Teaching the wonderful students in Peru! ¡Qué maravilloso!
Stop and Think!
I moved to Peru in January 2013 to teach violin in Cusco at the Qantu Music School. Although I had studied Spanish intensely for several months before I moved, not having studied it in high school or college puts me at a disadvantage. Elementary is how I would describe my current Spanish skills!
My experience of “immersion” in a second language reminds me of Suzuki’s first trip to Germany when his German language skills were rudimentary. Yet, it was his struggles with the language that started him thinking about why children, a fraction of his age, spoke German so much better than he. Taken one step further, one might conclude that without his initial experience of being forced to speak German, Suzuki might never have developed his theories of teaching music.
During my first few days in Peru, I read an interesting study about the theory of the influence of bilingualism and brain development. The authors found many benefits to learning a second language, but the greatest advantage to thinking in a foreign language was that it “took more time.” Doing so, resulted in better decision making. The researchers reported that when bilingual subjects were given a test in their second language, they overwhelmingly chose the better answer in contrast to the answers chosen by native speakers. Researchers concluded that because the subjects were forced to “take time to think,” they could interpret the question more accurately than if they had read the question in their native language. That extra time subjects took to translate the second language gave them an extra few moments of thought which led to better decision making. The researches speculated that it was the necessity to stop and think that gave the bilingual speakers the advantage over native speakers because they had more time to consider the problem while native speakers skimmed over the material because they didn’t need to slow down.
Using a second language to write plays forced the modernist English-speaking playwright Samuel Beckett to slow down. When he moved to Paris, he instinctively realized the benefits of writing in French. He stopped writing plays in his native English, switching to French. Writing in French made his writing less automatic and prejudiced. It forced him to stop and think about exactly what he was saying. But he translated the plays back to English to be published!
At the South American Suzuki Festival in Lima, I took Violin Book 1 and 2 from Nancy Lokken who asked us to write about the stopped bow pioneered by Suzuki. Some of the participants answered that it is easier to control a short, stopped bow, and it is easier to make a pure tone. Perhaps the one thing that anyone taking Nancy’s course will carry away with them is her insistence on using the stopped bow that Suzuki pioneered. The stopped bow accomplishes and allows us to do many things. Stopping the bow asks us to listen more closely, control the bow more easily, create a pure deep tone, and ready our left hand before playing the note (finger, bow, go!). All these are accomplished because stopping the bow forces us to “slow down and think.”
It is unlikely that Suzuki was thinking of the stopped bow during his experiences as a foreigner living in Germany, trying to get by with a second language, but it is an interesting parallel and quite a coincidence. The new research, however, shows us the wisdom of “stopping and thinking,” whether one is speaking or writing in a second language, or playing the violin!
MarkJonah Lehrer, “The Benefits of Being Bilingual,” Wired Science Blogs: Frontal Cortex, 5 May 2012. Accessed January 18, 2013.
2 Boaz Keysar, Sayuri L. Hayakawa, and Sun Gyu An, “The Foreign Language Effect: Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases,” Psychological Science, 2012 23: 661. Originally published online 18 April 2012. Accessed January 18, 2013.
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