Fall 2015 Health Link Online

HealthLink Online

Uniting Children, Parents, Caregivers, and Health Professionals

Background Music and Noise Interferes with Language Learning

Observers of early education programs often hear background music played by an electronic device. Some of these devices have screens; some do not. Unless the music plays a role in the activity, turn it off.

Recently, ECELS Pediatric Advisor Dr. Susan Aronson asked nationally recognized Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician, Dr. Heidi Feldman, MD, PhD to share what she knew about the impact of background music or noise in general on language learning. Dr. Feldman noted that environmental audiologists have measured the ratio of signal (what we want children to hear) to noise in class-rooms. She noted: “It is shockingly small, 3 to 5 decibels.” For children with weak language or attention, she said that this minimal difference in sound level makes listening and understanding language challenging.

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Dr. Feldman said that publications written by experts about how children learn to read emphasize the importance of hearing the fine distinctions within words as a require-ment for pairing those sounds to letters. She suggested that the children who are poor readers benefit from special reading help because then they are learning in small groups or in 1:1 settings. Reducing environmental distractions and noise helps children be more aware of the subtle distinctions of language that they must hear to learn to read.

Minimize background noise from any source. Don’t add to it. If you want children to listen to music, make the music part of the activity. Teach language or other lessons that depend on hearing language without music and minimize other noise in the background.