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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00948

Born to speak and sing: Musical predictors of language development in pre-schoolers

 Nina Politimou1*, Simone Dalla Bella2, 3, 4*, Nicolas Farrugia5, 6 and  Fabia Franco1
  • 1Department of Psychology, Middlesex University, United Kingdom
  • 2International Laboratory for Brain, Music, and Sound Research (BRAMS), Université de Montréal, Canada
  • 3Department of Psychology, Université de Montréal, Canada
  • 4Centre for Research on Brain Language and Music, Canada
  • 5Department of Electronics, IMT Atlantique Bretagne-Pays de la Loire, France
  • 6UMR6285 Laboratoire des Sciences et Techniques de l'Information, de la Communication et de la Connaissance (LAB-STICC), France

The relationship between musical and linguistic skills has received particular attention in infants and school-aged children. However, very little is known about pre-schoolers. This leaves a gap in our understanding of the concurrent development of these skills during development. Moreover, attention has been focused on the effects of formal musical training, while neglecting the influence of informal musical activities at home. To address these gaps, in Study 1, 3- and 4-year-old children (n = 40) performed novel musical tasks (perception and production) adapted for young children in order to examine the link between musical skills and the development of key language capacities, namely grammar and phonological awareness. In Study 2 we investigated the influence of informal musical experience at home on musical and linguistic skills of young pre-schoolers, using the same evaluation tools. We found systematic associations between distinct musical and linguistic skills. Rhythm perception and production were the best predictors of phonological awareness, while melody perception was the best predictor of grammar acquisition, a novel association not previously observed in developmental research. These associations could not be explained by variability in general cognitive functioning, such as verbal memory and non-verbal abilities. Thus, selective music-related auditory and motor skills are likely to underpin different aspects of language development and can be dissociated in pre-schoolers. We also found that informal musical experience at home contributes to the development of grammar. An effect of musical skills on both phonological awareness and language grammar is mediated by home musical experience. These findings pave the way for the development of dedicated musical activities for pre-schoolers to support specific areas of language development.

Keywords: Musical skills, language development, Pre-school children, informal musical experience, home environment functionality

Received: 27 Jan 2019; Accepted: 09 Apr 2019.

Edited by:

Evangelos Himonides, University College London, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Andrea Schiavio, University of Graz, Austria
Katarina Habe, Academy of music, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia  

Copyright: © 2019 Politimou, Dalla Bella, Farrugia and Franco. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence:
Dr. Nina Politimou, Middlesex University, Department of Psychology, London, United Kingdom, a.politimou@mdx.ac.uk
Prof. Simone Dalla Bella, International Laboratory for Brain, Music, and Sound Research (BRAMS), Université de Montréal, Montreal, H2V 2J2, Quebec, Canada, simone.dalla.bella@umontreal.ca