Monday, January 16, 2006


Suzuki Method

I'm duly humbled tonite.

I listened to the Volume 1 Suzuki CD today. I'm so far from being able to mimic any of what I heard. But now, after hearing what the music should sound like, I can start working in the right direction. I'm usually hitting the notes right, but I've not had any sense of how they were actually supposed to flow from one to the other. I'm hoping to move a little bit closer by next Saturday. At least I have a direction to be working toward, now. Tomorrow, I'll work a little differently, listening to each one a few times while I'm playing it.

I only wish the piano was a little more muted in the pieces. Or not there at all...

When Z learned spanish in Argentina, he was just 5-1/2. He was able to pick up the language just from listening and speaking it. He had no instructor. Within weeks he was able to get by with his new friends and was already starting to interpret for Y. Within six months he was speaking like a native. At his school, Abraham Lincoln, half the classes were supposedly taught in english and half were supposed to be in spanish. But since the teachers weren't that skilled in english, spanish tended to rule the day. The headmistress spoke only a little english, herself.

Z did well. By the time we left a year and a half later, not only did he speak the argentine dialect without a hint of an american accent, he had learned to read spanish and was starting to write it. He had even learned some arithmetic in spanish.

This is what Suzuki is talking about. Learning by imitating. Exactly what motivates the learner may or may not be as important as the simple fact of wanting to do it. In Z's case, his motivation was to be able to get along with his friends, and to figure out what was being said to him. (That, more or less, was my motivation too - to be able to figure out what the hell my supervisors, and coworkers were saying to me. For a long time, I just smiled a lot and nodded my head until I slowly began to comprehend.) In the case of a young Suzuki student, the motivation is provided by the desire to imitate and please the mother and teacher. Either way, it's not the motivation that counts, I believe it's the age that's so crucial.

Z learned to speak spanish (castellano, as they insisted on calling it) without trying. No formal lessons, no verb lists, gender rules, etc. He just "picked it up". For me, though I had to work at it. I took it head on. I took two-hour classes three to five times a week. I put up posterboards with verb declensions and vocabulary words on my walls. There weren't any teachers who taught spanish, for the simple reason that we three were probably the only non-spanish speakers in the city. I had to turn to an english teacher, Maite (short for Maria Teresa). She spoke english passably well, but before working with me, she really didn't have an opportunity to use it on a day-to-day basis.

I knew from the start that I was too old to learn spanish without the formal classwork, but at first, I also felt I was too old to undertake the role of a lowly student. I soon got over that part... I eventually, got to where I could understand it quite well, and I was beginning to speak it a little more confidently. I was able to understand the jokes and jests during the lunchtime conversations; even to offer a comment or two in the right group.

I've started searching for some discussions about how well adults do when they study the violin or cello using Suzuki's listen/imitate method...

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