Relationship Between Musical Ability and Second Language Skills Examined in Science Hall Colloquium

The relationship between musical skills and the ability to better recognize unfamiliar speech sounds when learning a second language will be examined in a Lawrence University Science Hall Colloquium.

Lawrence University Professor of Psychology Terry Gottfried presents “Music and Language Learning: Relation of Musical and Linguistic Tone Perception” Tuesday, May 10 at 4:15 p.m. in Science Hall, Room 102. The event is free and open to the public.

A specialist in the perception of speech and sound, Gottfried will discuss the findings of his recent research with Lawrence conservatory students which indicates musicians hold a significant advantage over non-musicians in identifying and producing unfamiliar speech contrasts in a foreign language.

In his study, listeners who had never studied Mandarin Chinese were presented with words that differed only in lexical tone. While non-native listeners had trouble detecting the tonal differences, the musicians were significantly more accurate in their identification and discrimination of the words. The musicians also were more successful in imitating these words than non-musicians.

Gottfried argues that abilities or skills associated with being a musician are related to skills necessary to learn a new speech sound contrast.

With the support of a grant from the Norwegian Marshall Fund Committee, Gottfried recently conducted research in Trondheim, Norway, in which he investigated factors that help or hinder language learners in speaking and understanding a second language.

Part of this research investigated differences in how Norwegian listeners, in comparison to Danes, perceive the vowel contrasts of their native and their second language. He also studied whether the use of linguistic tones in Norwegian provides native speakers of that language with an advantage in learning the lexical tones of Mandarin Chinese.

In 2001, he was awarded a fellowship by the Fulbright Scholar Program for a teaching and research position in the English department of Aarhus University in Denmark, teaching courses on the psychology of language and speech science.

A member of the Lawrence psychology department since 1986, Gottfried earned his bachelor’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Minnesota.