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Will Learning Mandarin Make Your Child A Better Musician?

Update Date: Jan 19, 2017 06:43 PM EST

Findings from a recent study reveal that Mandarin-speaking children are more advanced than English-speaking children in terms of processing musical pitch. If that is so, will learning Mandarin make your child a better musician?

The researches from the University of San Diego cautions "Tiger Parents" not to ditch music lessons for Mandarin lessons just yet. The implications of their study go beyond determining who has a leg up musically. In actuality, the study tackles how different cognitive skills affect each other during early age particularly between language processing and musical pitch processing.

The study, published in Developmental Science, conducted an experiment with young children between the ages of three and five. Half of which are native Mandarin speakers and the other half, native English speakers. The 180 children were tested on tasks involving pitch contour and timbre discrimination.

The results of the experiment show that Mandarin-speaking children were more advanced at processing musical pitch than their English-speaking counterparts. On the other hand, all children performed the same on the timbre discrimination task.

This just proves that children who are exposed to tone languages, like Mandarin, Thai, Yoruba, and Xhosa, are better at distinguishing different kinds of musical pitches. This is because tone languages are able to convey information and emotions by putting different emphasis on the same word being used. Paying close attention to different pitches in their language, children exposed to tone languages naturally develop better musical pitch processing skills.

According to the researchers, the findings of their study supports the Pitch Generalization Hypothesis where it states that "tone languages drive attention to pitch in nonlinguistic contexts, and suggest the language learning benefits aspects of music perception in early development." In other words, the kind of language a child speaks affects how the child perceives music at an early age.

The researchers add that in order to be a better musician, one still needs to study music. On the other hand, learning a language might not directly affect musical inclination but in itself offers different advantages for the individual.

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