Brain Learns Chinese as Music
Chinese language is tonal. Unlike phonetic English language, the brain processes Chinese tones as music, not as words. In Mandarin Chinese, a single word can differ in meaning depending on different tones. For example, depending on tone, the word ‘ma’ can mean four different meanings – mother, horse, hemp, or scold. A report by The Guardian, Britain (2004) Mandarin Chinese speaks volumes in giving the young an ear for music described that “scientists have discovered an unusual tip for parents who want their little darlings to grow up to be musical geniuses – teach them Mandarin Chinese. Psychologists at the University of California in San Diego found that children who learnt Mandarin as babies were far more likely to have perfect pitch than those raised to speak English. Perfect pitch, though common among the great composers, is extremely rare in Europe and the US, where just one in 10,000 is thought to have the skill.”
Indeed, much like music, the Chinese communication depends on pitch perception, as both speakers and listeners have to detect pitch changes whenever they have a conversation. Research has shown that musical training shapes the brain. In one study, according to Pascual-Leone, non-musicians were assigned to perform a 5-finger exercise on the piano for two hours a day. Within five days, subjects showed evidence of re-wiring. In another study, led by Sylvain Moreno at the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, a team of Canadian scientists found that only 20 days of classroom instruction about music boosted the vocabulary of preschoolers. After the training, 90% of the children in the music group performed better on the verbal tests and showed corresponding brain changes, while the control group who learned about art showed no differences before and after training. Many researches indicate that musicians perform significantly better on some cognitive tasks, such as spatial-temporal skills, math ability, reading skills, vocabulary and verbal memory, etc. Likewise, as evidenced in many research studies (discussed below), the tonal Chinese language shapes Chinese speakers’ mindset, which leads to better performance on general intelligence tests.