My recent visit to Estonia included a weekend off, and during that time, I did some Yoga and Pilates classes. I don’t speak the language, but I nevertheless found it relatively easy to follow instructions. I think this reflects some important points about basic levels of communication.
Because I had taken a great many classes in English, I knew the phrases that the instructor was likely to use. Although I couldn’t make out the exact words, I began to recognise the sounds that represented inhaling and exhaling, or breathing in and breathing out. I didn’t know exactly what, “Lolli, lolli, lolli,” meant (or even if that’s how it should look on the page!) but it was a logical assumption that the meaning was something like slowly or gently or carefully.
My brain was putting together knowledge it had accumulated through experience at home, matching that with recognisable repetitions throughout the class, and using some astute guesswork to make meaning within this unfamiliar language. Alongside this, there’s the cadence to pay attention to; despite Estonian being unrelated to English (interestingly, it only shares a common root with Finnish and Hungarian) it still holds true that the intonation gives clues to the meaning. No-one shouts or uses a higher pitch if they want someone to move slowly and carefully.
It struck me that these are the sorts of indicators that babies are looking out for when they are first exposed to the language they will be expected to learn and speak as a native.
It is consistency that allows the learner to spot patterns and make assumptions about what is being communicated. Naturally we are going to use the same words to describe the same objects, but how often do we think about keeping other elements of our speech constant and predictable? As adults, working in our mother tongue, we tend to focus only words, falling back on decades of instinct to take care of the rest, but we will be really helping our children learn if we pause to consider that they are paying attention to the whole package.
People-watching sure can teach you a lot. On my recent break, I spent a fair amount of time observing how other guests treated the hotel staff. Some were polite, but removed, others clearly saw beyond the role to the human doing the job, and some were just downright rude. I found myself wondering if there was a parallel here with how they treated children and young people.
So what are you scared of? Do you want your children to be frightened of that thing too?
In evolutionary terms, we can understand the benefits of learning from our parents which creatures to avoid or run away from, and this holds true even nowadays when it comes to stroking lions or using crocodiles as stepping stones. Most of us, however, live in a world that is mostly un-fraught with danger and where we have to be afraid, it is primarily of each other. But we are still passing on our own fears to our children.
Here is the third and last in this series of articles based on conversations with children, and first published in Teach Early Years magazine. In each piece, I focussed on one prominent theme. For this one, it’s LISTEN!
My thanks to editor Jacob Stow for allowing reproduction, and if you want to know more, details of this and their other magazines and resources are available at: https://www.teachwire.net
- What does it feel like to be a child?
- I feel like I’m just an ant in the world, some people don’t listen to me that well. Like nothing that I’m saying is important. W (male)