The First Rod Lesson and the Music of Language

Image of Cuisenaire Rods Create with EYCSAM Math Manipulatives

Cuisenaire Rods

In terms of vocabulary, the first class introduces colours, some numbers and the basic English noun phrase.

But there is so much more to it. Led by the teacher, the students work on pronunciation, stress and intonation by building long sentences. The simple phrase “a blue rod” becomes “a red rod, a green one, a yellow one and a black one.” This long phrase, built of simple blocks enables students to work on phrasing, stress and intonation in a “controlled linguistic environment”, that is, with very few words.

Pick up any clarinet or flute method book, and you will find that notes are introduced in a staged manner, with a lot of practice at each step. The point is not only to “hit the note” but to do so in a way that the whole tune flows together, that certain notes are joined into phrases, that the song has the correct melody, that the song is a song and not just a sequence of notes. Just listen to a song played by a beginner and then a master. The latter is smooth and enchanting while the former is jilted and almost unrecognisable. But actually they are playing exactly the same notes! The difference comes not from what they play, but how they play. Melody is key.

Music and language are both based on melody.

Music and language are both based on melody.

Now let’s bring this back to speaking a language. An English learner cannot be satisfied with merely “hitting the notes”, that is saying the right words in the right order. They need to group the words together correctly and focus on fundamental things that teachers wouldn’t normally consider, for example, breathing. They need to intone their voice correctly for each phrase, and, like any master of an instrument, they need to convey an emotion.

Delete the “e” from emotion and you get “motion”, that is, what moves us, the up-welling inside us that, be it anger or the excitement of engaging with a challenging task. These forces trigger speech. This original force expresses itself in the final product.
The first Silent Way class arouses the excitement of being engaged, which provides the trigger even within a controlled linguistic environment for students to speak in a natural way, with a focus on the music of the language supporting meaning.

 

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