The Miracle of Mother Tongue Learning
WHAT IS MOTHER TONGUE LEARNING?
Mother Tongue Learning is Mother Nature's way of nurturing young children, easily, seamlessly and naturally.
Children begin their education before birth. They learn through imitation, assimilation, repetition, and most importantly, their environment. Environment is the key word here. Children will easily and naturally learn all, which is presented to them in a consistent way if the environment is strong.
When it comes to the teaching of music, many educators discount the true potential and capabilities of young children. We learn more things in the first five years of our lives than at any other time – as our brains are 90% developed by then. That’s why it is crucial that under-fives have access to early childhood education during these tender years. In fact, we actually start learning in the womb.
“Learning starts before we are born and keeps going," said Dr Eva Lloyd, Professor of Early Childhood at the Cass School of Education and Communities, University of East London. "Children, especially in the early years, are like little sponges, absorbing all the information around them and then actively making sense of it."
Dr. Shinichi Suzuki was an accomplished violinist, a magnificent teacher, a deep thinker, and a strong believer in humanity. Above all, he possessed an innate love of young children and marveled in their intelligence, innocence, and God-given abilities. Fueled by this interest, Dr. Suzuki devoted his life to studying how and why children learn. Through this research, he came to recognize one simple, basic truth.
All babies, regardless of race, nationality, ethnic origin, or country of birth are born with the ability to learn and assimilate amazing things. Learning to walk, to talk, to think, and to do many other things are phenomenal accomplishments.
Dr. Suzuki realized that, as an adult, he had developed the ability to rationalize, to deduct, to analyze, and to draw on his wisdom. What struck him as odd was that he, a Japanese speaking, intelligent, accomplished adult struggled miserably trying to learn German as a second language when living in Germany. He, the adult was much more intelligent than a young child. Why then, did he (and most adults) struggle to learn a new language, when children had little difficulty? The answer to this question is the thread that became the foundation to the Suzuki philosophy.
HOW A CHILD LEARNS A LANGUAGE
- PRE-BIRTH - Conclusive tests by scientists in Washington, Stockholm and Helsinki proved that babies start to develop their hearing ability thirty weeks into the pregnancy.
- NEWBORNS - At zero to six months, babies are intense listeners. They learn to recognize voices and begin trying to communicate through crying. They soon engage in “vocal play”, (babbling, gurgling). They learn to recognize their names, start responding to salutations, begin to recognize words they have repeatedly heard and babble even more, as they try to imitate the sounds of the voices around them.
- THE ONE-YEAR-OLD - They can now start to point to different parts of the body when asked, and respond to queries such as “Where’s Daddy?”, and requests like “clap hands” and “dance”. Comprehension level is far beyond their ability to speak, but words are starting to happen.
- AGES TWO TO FOUR - Vocabulary increases dramatically, language structure gradually becomes increasingly intricate and sentences become longer and longer. By the age of four, most children have learned the language and have become fluent speakers. They can convert abstract thoughts into complete sentences, respond to questions and have meaningful conversations. They are becoming increasingly comfortable with the highest of linguistic skills – the ability to improvise. They love repetition. Things like singing the same songs or reciting nursery rhymes repeatedly.
- AGE FIVE AND BEYOND - Until now, children have learned whatever complicated language they have been surrounded with by hearing it. They even have the ability to learn multiple languages at this young age simply by listening. As time goes on, there is a gradual transition from their reliance on aural skills to the visual for learning. This continues until adulthood. Thus, the reason it is so difficult for adults to learn a new language, while it is easy and natural for a young child.
WHAT THIS CAN TEACH US
Think about it…... Learning any language is a monumental achievement! Any adult attempting to do this can attest to the level of difficulty. So, how can tiny children, in a matter of three or four years, learn to put thousands of complicated sounds together into cohesive sentences?
- Listening is central to learning any language. It is virtually impossible to become comfortable and fluid in a language by simply learning to read and write it. Although listening is a seemingly passive activity, with its benefits apparently intangible, but it is important to understand it is invaluable.
- When learning a language, there is much to be learned from making mistakes. This is key in learning to be comfortable with any vocabulary. We don’t worry when a young child mispronounces a word or makes a grammatical error when learning to speak. We accept this as being part of the learning process. The child just continues growing and learning by listening.
- Repetition is a vital element of learning. Young children will listen to the same things, watch the same things, and say the same things repeatedly, seemingly never becoming sick of it.
- Immersion – this includes being exposed to what you want to learn every day, hearing it, experiencing it, trying it and repeating it.
- Natural learning – We are confident that all, normal, healthy children will learn to speak fluently at their own pace. We accept this process as being a part of growing up, thus allowing it to occur naturally.
- Leave the abstracts for later. We don’t begin teaching children to read and write until they are relatively fluent in their language. It has always puzzled me that the “Traditional Music’s” underlying philosophy involves the teaching of abstracts first, thus ignoring the child’s natural “aural” abilities.