Language Play: Caroling and Language Learning

Christmas Singing for Language Skills

Singing together with family, neighbors and friends is one way of enhancing children’s language learning…

Although Christmas is not part of my cultural heritage, I have always loved Christmas caroling. I like it for the joy of singing in a group to cheer listeners. What a great non-commercial way to give! If I’m outside I like to breathe all that wonderful fresh air, blending my voice with others to make chords. I like the way the words fit the rhythm of the music and that the vocabulary is specific to Christmas. I like learning more obscure gems and music in other languages. About 2 weeks before the holidays, I start wanting music around me while I do chores. This seems to escalate as Christmas draws nearer…

When I realized that this article would be published on December 25th, I decided that I should encourage families to sing together on Christmas as a way to enhance children’s language learning. Singing songs has long been a way to promote cultural memory (think of bards) and obviously it is very social. Just agreeing on what to sing can promote negotiation language, etiquette, and compromise language! Then there’s the focusing skills, memory skills, and new vocabulary, possibly in another language. Pronunciation can improve as the sounds are clearly parsed, and this clarity also improves auditory comprehension. Check out “The Power Of Music: 5 Reasons Why Music Helps with Language Learning” over at for more information to ponder.

When I was considering becoming a speech language pathologist, I first thought about singing as a therapy technique upon waking from a dream! In my dream, a man couldn’t speak, but he could sing. It turned out he was a famous singer. I told him that he was perfect the way he was, and that he should sing what he wanted to say like an opera singer. Imagine my surprise when I found out that one of my professors had developed a singing therapy called Melodic Intonation Therapy for people with left hemisphere damage. When I worked with people who had strokes, I saw firsthand that their singing was often intact, even if they struggled to talk. Everyone in my stroke group could sing Happy Birthday. Melodic Intonation Therapy was originally thought to utilize the plasticity of the brain—to have the right hemisphere take over for the damaged left hemisphere. Recent studies show that the singsong aspect of common phrases taught in later stages of the therapy make the most difference. The right hemisphere doesn’t take over, but the memory of the intonation and rhythm of a phrase like “how are you?” supports the left hemisphere to find the words. Here is a case history on YouTube for those interested.

So, back to the joy of singing with your family! I wish you all happy holidays and be sure to include some singing! Here are some online resources to get you singing with your family in the comfort of your own home:


Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at

[Photo credit: (cc) Charlotte T.]

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