Bilingualism and Music Education

A Turkish-German Perspective

by Sezgin Inceel (Author)
©2018 Thesis 178 Pages


Research indicates that parents play an essential role in their children’s musical and language development. Moreover, neurocognitive studies point to the similarities between music and language processing. Based on the previous literature, the present study focuses on the Turkish immigrant parents’ beliefs and practices regarding bilingualism and music education. Interviews, observations and questionnaires are applied to generate qualitative data. Findings indicate that the participants’ positive beliefs are influenced by distal factors, such as cultural features, their own backgrounds, and socio-demographical characteristics. However, the lack of their theoretical knowledge regarding the subjects seems to have a negative impact on these beliefs.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Abstract
  • Zusammenfassung
  • Acknowledgements
  • Contents
  • 1 The Problem
  • 1.1 Background
  • 1.2 Personal Narrative
  • 1.3 Theoretical Framework
  • 1.4 Review of Literature: Music and Language Relationship
  • 1.4.1 Music and First Language Acquisition
  • 1.4.2 Music and Second Language Acquisition
  • Din/Song Stuck in My Head Phenomenon
  • Strategies for Using Music in the Second Language Classroom
  • 1.4.3 Music and Bilingual Language Development
  • 1.4.4 Music and Aspects of Language Learning
  • 1.5 The Significance of the Study
  • 1.6 Research Questions
  • 1.7 Purpose of the Study
  • 1.8 Limitations of the Study
  • 2 Methodology
  • 2.1 Research Design
  • 2.2 Researcher’s Participation
  • 2.3 Sampling of the Participants
  • 2.4 Calendar of Encounters
  • 2.5 Data Collection Instruments
  • 2.5.1 Interviews
  • 2.5.2 Observations
  • 2.5.3 Questionnaires
  • Socio-Demographic Questionnaire
  • Post-Activity Questionnaire
  • 2.6 Language and the Transcriptions
  • 2.6.1 Language Choice with the Participants
  • 2.6.2 The Quotations in the Study
  • 2.7 Data Analysis
  • 2.8 Ethics and Trustworthiness
  • 2.8.1 Ethics of Qualitative Inquiry
  • 2.8.2 Trustworthiness
  • 2.9 Pilot Study
  • 2.10 Participants’ Profiles
  • 3 Presentation of the Findings
  • 3.1 Research Question #1: What are the Turkish immigrant parents’ beliefs and practices regarding music education?
  • 3.1.1 Parental Roles
  • Supportive Parents
  • Controlling Parents
  • 3.1.2 Behaviours and Strategies
  • No Pressure
  • Imposing Own Musical Taste
  • Giving What They Missed to Children
  • 3.1.3 Benefits of Music Education
  • Intrinsic Benefits
  • Extrinsic Benefits
  • 3.1.4 Turkish Music and Emotions
  • Positive Thoughts
  • Negative Thoughts
  • 3.1.5 Summary
  • 3.2 Research Question #2: What are the Turkish immigrant parents’ beliefs and practices regarding bilingual language acquisition?
  • 3.2.1 Understanding of Bilingualism
  • Positive Beliefs
  • Negative Beliefs
  • Idealised View
  • Codeswitching
  • 3.2.2 Language Preferences
  • Reasons
  • Parallel Factors
  • Feelings
  • 3.2.3 Difficulties
  • Internal Difficulties
  • External Difficulties
  • Everyday Life Difficulties
  • 3.2.4 Bilingual Family Household Strategies
  • One Parent One Language
  • Minority Language at Home
  • Time and Place
  • Mixed Language Policy
  • 3.2.5 Summary
  • 3.3 Research Question #3: What are the Turkish immigrant parents’ beliefs and practices regarding the benefits of music education for bilingual language acquisition?
  • 3.3.1 Varied Understandings
  • Positive Beliefs
  • Music for Nondominant Language
  • Aspects of Language Learning
  • Cultural Aspect
  • Lack of Resources
  • 3.3.2 Practices (Baby Steps)
  • Vocabulary Acquisition
  • Pronunciation
  • Meaning and Grammar
  • 3.3.3 Awakening of Interest
  • Bilingual CD Example
  • 3.3.4 Summary
  • 4 Discussion, Implications and Conclusions
  • 4.1 Discussion of the Findings
  • 4.1.1 Research Question #1
  • 4.1.2 Research Question #2
  • 4.1.3 Research Question #3
  • 4.1.4 General Discussion
  • 4.2 Implications
  • 4.2.1 Recommendations for Practice
  • Policy Makers
  • Practitioners (Teachers, Early Childhood Educators, and Artists)
  • Parents
  • 4.2.2 Recommendations for Further Research
  • 4.3 Pilot Projects
  • 4.4 Conclusion
  • Appendices
  • Bibliography

1The Problem


As a music teacher, I have observed many different benefits of music education for language acquisition, including my own learning experiences. Indeed, brain research findings indicate that the certain dimensions of music and languages might be processed by similar or overlapping brain areas (Schön, Gordon & Besson, 2005; Patel, 2003; 2011). It is assumed that babies, since birth, start to listen and produce sound without distinguishing between singing and speech (Chen-Hafteck, 1997). Moreover, music pedagogues Zoltan Kodaly, Carl Orff, and Shinichi Suzuki claim that learning would be enhanced, when music and languages were used together (Suzuki, 1983; Chen-Hafteck, 1997). A great number of studies concluded that music instruction would benefit both first and second language acquisition (Engh, 2013).

The significance of music instruction in language acquisition can also be seen in early childhood education research. Emery (1991) used musical activities to improve the listening skills of kindergarten and the first grade students. The results showed that musical activities improved children’s auditory discrimination, auditory perception, following oral directions and listening comprehension skills. According to Rubinson’s study (2010), musical aptitude has a strong connection with phonological awareness and early reading development for kindergarten children. After a 9-month program Bowen (2010) found out, that pre-kindergarten musical instruction made a significant difference on reading and mathematical skills of kindergarten children. With this insight, the benefits of music for language acquisition become crucial within the Turkish immigrant community in Germany, where mainly the immigrant children grow up bilingual.

Given the fact that musical instruction has its own benefits for language acquisition, I asked myself the question whether it would be possible to make improvements for bilingual language acquisition within the context of immigration by using the benefits of music instruction. The Turkish community is the largest ethnic minority group in Germany at the present time. Language issues of the community have been discussed over ←15 | 16→the years. Newer generations seem to have better language competencies than previous ones (Duarte, 2011), yet still, it is very likely to hear, that the certain part of this community is criticised for having poor German or Turkish skills. As well in the German media, Turkish immigrants seem to be presented with their specific way of speaking language, reduced syntax and morphology and Turkish influenced-phonology (Byrd, 2010).

Coexisting between heritage language and community language in migration context is not a new phenomenon. Hansegard came up with the definition of “Double-Semilingualism” in the 1970s. According to his term, sometimes immigrant children might struggle between two languages and they end up learning neither of them properly. Even though the term is criticised for different reasons, many reports showed that similar, if not the same features, could also be observed among the Turkish immigrants. The problems of language acquisition are firmly connected with the psychological statements, such as ‘split identity’ and ‘cultural diremption’ (Hinnenkamp, 2005). Unfortunately, these issues could also hinder social inclusion. Students with a Turkish immigration background might face some issues in German school system. Apelteuer (2004) emphasises that almost one-quarter of the immigrant students cannot achieve a basic secondary school qualification because of the language related issues. Becker, Klein, and Biedinger (2013) remark that Turkish-origin children at the age of 3 in Germany are performing lower than children of native-born German parents, regarding German language skills. Moreover, Kurban and Tobin’s (2009) study of two Turkish preschoolers in Berlin emphasises that little children could also be aware of which of the struggles that their cultural group face in a larger society.

Considering the events and data above, my first question for the study emerged:

Is it feasible to use the benefits of music instruction for bilingual language acquisition in Turkish immigrant children?

This was my starting point. Over time, I developed new ideas by researching, conducting pilot interviews and observing people. When I went deeper into the topic, all roads lead to a very simple but an important question: What happens at home? How do parents perceive the learning situation, when it comes to language and music? De Houwer (1999) indicates that positive attitudes and beliefs of parents towards bilingualism will have an impact on ←16 | 17→children’s language learning process. Clair, Jackson, and Zweiback (2012) discovered that there is a correlation between the family involvement and children’s academic achievement as well as language skills. Röhr-Sendmeier (1990) found out that an improvement of Turkish immigrant elementary school students’ in the German language was correlated with their parents’ schooling and vocational training as well as their parents’ contact with German along with other elements.

The research also suggests that utilising music at the home environment might benefit early literacy skills of children. Music is suggested for the parents by the New York State Education Department (2009) as one of the ten ways to promote language learning at home. Not only the language acquisition but also the musical developments of the children are strongly influenced by their parents. Davidson, Howe, Moore and Sloboda (1996) outline that successful music learners often have parents who were involved with music themselves. Mallett (2000) validates the positive relationship between the home musical environment and the parent/caregivers’ attitudes. Ilari’s (2005) study with Canadian mothers in Montreal remarks that “despite changes in lifestyles due to modernisation, mothers still use music with their infants, and singing remains the primary musical activity of mother–infant dyads”. The study reveals that musical instructions are influenced by many factors, including parental beliefs about music. Wu (2005) points out that Taiwanese parents’ attitudes and perceptions have an impact on children’s early childhood musical experiences and learning. According to Custodero (2006), perceptions and beliefs of parents with 3-year-old children impact children’s musical experience at home.

The previous studies influenced me for looking at the similar phenomenon from the Turkish families’ standpoint in order to capture how they perceive and practice bilingual development as well as music education of their preschool-aged children. According to Pearson (2008), preschool time is a substantial period for early bilingual language acquisition since children make many neural connections in their first five years. Therefore, for this current study, I will focus on children aged between 2,5 and 6 years old – along with their parents.

So, what kind of picture do we see, when we look at the Turkish society in Germany? The studies on Turkish parents (who live either in Turkey or in abroad) help us to capture the educational beliefs and practices of ←17 | 18→the community. Durgel (2011) identifies some facts regarding the parental beliefs and practices of Turkish immigrant mothers in Western Europe in her study. One of her results highlights that Turkish immigrant mothers show an interdependent family model whereas Dutch and German mothers display an independent model (p. 43). She claims that mothers with a western background (Dutch mothers) perceive individuality in their children from an early age, unlike Turkish mothers (p. 71). But the study also reveals that there are differences between the generations or the commitment to the culture that they immigrated to. This proves that the phenomenon has its own layers inside. The study matches with Ramazan’s (2015) comparison between Korean and Turkish mothers. According to the study, Turkish mothers are not very supportive of their children going out and playing in summer and winter. Moreover, they do not encourage their children to read and write in preschool. When it comes to parents’ perceptions, Erdener (2013) indicates that the family income plays a role in how they perceive their involvement in schooling, whereas educational levels, marital status, regions or age groups do not.

Considering the above, I would like to ask what are the understandings of music education and language acquisition of Turkish immigrant parents/caregivers. When we look at the Turkish population in Germany, we see different layers. The Turkish population does not only consist of grandchildren of the first guest workers, but there are also many people who came to the country very recently, like me. It is not difficult to see the cultural differences between the populations. Therefore, I decided to focus on individual cases in deeper layers in order to reveal the similarities and differences of the parental beliefs and practices.

1.2Personal Narrative

I believe that it is important to talk about my own story and its connections with the present study at this juncture. Thomson (2016) outlines the reasons why it could be necessary to have a personal narrative in the dissertations. There are two main reasons, which employs to my study as well.

The personal narrative is intended to locate the researcher, so that examiners can see how the researcher’s actual life and/or work experience might influence the research, for better or worse”. ←18 | 19→

The personal narrative is intended to show how the research question arises from the personal life or professional work experience of the researcher”.

In the light of these principles, I will explain where I stand in this story as a researcher and how my personal story influences the research process. I was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey. I hold a B.A. in Music Education and in Tourism and Hotel Management as well as an M.A. in Music Education. My interest in music and language relationship started very early, before I even knew that this theory existed. As a disengaged English learner in middle school (aged around 11-12), I witnessed how music suddenly enhanced my language skills and broadened my horizon. Growing up in the 90’s in Turkey, without computers and technological benefits of nowadays, my only connection with the rest of the world was the popular music from the English-speaking countries. So I was singing songs in English and collecting the written lyrics of the songs because understanding and memorising only by listening was too challenging. My method was sitting and translating the songs of the lyrics by using a dictionary. I also would ask my teachers or acquaintances if I could not find the phrase or the word in the dictionary. Over time I realised that I would never forget the vocabulary if I learned them through the songs. Whenever I wanted to translate a word (both ways), I would first recall a song and sing it in my mind would help me to remember the meaning. Because I always remembered the songs better than I remembered mere words, I kept expanding my vocabulary in English through this technique, without noticing. In a few years, there was a significant increase in my English grades in the school and the teachers were praising me all the time. Furthermore, I was also learning a lot of slang, colloquialisms and every day language phrases, that one would not normally study in the school. I realise that I still occasionally benefit from these songs when I use my English in my everyday life.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (December)
Relationship between Music and Language Learning Transcultural (or intercultural) Music Education Early Childhood Music Education Parent Involvement Social Inclusion Migration Pedagogy
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 177 pp., 11 fig. b/w, 3 tables

Biographical notes

Sezgin Inceel (Author)

Sezgin Inceel studied Music Education at the Marmara University, Istanbul (Turkey) and holds a PhD from the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich (Germany). His research interests include the relationship between music and language learning, transcultural music education and early childhood music education.


Title: Bilingualism and Music Education