua Zhu Ying teaches students who most likely have never spoken Chinese before coming to the school. Ms. Hua says she uses music all the time to teach children Chinese.

“For example, for little kids usually we will use English songs but we are teaching them the Chinese lyrics. So it’s easy for them to start because they know the music. They just need to translate into Chinese words. ”

She adds that not only does it work, but it is fun for the kids.

“So, I think they are really having fun learning Chinese songs using English music. Sometimes, I think if I were taught English like that way maybe I would speak much better English than now.”

I’m Anna Matteo.

Do you use songs to learn or teach English? Is there a song from your childhood that you remember to this day? Let us know in the comments section.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for Learning English. Anne Ball was the editor.

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Words in This Story

nostalgic adj. pleasure and sadness that is caused by remembering something from the past and wishing that you could experience it again

blast from the past - slang expression a memory from the past

deejay n. short for disc jockey; a person who plays popular music at a party, nightclub, etc.: as a verb it means to work as a disc jockey

jog – v. “jog” people’s memory means to cause people to remember something

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