I Wasn’t Good Enough

From 2014:

I was just listening to a version, featuring violin, of Ave Maria by Arthur Grumiaux.

I used to play the violin. My dad and brother both made it into careers (violin and cello, respectively). But about twenty years ago, because I didn’t feel good enough, I sold my violin and with it my dreams.

Why did I sell my dreams? It is because the way I was brought up with the violin was all about technical mastery and not about flow or doing it for the pure enjoyment of it. It was a competition. My left hand literally could not relax enough to play the really hard stuff high up on the fingerboard.

We need to bring both things into our classrooms when teaching our languages. Our children need to have a chance to be happy about learning a language and they must feel that they are good enough at it. What is the history with this? How many adults now cannot pick up a language, as I cannot pick up a violin, because of the way they were introduced to it?

The change we are now in, with the closing of iron fisted instruction in foreign language education, is toward self-acceptance and away from not feeling good enough. This statement applies to both student and teacher. If we can this year make a resolution that we don’t have to always keep trying to be perfect at TPRS, to be the life of the story (which we are not, because the kids are), it would help us and it would help our kids.

CI is that powerful, that it can redirect an entire educational system that was based on analysis of the mechanical aspects of language, technique if you will, to an approach where mind is balanced with heart, away from robotic instruction to human learning, because it is our hearts that define us as human.

While I was listening to that violin in the Ave Maria, it uplifted me. It was exhaulting. Those kind of soft kind that feel so good were there. For the first time I was able to hear a violin without toxicity. I never knew it, but it is a beautiful instrument.

How many of the competitive types of foreign language teachers actually know how beautiful the languages they teach are?

Before, for all those long years, I wasn’t able to hear the music because of my background. I heard the violin for the first time this morning. How about that?

Now a challenge for the group. Are we going to be able to teach in a way that works on uplifting our kids so that at the end of each of our classes they will not have had to endure what I endured with the violin, and what countless adults had to endure in their “four years of study” that gave them nothing but the conviction that they couldn’t master a language?

I’m not talking about the privileged 5 to 7 kids who can give cute answers and run the class. I’m talking about the 5 to 7 who can’t do that and sit there and look lacking to us. But they are not lacking and they are not lazy. They are blocked.

Will people ever know how beautiful languages are?



6 thoughts on “I Wasn’t Good Enough”

  1. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    The rigorous, competitive ‘this is hard so it means you’re smart/talented’ mentality has to shift. All that lip-service to growth mindset when Carol Dweck’s work (book of that title) was just that…lip-service. People’s egos are wrapped up in the perception that what they do for a living is perceived as challenging. There’s constant judgement going on. He’s Dr. – he must be smart. He plays violin for an orchestra – how talented and persistent…

    I can honestly say that now, when I go to workshops or conferences or classrooms, I’m looking for playfulness, broad smiles, small joyful gestures, to inform my ‘take’ on a teacher’s T/CI practice. Annik does this thing where she smiles from ear to ear then looks upward to the heavens, as if to say, ‘Can you believe how great this moment is for all of us here, together?’
    There’s another great Mandarin teacher (I momentarily forgot her name! Aach!) who curtsies while she’s teaching – it is a most inviting and endearing gesture, and she looks so playful when she’s doing it, kind of like Peter Pan! It makes me want to eat up whatever she’s serving!

    There was a time, I do admit, that I might have mentally ranked a teacher based on their control of the language, their creative lessons, their bag of tricks. But now, I just want to see them for what kind of human interaction and fun they can conjure up with the class…

    1. This should be hanging on the walls of every language classroom in the country. It is because languages are so deeply human. And those super achieving perfectionist teachers are not going for the human element, but for the “I am the best!” element. Most people are not the best.

      I’m so glad you wrote that Alisa. We are just peeps. Trying to get by.

      Was the Mandarin teacher Linda Li?

  2. I’ve been playing bass and guitar since i was 12. I am still not good enough… but in that there is hope–perpetual growth. Just this year i played my first gig as a bassist with a jam band. I got a lot of compliments. I must be doing something right at 32 years old.

      1. You’re right Ben. No one in my family was a musician. My bro and i learned on our own. No pressure but little support. I took a long break and now im going all out focusing mainly on music production and mixing. Almost done with that invisibles song!

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