My niece Keira was just two when I started teaching her the little Spanish I knew. And one of the words I taught her was ‘zapatos’ (pron: sah-pah-tohs).
Of course, Keira has a mind of her own.
I kept saying ‘zapatos’, and Keira kept insisting they were ‘shoes’. After a while I gave up, but reminded her from time to time about ‘zapatos’. And then I clean forgot about the incident, until Keira’s mother told me this story.
Apparently they were on the way to our house for lunch
There was Keira sitting in her high chair eating her food (it’s what parents of toddlers do before they go for lunch) and making a slight fuss. At which point, her mother told her “Hurry up, we have to go to Sean’s house soon!”
And Keira turned to her mother and said urgently, “zapatos, zapatos”.
That’s how humans learn—and how birds go off tune as well…
We automatically assume the songbirds sing in tune. But according to Shinichi Suzuki, creator of the famed Suzuki Method, that’s not the case at all.
Nightingales don’t naturally sing in tune
They are taken from their nests as fledglings. And the moment they lose their fear and accept food, a “master bird” is put on the job to sing. As it turns out, the “master bird” has been trained to sing well and does its job masterfully. And the student-nightingales join in the song, learning to sing beautifully.
Incredible as this may sound, the tune is not instinctive
This is because wild birds don’t always sing in tune. Some do and some don’t. It depends on the teacher and the environment. But with the captive birds, aha–they all sing in tune.
Interestingly, you can learn to sing out of tune
Suzuki talks about how he often runs into people who sing out of tune. What’s more interesting, is the mother sings out of tune as well. Can you see the link? No, it’s not hereditary at all.
It’s just that the poor baby has heard the mother sing out of tune, even when the baby was in the womb. Like an out of tune nightingale, the mother has literally taught the child to sing out of tune.
Which of course is a scary concept until you consider the plasticity of the brain
So let’s say the child sang out of tune 5000 times…
Now the brain has etched that tune in the memory, right? But since the brain is plastic, all it needs is to then hear and sing the same tune 6000 times. Now the brain rewires itself, and voilà, singing in tune is not a problem any more. And all it took was repetition.
But sheer repetition may not be enough….
On the Article Writing Course, I had a student who was having a problem getting to the ‘one word’. And the more he tried, the more frustrated he got, until he was ready to throw in the towel.
But we had a chat on Skype, and one hour later his dilemma no longer seemed pertinent. So, sometimes repetition itself doesn’t help. The problem needs to be met in a completely different way, and suddenly there’s a breakthrough. However, for the most part, repetition itself does the job.
It’s how we learn to walk, talk, sing, and dance
With the right teacher we move forward rapidly. With the wrong teacher, we go off tune. That’s when we either detest the topic, the teacher, or believe we’re not talented. And as Suzuki would say: It’s not a matter of being born a good or bad singer.
If the bird has a good teacher, it will learn well. It it has a bad teacher, failure is almost inevitable.
And to me, this was the most exciting revelation of all
As a teacher, at times a student drives you crazy. And you start to believe that they’re not good enough after all. And that’s when you realise that you must persist. Or at least find a different way to teach.
Because the repetition, combined with the teaching will get the student to sing just like a nightingale. But it does take a ton of patience and diligence.
Your student or child may be like Keira
He or she may have a mind of their own—which is great. But it may cause you to think that they’re not learning.
But they are. If only you stay focused, they’ll get on track.
And that, is the greatest blessing for both the teacher and the student.
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