Monday, January 11, 2010

The Mother Tongue Method

Ability Development from Age Zero (Suzuki Method International)Shinichi Suzuki based his method of teaching violin on the revelation that Japanese children learn to speak Japanese. That’s obvious, right? But if you’ve spent time living in another country and struggled with speaking a foreign language like he did, that’s a significant thing. Suzuki lived in Germany as a young adult, and he struggled with his pronunciation. In his book, Ability Development from Age Zero (Suzuki Method International), he wrote about the German children who tried to help him pronounce “r”:

They would tell me to put my tongue down, not to touch the roof of my mouth, and with an open mouth say RRR as they did. Always instead of RRR, I ended up saying AAA.

Later, back in Japan, it struck him how well children learn to speak their mother tongue:

“Of course they do…It’s nothing to be surprised about,” is what people say to me with skeptical eyes. However, for me it was an enlightening thought. Five and six year old children speak Japanese easily. They speak the difficult dialects of their respective areas such as the Osaka, Aomori, and Kagoshima dialects without any problem. They have the talent to catch the delicate nuances of the Osaka dialect and the ability to master the nasal pronunciation of Aomori and Akita dialects. I was astounded; this ability is no small accomplishment. The children show such a high level of educational possibilities.
It’s not the only thing in teaching, but it seems like a really simple, really valuable point. Kids will pick up on what’s around them. In order to learn violin, you must have specific instruction. But if you combine that specific instruction with a whole atmosphere of music—listening to it, responding to it, dancing to it, just hearing it—you greatly amplify what you are learning.

This applies to more than just music. My three year-old does not know how to read yet. But she has learned, without anybody actually telling her, that books are pretty much essential to life. She loves her dolls and stuffed animals, but if you put her to bed without a book you’ve going to have a hard time getting her to sleep. After all, everybody else brings a book to bed—it’s as standard as a pillow in our house. That gave me a lot of hope during the year or so that she was too busy to ever sit on my lap and listen to a book. Between that and the fact that she is a third child, she hasn’t gotten nearly as much read-aloud time as her older brother and sister. But she is still growing up in a family where books are a way of life, and I can already see that counts for a lot.

Kids will pick up on what’s around them. There’s tremendous potential in that statement.  How can you put it to use?

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