ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2023, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (11): 2040-2049.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2023.02040

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The effect of musical experience on second language processing

DENG Shanwen, YANG Hao, ZUO Kangjie, ZHANG Jingjing   

  1. School of Psychology, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing 210097, China
  • Received:2022-11-23 Online:2023-11-15 Published:2023-08-28

Abstract: The influence of music on language is a widely researched topic and an important issue in interdisciplinary research. In recent years, research evidence from behavioral and cognitive neuroscience has further shown that musical experience can be transferred across domains to second language acquisition, which is manifested in the promotion of second language processing in three aspects: (1) musical experience can enhance the understanding of a second language, specifically the perception and vocabulary acquisition of the second language. Future research could further take the types and duration of musical training as variables for the aim of revealing such a transfer effect more precisely; (2) musical experience can facilitate the production of a second language, which may be related to different types of musical experience and dimensions (e.g., pitch perception and rhythm perception). However, current experimental tasks are relatively limited, usually using speech imitation tasks and phonology scoring tasks, and future studies can investigate the relationship between individual second language production ability and musical experience in scene dialogue and actual communication; (3) musical experience can promote second language learning and evidence has been found among different age groups with regard to vocabulary and syntax learning. However, there is still insufficient research on exploring the impact of early musical experience on second language learning for adults at different ages.
As research deepens, some researchers have begun to explore the internal mechanisms of music in second language processing. Their research conclusion can be summarized into following two pathways: (1) musical experience promotes language processing by enhancing the processing of shared acoustic clues between music and language; (2) musical experience improves individual general cognitive processing abilities, especially auditory attention and memory, thereby enhancing language processing abilities. However, it should be noted that existing research on mechanisms has mostly revealed the commonalities of three levels of music on second language processing and has not yet deeply explored the possible differences on these three level mechanisms.
Finally, we point out that existing research still has some limitations and they can be directions for future research: (1) The study of how musical experience enhances second language processing can be further explored from language, music, and participant group perspectives, such as enriching the study of musical experience on second language production and learning, conducting more rigorous variable controls when examining participants' musical experience(for instance, richness of the musical environment of childhood can be an important factor to be considered when assessing the individual musical experience) and studying special groups with language processing disorders; (2) It is necessary to strictly distinguish the role of innate musical talent and acquired musical experience in research. We suggest longitudinal studies to be used more frequently in the research. By comparing the performance of individuals with different musical talents in second language processing before and after receiving music learning, longitudinal studies can be helpful to clarify the internal mechanism of innate musical talent and acquired musical training affecting second language processing; (3) Explore the extent of the relationship and differences between musical experience and second language processing as well as native language processing. Some studies have found that musical experience may have different effects on the understanding of native language and second language, revealing that the promotion of musical experience on language processing may be moderated by language familiarity. Future research can extend to the fields of language production and learning. In the process of experimental design, it is necessary to combine the characteristics of native language and second language, set up appropriate experimental materials and tasks, and avoid the ceiling effect in the mother tongue processing as well as the floor effect in the second language processing. At the same time, the age selection of participants also needs to be carefully considered.
Overall, this article can provide some insights for the interdisciplinary study of music and language at the behavioral and cognitive neuroscience levels. Meanwhile, the topic also has application values in education and clinical treatment.

Key words: musical experience, second language, language perception, language production, language learning

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