Autorhythmy - the Importance of Inner Pictures and Rhythm in Foreign Language Acquisition. Part 1
Mihály Hevesi, Hungary
Mihály Hevesi (1970) lives in Hungary, author of Autorhythmy - a language acquiring method based on techniques used by formal and modern polyglots. He advocates for multilingualism and is publishing books on language acquiring and pedagogy. His homepages can be viewed here: www.englishidea.net , www.szepnapkonyvek.hu . E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The beginnings: means of a polyglot - About Kato Lomb's technique
The means of Autorhythmy
About the core of Autorhythmy - three important characteristics
Why do I call it Autorhythmy?
A first rhythm exercise
I heartily recommend the following method and its techniques to language teachers and learners as a practice inspired by Kato Lomb, my favourite Hungarian polyglot, who during her life learnt 27 languages and worked as an interpreter using 16 of them.
I call the method ‘Autorhythmy’ And it’s been shaped and reshaped since my first discovery of Kato Lomb’s technique while gathering both language teaching and acquiring experiences in different work frames and trying out well known and unknown techniques and theories in language acquisition. (Krashen, Dufeu, Asher, Rinvolucri, Waldorf-school etc.) It can be used both for individual language acquisition or in groups.
Autorhythmy helps learners:
- to understand the spoken language;
- to practice the foreign language with their interests or professional areas, current affairs, favourite movies, music, lyrics and novels,
- to build a comprehensive vocabulary,
- express themselves spontaneously.
As an enthusiastic language learner I was looking for practical ways of language learning when I stumbled upon Kato Lomb’s method 20 years ago. Her method was based in fact partly on techniques of earlier polyglots like Heinrich Schliemann or Giuseppe Mezzofanti, and like a many great things it is very simple: you should take a book, a novel you are interested in and read it in the foreign language without using a dictionary even at a very early stage of your foreign language acquisition and learning.
At the first sight it 's very strange and seemingly difficult to read a novel at the very beginning but I made good progress when I became interested in some European languages.
I also remember my room-mate at the college to whom I was teaching German and to whom I also recommended Kato Lomb's method. It happened when he had been studying German for 3 months or so, that I gave him the German version of Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog) by Jerome K. Jerome, which I loved and still love very much. I told my friend to give it a try and to read it without looking up each word in the dictionary. He looked at me perplexed and checked my face, whether I am kidding. Finally he started reading it. After a few minutes he just shut the book impatiently and told me that he doesn't understand anything except of a very few familiar words. I gave him only a few tips on how to do it: I told him he should just think about some of the words and phrases and draw his conclusions about the supposed meaning. It’ll be an intellectual joy, and he shouldn’t worry, if he is right or not, or doesn’t understand everything. Then I left him alone. After 15-20 minutes I heard him laugh as a humorous scene was coming somehow through the text to him. I think he didn’t understand the whole plot, but this wasn’t important in that moment, much more important was that he got the taste of what I was suggesting to him. I would like to emphasise this moment as one of the richest in language acquisition. You understand something that seemed foreign to you before. This can educate you towards open-mindedness and is a basic experience.
Reading good books is a real joy even in a foreign language and moreover this is an incredible means to gather a vast and useful vocabulary.
For my part later on I chose an easier way: I reread my favourite books from before in different foreign languages. Understanding is easier when you reread books you liked before. Reviving my favourite moments of a good book gives a very high motivation to go on with language acquiring and not to become tired of it. In most cases I'll remember what happened in a certain chapter and I'll have a global understanding of the text. I can halt at certain words or phrases and draw a conclusion about the meaning of them. But in many cases you can't halt because a wave catches you when reading. Kato Lomb says, if a word is important it will occur again and again and you’ll retain it.
Kato Lomb complained about her book reading technique that it doesn’t prepare you to understand the spoken language and native speakers may have difficulty in understanding the speaker who learns only by reading a book or using a course book. When reading a text in a newly learnt foreign language the reader reacts automatically with his own or a slightly different articulation. She tried to balance this by making conversation with native speakers and listening to radio programmes as much as possible in the foreign languages being learnt by her.
Anyway this is one technique by which you may gather a comprehensive vocabulary.
Having myself become a foreign language teacher in Hungary (German, Rumanian, English and Spanish) and gathering experience both with children and adult learners in different work frames I shared this technique with my students. But there were many of them who came to my lessons, even after many years of foreign language learning at school or courses, who weren’t able to understand the spoken language and couldn’t express themselves spontaneously.
In order to tackle this I needed to use or invent other techniques besides letting them experience Kato Lomb's technique.
The main question in my lessons was how students can be helped to recognise the auditive shapes of the spoken language. At first sight one may suggest that the students should make lots of pronunciation and decoding exercises (reading and listening at the same time) to develop the articulatory basis of the learnt foreign language. In fact they did lots of them in their previous courses or at school.
And I support the idea that apart from a few conscious pronunciation exercises (4-5), developing the articulatory basis should remain an unconscious process.
I began to think of something else and found that there is a way that is joyful and surprisingly effective.
In fact the idea and the later practice came from my experience teaching small children. When you teach small children only orally you don't have any kind of written text. They are aware what you are telling them or singing to them and there is nothing (a booklet or anything) between you and them. They are present in the text being spoken many times by you following the rhythm and melody of what you are saying and even creating their inner pictures as well based on your movements and the atmosphere you can create in the lesson. They are mimicking you sometimes right after you have sung a song, recited them a poem or even at the same time you are singing or telling it. And all this without practising any kind of extra pronunciation exercises. So I came to the conclusion that rhythm, melody and inner pictures are the key features that may help you in language acquisition even if you are an adult!
All in all the most important features of Autorhythmy are schematically as follows
- Autonomy: self chosen material based on interest areas and favourite books, movies, tales, tracks, songs etc.; Self set strategy (what am I practising with?, when am I practising? what techniques do I use? etc);
- Experiencing Inner pictures, prosodic elements (rhythm, melody) while listening to a text help us to be in the here and now of a text (in my view being present in a text is one of the most important characteristics of effective language acquisition);
- The experience of global understanding is crucial. The learner experiences that he or she is able to understand a text even without knowing each detail of it. The whole is here also more than the addition of its elements. And you can get to this even earlier as to the details.
- We get to the meaning of a word or phrase mostly through our personal imagination, movements, emotions, thoughts and memories (favourite novel, professional knowledge etc.);
- The use of a dictionary is delayed in order to trigger cognitive processes that help understanding and maintaining important words or phrases. When you simply look something up in the dictionary without any previous mental effort to find out what it may mean, retains your ability of understanding. (But there is to be mentioned: even a bilingual dictionary can be used in a creative way within the frames of an exercise developed to collect vocabulary from a dictionary in a very personal way - on an advanced level of language acquisition;)
- The learner creates the micro climate of a language for herself/himself using Autolexia, Autologia, Autographia (see later, what this are);
- Review of the lessons is not mere recapitulation, but enlarging our knowledge as well by adding important new elements to it;
- We experience the communicative and contact creating functions of the language at the very beginning. (Students are encouraged to find partners in the foreign language to practice with or to practice with their mates at home as well (wife, husband, friend, girlfriend etc.), there are very joyful exercises to do together that may even improve our relations.
- We develop some of our personal characteristics as well (like empathy, being present in the moment, healthy level of risk taking etc.);
- We keep language silent: that means we make a break in language acquisition after certain intensive periods and leave alone the learnt language for a while (a few days or weeks) in order to leave them integrate in our subconscious.
- Experiencing Good Humour is very important. (humorous scenes are powerful means of global understanding, especially from novels read in our native language before, that we loved)
There are three important features I would like to emphasise:
- Autonomy: the students choose their own learning material (texts linked to their interest areas, profession, favourite novels, music, movies etc. and work with them. They define the strategy they’ll follow. High-level attachment to the texts we are working with is important. If personal or professional interest interferes you aren't only practising language but learning new things in your profession or interest area as well. That may be highly motivating and time saving.
- Personal imagination (inner pictures) : we may experience very easily that words, phrases (or notions) in our native language are linked to certain inner pictures or to our senses, and aren’t only units bearing a meaning from the dictionary, but they are very personal and have been developed during years and still are changeable. Being aware of this and following (or creating consciously) inner pictures when listening to a text may help enormously our global understanding of a text.
- The prosodic elements of the language (with special emphasis on the rhythm and melody) Each language has a very characteristic rhythm and melody. The rhythm is one of the most important prosodic elements of a language, and it can play a great role in understanding or, to put it more precisely, in making out the auditive shapes of the language. For many of my adult students it seemed to be almost impossible to make out the auditive shapes of an English text without seeing it written as well.
All this may seem strange as usually there is not to much emphasis on the rhythm, melody and inner pictures in a foreign language lesson except for a few work frames (Psychodrama for Language Acquiring designed by Bernard Dufeu or the Waldorf-school environment).
But there are many reasons to take the rhythm of a language very seriously:
- The rhythm is the frame of a language in which enters melody and intonation and other
- It is a very characteristic 'element' of a language (you'll recognise a language by its
rhythm even if you don't understand it).
- Probably when language was created, or even before, the rhythm may have had a great
semantic importance; Following the rhythm (and other prosodic elements like melody or
sounds as well) of a spoken text helps you being in the here and now of a text even if you
aren’t aware of every phonetic details of a language. That means when you follow the
rhythm of a newly learnt language you’ll be very attentive and as a side effect of this
exercise (you aren't directly concentrating on this) you’ll be able to recognize the auditive
shapes of a spoken text as well.
Following our inner pictures that are emerging or following the prosodic elements while a text is being spoken may help us to develop the ability to be present in a text.
By the way it is a joy to follow even the rhythm and melody of an unknown language for example when you browse radio programmes and stumble upon a language that interests you. You'll be able to discover amazing features of a language that no textbook can tell you.
'Auto’ refers to the importance of autonomy in language acquiring, to the possibility of gathering our own learning material. And it touches upon my homage to Kato Lomb as well, since she called her exercises humorously ‘auto’ techniques. She said in a forum that despite the fact that she doesn't own a car (an 'auto'), she travels with three, at least on the territory of language acquiring. These are: Autologia- speaking to herself, Autographia- writing to herself, and Autolexia- reading to herself in a foreign language. By the way, she used for example Autologia (speaking to herself) when travelling or waiting for a bus, so she stated she never got bored in her life, of course she spoke mostly to herself in a foreign language, when preparing to interpret at conferences or other circumstances. Autologia is a very intensive mental exercise and one of my favourites besides reading or listening to good books. I usually practice this with languages that I don’t have the opportunity to practice with people in my environment.
The “rhythmy’ refers to the fact that rhythm in my view and in my experience - besides the inner pictures that emerge (but most of the times they remain unconscious) - is one of the key features of language acquisition.
The ‘Autorhythmy’ refers also to our own rhythm, which is worth considering when practising a foreign language. Our strategy will be designed based on our own rhythm, spare time, daily routine.
The practice with the rhythm of a text is mostly playful and joyful and creates a very good environment for receptivity.
- I first let the students experience how to mimic the rhythm of each other. I clap a short rhythm that I invent and 'give it' away to someone in the circle. He/she should repeat it and invent another rhythm that he/she gives away again. And so on. We practice this for a few minutes while the rhythm is getting longer and longer, of course still repeatable.
- Then we listen to a text (I am telling the text or we use a tape) sentence by sentence, and the students in the circle one after one repeat the rhythm of the sentence by clapping their hands.
- Later on the exercise may be varied with stamping, clapping on the knees, clicking our tongues, or conducting etc.
An advanced exercise (we can do this when travelling as well without disturbing our fellow passangers):
- We follow the rhythm of a spoken text (from an audio source or read by me) by clicking our tongues simultaneously with the rhythm of the text. This helps with following the text and being aware of the whole text. After 30 seconds or 1 minute you can skip following the rhythm and just follow the text itself and revive the words with your inner pictures. Following the rhythm first will help direct your attention in the here and now of the text.
In the next article about Autorhythmy I'll describe what we offer to students in our courses and how we can find out which texts are best to work with.
(To be continued)
Please check the Creative Methodology for the Classroom course at Pilgrims website.