Did you know that singing helps children to develop excellent intonation in their speech?
From nursery rhymes to pop songs, singing plays an essential role in the life of children.
While it is commonly known that singing has numerous benefits for children’s cognitive development and emotional well-being, not many people are aware of how singing, in particular the element of intonation, can help prepare children for life.
What is intonation?
Intonation refers to the rise and fall of pitch in speech i.e., the way in which the pitch of our voice changes to convey meaning and emotion. It is an important aspect of spoken language, often being used to emphasize particular words or phrases, to convey a question or statement, express agreement or disagreement, or to indicate the speaker’s mood or attitude. The meaning of an utterance can be entirely changed by the intonation pattern used (or not used).
It should be noted, that intonation varies significantly between languages and can be influenced by factors such as tone, stress, and syllable timing, as well as by regional and dialectal variations.
How does learning intonation prepare children for life?
Learning to identify and use the appropriate intonation patterns of a language can sometimes feel tricky but it is an important part of language development for children, preparing them for life in several ways:
- Communication: Children who learn to use intonation effectively are better able to communicate their ideas and emotions, and to understand the meaning behind the speech used by others.
- Social interactions: An ability to hear and use intonation helps children to understand social cues and to interact with others more effectively. By learning to read the tone of voice in others, children can better interpret the intentions and emotions of their peers, which in turn helps them to then respond appropriately.
- Language Learning: Understanding how to articulate and discern intonation patterns is particularly important for second language learners. By learning the intonation patterns typical of the language they are learning, children can more easily improve their pronunciation and overall proficiency in that language.
- Confidence: Children who learn to use intonation effectively are generally observed to be more confident in their speech and more likely to participate in classroom discussions and other social interactions.
- Career Success: Learning intonation will also be beneficial for our children in their future careers, with effective communication skills being highly valued by all professions.
How can children learn intonation through singing?
Music naturally provides a structured and repetitive way for children to practise and internalize the intonation patterns of a language; let’s not also forget, it provides a fun way for them to learn these attributes too!
Here are 5 features of intonation that children can learn from engaging in singing activities:
- Pitch Accuracy: Singing involves matching pitch accurately e.g., when children listen carefully to a melody and then work to adjust their own voice to be able to match what they heard. Through this process, they develop a sensitivity to pitch and start to distinguish between differing pitch levels.
- Intonation Patterns: Songs typically have a recognizable melody with a predictable rise and fall of pitch, which helps children learn common intonation patterns in the language they are singing in. They can start to recognize and reproduce patterns such as rising and falling intonation at the end of a phrase or sentence.
- Emotional Expression: Singing helps children to express emotions through changes in intonation. They can learn how to use a high, upbeat melody to convey happiness and a low, slow melody to express sadness.
- Repetition and Practice: Singing allows children to practice intonation in a repetitive and enjoyable way e.g., repeating the melody of a song will help them to internalize intonation patterns and to feel more comfortable when articulating them.
- Memory: Singing helps children to remember intonation patterns more readily e.g., a melody offers a memorable framework for the language they are learning. This can later help them to recall and use intonation patterns in their spoken language.
Activity: Learning different intonation patterns from one rhyme!
One activity that you could do to help children learn intonation from a nursery rhyme is to ask them to say or sing the rhyme using different intonation patterns. Here are the steps for the activity:
- Choose a nursery rhyme or song that has a clear and predictable melody, such as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
- Teach the children the words and melody of the rhyme, making sure they can sing or recite it accurately.
- Explain the concept of intonation and how it can change the meaning or emotion of the words. For example, you could demonstrate how a statement can sound like a question if the intonation rises at the end.
- Ask the children to recite the rhyme while using different intonation patterns. For example, they could say or sing the rhyme with a rising intonation at the end of each line to make it sound like a question. Alternatively, they could use a falling intonation to emphasize the final word of each line.
- Have the children listen to and compare how the different intonation patterns change the meaning and feeling of the rhyme. Ask them to describe how they feel or what they think the rhyme is about when they use each intonation pattern.
- Encourage the child to experiment in making their own intonation patterns and to create their own variations of the rhyme.
Music naturally provides a structured and repetitive way for children to practise and internalise the intonation patterns of a language
Dr Clare Seymour
Clare has spent much of her professional career (over 30 years) in international settings. Part of her Doctoral research involved exploring the often hidden aspects of institutional racism. As a result she has a longstanding interest in, and passion for, promoting positive Diversity.
In addition to school music-teaching, Clare also has over 10 years’ experience working as an international music examiner – an understanding and respect for Diversity is so crucially important in every aspect of her practice.