Rhythm and Language DevelopmentCould a sense of rhythm help children learn grammar? Research from the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center reveals a link between grammar skills and rhythm in children. This study is the first to investigate whether musical skills impact a child’s developing grammar skills. Lead researcher Reyna Gordon, Ph.D., says that it is too early to know how to apply these new findings, but the results could influence how children with lagging language development improve.

Twenty-five typically developing six-year-olds participated in the study. To test the children’s rhythmic abilities, the children participated in two tasks. In a standardized music aptitude test, the children identified whether pairs of melodies were the same or different. They also participated in a “beat-based” assessment, which asked children to determine whether three rhythms matched. To test the children’s, grammar abilities, the researchers showed the children photographs and asked the children questions about what they saw. The researchers measured the grammaticality of the children’s responses.

The children who did well on the rhythm tasks also did well on the grammar tasks. The correlation between rhythm and grammar scores was present regardless of a child’s IQ, music experience or socioeconomic status.

The researchers think that there may be an association between rhythm and grammar because of the similarities between music and speech: both are rhythmic. It is possible that children who are better at identifying variations in music timing have an advantage in language learning. The researchers say that more information is needed to apply this information, but it may be possible to consider a child’s rhythmic skills when conducting grammar assessments for children with language disorders or delays.

This research is published in the journal Developmental Science.

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