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Why feeling the rhythm can be essential to speaking language good

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Sorry, I realize that phrasing was kind of atrocious and very definitely not grammatical, but, in my defense, I have the worst sense of rhythm on the planet. (Seriously, ask anyone who's ever seen me dance... if any such people existed, because I never, ever dance.) And that apparently matters when it comes to language skills, because those who do better on rhythmic tests also show better responses to language sounds on a neurological level.

That’s the finding of Northwestern researcher Nina Kraus, who had 100 teenaged study participants demonstrate their rhythm by tapping their fingers in time to a beat. Kraus and her team then used electrode to measure the electrical activity in subjects’ brains when they heard different sounds, including those of speech. Kraus reveals that the teenagers that demonstrated a better sense of music and rhythm also displayed a heightened electrical response to language and, going in the opposite direction, those who were known to be poorer readers generally struggled with the rhythm test. The results suggest that musical training might actually improve language skills. Here’s what she had to say to the BBC about the study:

"We know that moving to a steady beat is a fundamental skill not only for music performance but one that has been linked to language skills. It turns out that kids who are poor readers have a lot of difficulty doing this motor task and following the beat. In both speech and music, rhythm provides a temporal map with signposts to the most likely locations of meaningful input. You can even take the recorded brainwave and play it back through your speaker and it will sound like the soundwave. It seems that the same ingredients that are important for reading are strengthened with musical experience. Musicians have highly consistent auditory-neural responses. It may be that musical training - with its emphasis on rhythmic skills - can exercise the auditory-system, leading to less neural jitter and stronger sound-to-meaning associations that are so essential for learning to read."


Go here for the full article, while the original paper is now available at the Journal of Neuroscience.

Image of a metronome by jronaldlee on Flickr.