Saturday, November 1, 2014

Why You Cannot Be Taught a Foreign Language. Part 12

About the Orchestra and Musicians and Other Things

It seems that the facial muscles, along with the respiratory system—everything that makes the sounds of language—can to some extent be compared with an orchestra. This orchestra always plays the same symphony. The movements of the ‘musicians’ (meaning the facial, chest and other muscles) are developed to the highest degree of virtuosity. These musicians always know what to play, how to play and in what sequence. Their movements are coordinated and polished through years and decades of repeating the intonations, sounds, words, phrases and sentences of the symphony of the native language. As soon as the conductor (the brain) gives the signal, the musicians carry out the command without hesitation, operating by the familiar matrices of habitually carrying out these commands.

Or almost always without hesitation. Of course, we all know that our coordination in performing the commands of the brain can be significantly compromised—by alcohol, for example. Strong frost or getting a shot of local anaesthesia from the dentist will also impair coordination. In such cases, the language symphony falters. And this happens with a native speaker, familiar and comfortable with the performance of his own symphony!

Imagine what happens when the conductor gives the command to perform an entirely new symphony, or at least some elements of a new symphony. Phony notes! Protest! Sabotage! That’s what results. These new notes are so strange and unfamiliar that the musicians simply refuse to comply and continue to play their favourite old melodies and themes rather than those that the conductor is commanding. By their behaviour, they are telling the conductor that they have no idea what is required of them, that they haven’t been trained in these new tricks, that they are tired of all this nonsense, and, in the end, they want to just be left alone!

What is the conductor to do in this situation? Should he capitulate completely, displaying a shameful lack of courage? Will he compromise and insist just partially on having his own way and try to force the rebel musicians to perform the new symphony, albeit with phony notes and out of tune—have you ever heard an orchestra playing badly? Or will our conductor firmly find the courage and energy to straighten out his negligent subordinates and make them play smoothly and nicely?

This question one can answer only for himself…

[Via Language Tai-chi, or You Cannot Be Taught a Foreign Language, by Nikolay Zamyatkin]

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