The Arts and Language Development

Based on information from the National Art Education Association (“Art and Language Development” by Paula Eubanks) and the Sperry Corporation

The arts can serve as a symbol system that parallels and supports language development, especially for students who have a need for language acquisition. This might include students with special needs or students for whom English is a second language. For these students the arts can be a valuable tool in fostering language acquisition and development, as well as an alternate means of communication. 

Vocabulary Building

  • Talking with students about their art or the artwork of others offers an excellent opportunity to build vocabulary  skills, develop clear articulation of ideas, and sharpen powers of observation skills.
  • Students often understand ideas presented in visual form before they are able to understand the same ideas    presented verbally; consequently, looking at and talking about art can acknowledge and stimulate their cognitive  processes.
  • Students can look at and talk about works of art in three dimensions. From a realistic perspective, they can identify   and describe exactly what it is they see: people (including ages and gender), animals, buildings, landscape,  weather, vehicles, etc. From an emotional perspective, they can discuss the feelings that the picture generates - if  any. And from an aesthetic perspective they can discuss artistic elements they can identify such as shapes, lines,   patterns, textures, colors, perspective, balance, composition, etc.
  • Description and analysis that include words relating to position, size and spatial relationships present opportunities  for language development at a higher level.

Listening Skills

  • Studies show that listening is our primary communication activity, yet it is the one that receives the least amount of    formal instruction compared to reading, writing, and speaking.
  • Hearing is just the first part of the listening process. The rest of the process involves interpretation of what was heard, the evaluation of what was heard, and finally the reaction to what was heard.
  • Through music education, students learn to listen for: high and low sounds, loud and soft sounds, fast and slow   melodies, rhythmic patterns, moods created, the sounds of different instruments, the words to songs, different types    of music, etc. In drama, students listen for verbal cues and respond to the facial and vocal cues provided by other  actors.
  • In doing so, they must interpret what they heard (which leads to understanding), evaluate (decide how to use it), and react appropriately.
  • Language acquisition, especially for second language learners, is heavily dependent upon the ability to be a  discriminating and critical listener.


  • For students with communication difficulties, self-esteem is critical. They need to feel comfortable, safe, and accepted in order to risk using a new or difficult means of expressing themselves, especially in a second language.
  • Through art or dramatic pantomime students can visually communicate ideas and feelings they may not be able to express yet through spoken language. By engaging in singing, rhythmic, and movement activities, these students are not only able to demonstrate skill but, more importantly to, they can participate fully, just like their classmates.