Do musicians have a better accent when speaking a foreign language?

Do musicians have a better accent when speaking a foreign language?

Three hundred and sixty three-minute songs (or 18.4 hours) a week is the time that, in 2021, people aged 16 to 64 spent listening to music, according to a Report of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

Humans are sensitive beings and lovers of music, and the appearance of this, like that of speech, has been decisive in the construction of societies. The proximity of music and speech leads us to think that being a musician helps to learn languages ​​or to assimilate the accents. But what is the reality?

What we know about the links between music and speech

Consider the links between music and speech It means starting from the principle that there are two partially interconnected human activities (singing or whistled language, for example) that mobilize all the organs necessary for the production and perception of sound vibrations and their cognitive processing.

Understanding of the interactions between music and speech has increased in recent years with the development of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which has made it possible to measure the brain activities in real time and in action. Researchers such as Aniruddh D. Patel have extensively studied these interactions at different levels.

A consensus of researchers, following the work of Isabelle Peretz and colleagues, tends to show neural overlap and reparability in music and speech processing that does not necessarily involve neural sharing. This means that there are brain areas that are activated by processing processes dedicated to music and speechbut it cannot be definitively determined if there are areas that process these two activities in an undifferentiated way.

Some authors suggest that this neuronal partition could be at the level of syntax: a network of neurons dedicated to managing the temporal processing of significant sound units (musical or discursive).

More specifically, researchers at the Institut de neurosciences cognitives de la Méditerranée have shown that the music training it can have positive repercussions on the processing of certain sound units in the individuals’ first language. Others have reported similar effects for other learned languages.

In addition, the scientific literature on the subject seems to confirm the hypothesis that musical training has effects on hearing capacity not dedicated exclusively to music.

What is a musician?

The lexicon portal of the Center national de ressources textuelles et lexicales defines a musician as one “who is dedicated to music, whose profession is to perform or compose music” or even any person “who has a disposition for music”. These dispositions can refer to singing –which mobilizes the same organs of phonation as speech– or instrumental practice. Regarding the question of the links between music and speech, to define what a musician is, one must ask how the experience of the musician can influence the processing of speech units.

It is recognized that any expert in a given practice develops specific skills supported by specialized brain activations. These specializations are found, for example, in the motor areas dedicated to managing the particular movements involved. play an instrument.

Journalist Malcolm Gladwell suggests that these changes are only effective after 10,000 hours of practice. This hypothesis is still widely discussed by specialists in the field, in view of the complexity of the phenomena in question.

In their Neural Symphony, Emmanuel Bigand and Barbara Tillmann point out that expert musicians they have a greater capacity to process the elemental acoustic information of musical sound (pitch, intensity, etc.), but when it comes to comparing more complex musical structures, the perception of experts and non-experts is similar.

In this regard, it seems important to point out that the vast majority of non-experts are indeed expert listeners, since they are great consumers of music. Bigand, a professor of cognitive psychology, believes that the brain changes caused by the musical experience are small.

Regular and implicit listening to music reduces the distance between expert musicians and expert listeners (who do not play an instrument). However, expert listeners have less sophisticated resources to explain their musical analyzes and musicians have metacognitive abilities additions to support those analyses.

Do musicians have an advantage in the accent of foreign languages?

Taking into account that there are links between music and speech, but also that listening to or playing music influences the ability to process sound units, do musicians have an advantage when it comes to accent in foreign languages?

Studies show that musicians have a greater ability to manage primary units of sound; they are able to process low-level information better (being able to discriminate the difference in duration between two sounds), but this advantage is reduced when it comes to higher-level processing (identifying a melody, categorizing a sound). This is what two researchers have shown on the links between music and speech, considering that Chinese (Mandarin) speakers discriminate musical melodies better but identify them worse than English speakers, despite the fact that the former dominate a tonal language. However, musical practice seems to give an advantage over the ability to imitate an accent – ​​imitation is a specific activity.

Speaking in a foreign language requires individuals to manage all the complexity of human language (sound production, interactional adaptation, emotion management, etc.). Thus, while musicians may have some advantage in low-level processing of speech units, this advantage is greatly reduced with respect to the skills of expert music listeners, but also to other elements of language that come into play in oral interpretation (insecurity of language, legitimacy, etc.).

However, it must be taken into account that the musical practice can develop many skills that are transferable to the learning of foreign languages: orality, management of breathing and emotions, expression of intention, vocal hygiene, memorization… as tools for the benefit of interpretation.

If musicians don’t directly benefit from their musical background for their accent, they can always be encouraged to sing to limit their perception of it – even if it doesn’t work as well for them as it does for them. Selena Gomez–. This has been shown in several studies on the subject. In fact, some accent markers are less noticeable in the song because they conflict with certain limitations of the melody. Get ready for karaoke!

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