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How Songs Can Speed Up Language Development

Music more than a form of relaxation.

From birth, parents have instinctively used music to calm and soothe children, express love and joy, and engage and interact. Parents can build on these natural instincts by learning how music can impact their child’s language development, improve social skills, and benefit children.

Music is more than just a form of relaxation or a method of increasing motivation. Listening to music is an activity that requires the use of the entire brain. It is found in all cultures and possesses a number of benefits not only in language acquisition, but also in enhancing areas in child development and school readiness, including intellectual, social-emotional, motor, language, and overall literacy. It helps the mind and body to be able to work in sync more effectively. For children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), this is especially crucial, as a trait of the autistic condition is that the left and right hemispheres of the brain are "out of sync," implying that some areas, such as those connected to communication, may be underdeveloped.

Evidence shows that children with ASD perform better than typical children in certain musical skills. For instance, they can recall music more swiftly, significantly when it is paired with song lyrics. A song meets all of these requirements for a child with ASD. Its rhythms, lyrics, and melodies are consistent. It has a format that does not change. Songs can hence be ritualistic. Its format can be something a child can rely on, anticipate, and predict with ease and familiarity. When children sing along to songs, they are applying some of the basic elements of language and literacy. A song can allow children to acquaint themselves with new vocabulary, rhymes, phonemes, word patterns, and order. Through repetition, children become accustomed to these fundamentals of language and independently initiate using the words and phrases in their everyday conversation.

Here are some ways to integrate songs into language development:

1. Introduce songs with lots of enthusiasm!

As with any good book, you need a cover that grabs your attention at first glance. Incorporate the use of finger puppets, props or visuals to allow the child to guess what the song is about. Not only will this intrigue them, but it also exercises their thinking and reasoning skills. Playback the songs a few times and allow the child to participate by either clapping their hands or singing along. Bear in mind that language has a beat and tempo much like singing, any level of participation from the child allows them to combine these nuances and boost their language development. Eventually, they will be able to apply what they have learnt through music to receptive and expressive language all through their daily activities.

2. Make language visual

Another way for children to learn languages is by recognizing predictable phrases. Similar to how we are able to recall what happens next in fairy tales without referring back to the books, songs can invite children to use language cues to predict what comes after in a phrase. As you sing the verses of "Ba Ba Black Sheep," try leaving out the rhyming word for children to fill in. You can also include the use of visual cues or cards as prompts. This allows for a more visual-literacy experience rather than an auditory one.

3. Make language physical

It would probably be ‘Mission Impossible’ to have the child sit still and just listen to music. Use it to your advantage! Having children move and dance to the songs adds kinetic modality to language acquisition. Get the child to create their own creative hand movements to represent certain actions in the song. “Can you show me how the wheels on the bus go round and round ?” Every action or movement encouraged gets incorporated into their understanding of language.

4. Don’t forget to listen

Listening is a crucial skill in the process of language development. The capability to focus on a song and be able to pick up differences in tone, rhythms and words is an early-literacy skill. The well-known nursery song, ’BINGO’, is an excellent opportunity as the song requires children to actively listen to the lyrics and await the right timing to either sing or clap. As the song progresses, more words are taken out and replaced with claps. Therefore, it will prove to be quite the challenge for our little ones to conquer!

Written by Angelyn


Gold, C., Wigram, T., & Elefant, C. (2006). Music therapy for autistic spectrum disorder. Cochrane Database of Systematic Review, 2, CD004381.

James, R., Sigafoos, J., Green, V. A., Lancioni, G. E., O’Reilly, M. F., Lang, R., . . . Marschik, P. B. (2015). Music therapy for individuals with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2, 39–54.

Simpson, K., & Keen, D. (2011). Music interventions for children with autism: Narrative review of the literature. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41, 1507–1514.

Wiseman, S. (2015). The use of music as an educational intervention for children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). Research in Teacher Education, 5(1), 7–14.

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