Multilingualism Without Words

by Corey · 0 comments

Today my children and I joined our homeschool group to watch two amazing live shows.  They were part of an international event in Seattle titled The Giant Magnet.

The first show was a juggler from Québec Canada: Jamie Adkins in Circus Incognitus. Fabulous!  The second was the world-renowned group Black Violin. Amazing!

These shows were nothing short of spectacular.  We all left the shows raving about what we had just seen, wishing we could have stayed for more.  They were two completely different shows yet both filled us with feelings of delight and enjoyment.

As we left, I wondered what made these show so exceptional.  Why did I and the group I was with proclaim these shows as “amazing” rather than “pretty good” or “not bad”?

Was it because the performers were so highly skilled in their talents?  Yes, that was definitely one reason.  They clearly had worked hard to master their skills and performed their tasks with precision!  But I’ve seen my share of performances where the skill was definitely there but I was left feeling less than satisfied.

Was it because of the whole setting of the show: the lighting, the stage, the props, the marketing and presentation?  Yes, that also had much to do with it.  Our expectations had been set from the layout of the poster, the description of the show, the way the stage looked.  We entered the auditorium expecting to be wowed to the Nth degree.

But what made these performances exceptional was above and beyond the technique and the skill in marketing and stage layout.   What made these shows resonate with us was the COMMUNICATION which took place between us and the performers.  We were meeting at a point of shared understandings.

These performers spoke to us.  They communicated with us.  They engaged us in a two way discussion – back and forth, back and forth.  They enveloped us into a dialog in which we were willing and active participants.

Language is more than just words.  It is meaning encapsulated in sounds, gestures, eye-contact, intonation, movement, facial expressions, energy.

Here are two Merriam Webster definitions of language:

A systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings.

The suggestion by objects, actions, or conditions of associated ideas or feelings.

Speech is but one part of what we mean when we say “language.”  Communication is taking place whether we are speaking or holding a hand.  We us expressions such as “the language of love” or as Shakespere said, “language in their very gesture.”  Language takes place when nothing but silent eye-contact is made or when we cheer out loud.

Jamie Adkins spoke only a few words.  Yet we laughed and laughed, to the point of crying.  We understood him and what he was saying to us, and we in turn told him our thoughts via clapping and cheering, laughing and being silent.  My kids explained one of Jamie Adkins’ jokes to their father tonight at the dinner table.  Yet, Jamie Adkins had “told” us his joke solely through gestures and facial expressions.  Not a single word was spoken yet many words were understood and these were the words my children understood and used to explain the joke to their father.

While the Black Violin performers communicated with us via their violins, we communicated back by leaping to our feet and dancing, cheering, clapping.  The more we got into the music, the more the performers got into the flow of their music.  The communication between us and them was palpable.  Their violin playing created in us the urge to respond and our response in turn encouraged them to respond back.  In addition, they were taking the risk to share a completely new language with us: the combination of classical violin and hip-hop music!

What does this have to do with multilingualism?

Today was another strong reminder that raising multilingual children takes place on many different levels.  Yes, verbal language is key in raising multilingual children, but it is not all of it.  The words we use are essential tools toward language mastery.  Yet the unspoken elements of language are just as important even though they are often forgotten.

HOW you communicate with your child (verbally and non-verbally) influences language learning on many levels.  It will also help mold the kind of multilingual interaction you will have with your child.

From today on, start noticing your intonation, your eye-contact, your level of agitation or calm.  Do you take the time to listen and respond fully to your child when he or she communicates with you, both verbally and non-verbally?  What does your body language say about your engagement in any given communication with your child.  Does it say, “Here I am, open to whatever you have to say.”  Or does it imply something different.

There isn’t any need to make any changes right now.  Just notice.  Be aware.

And if you realize that you haven’t been communicating verbally and non-verbally as you would like?  That is ok!  What you will find is that simply by being aware of what you are doing will actually help it evolve into something that you’d prefer!  Imagine how you would LIKE it to be and then let it evolve toward that.  No matter what, do not berate yourself for not having communicated with your multilingual children better in the past.  Today is a new day!

And then tell me what you discover!  I am all ears!

And I even have my own joys and pitfalls to share back with you.

For those of you curious about Black Violin, below is one of their videos.  Enjoy!

Corey Heller is the founder of Multilingual Living and the Editor-In-Chief/Publisher of Multilingual Living Magazine. Multilingual Living is the place where she shares her knowledge about raising multilingual and multicultural children. Corey, an American, and her German husband live in Seattle where they raise and homeschool their three children, ages 15, 14 and 12, in German and English.

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