Flashback Friday: Want to learn Chinese? Read this first!

By Seriously Science | April 21, 2017 6:00 am

3952984450_953c33c096_zIf you have ever struggled to learn a tonal language like Cantonese, you are probably (painfully) aware of how difficult it can be. In tonal languages, the same syllables can have different meanings if spoken with an increasing, neutral, or decreasing pitch. But xenoglossophobes, fear not — these researchers are here to help! They guessed that learning words in Cantonese would be easier and faster if students were first taught to distinguish different tones. To test this idea, they compared students (both musicians and non-musicians) who were first trained to hear tonal differences. Guess what? It worked! Both musicians and non-musicians learned new words faster when first taught to distinguish the different tones. Now all we need is something to make learning all those Chinese characters easy…

Effects of tone training on Cantonese tone-word learning.

“The present study examined the effect of improving lexical tone identification abilities on Cantonese tone-word learning. Native English non-musicians received training on Cantonese tones before learning the meanings of words distinguished by these tones.Their results were compared to English non-musicians and musicians who received no tone training. The tone-trainees obtained a similar level of word identification proficiency as musicians by the end of training and were significantly better than non-tone trained non-musicians. These results lend support for phonetic-phonological-lexical continuity in learning because enhancing listeners’ perception of lower-level tonal information significantly contributed to success in a higher-level linguistic task.”

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