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Brain, musicality, and language aptitude: A complex interplay

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 March 2021

Sabrina Turker
Max-Planck-Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany
Susanne M. Reiterer*
Max-Planck-Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany Department of Linguistics & Center for Teacher Education, Unit for Language Learning and Teaching Research, University of Vienna
*Corresponding author. Email:


Music and language are highly intertwined auditory phenomena that largely overlap on behavioral and neural levels. While the link between the two has been widely explored on a general level, comparably few studies have addressed the relationship between musical skills and language aptitude, defined as an individual's (partly innate) capacity for learning foreign languages. Behaviorally, past research has provided evidence that individuals’ musicality levels (expressed by singing, instrument playing, and/or perceptive musical abilities) are significantly associated with their foreign language learning, particularly the acquisition of phonetic and phonological skills (e.g., pronunciation, speech imitation). On the neural level, both skills recruit a wide array of overlapping brain areas, which are also involved in cognition and memory.

The neurobiology of language aptitude is an area ripe for investigation, since there has been only limited research establishing neurofunctional and neuroanatomical markers characteristic of speech imitation and overall language aptitude (e.g., in the left/right auditory cortex and left inferior parietal areas of the brain). Thus, as noted above, in this short review for ARAL, the aim is to describe the most recent neuroscientific findings on the neurobiology of language aptitude, to discuss the complex interplay between language aptitude and musicality from neural and behavioral perspectives, and to briefly outline what the promise of future research in this area holds.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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