$ Last time I promised to tell you about Vera F. Birkenbihl whose approach to foreign languages revolutionized my work. Let’s get started with a test, brilliant in its simplicity, a language talents test.
1. Do you generally understand what people say (on the radio, when people talk to you etc.)?
2. Do you read fluently (newspapers, books etc.)?
3. Are you generally able to express what you want to say?
4. Can you write?
If you answered “yes” four times, it means, there is no obstacle for you to master a foreign language. Birkenbihl puts it like this: if somebody is able to communicate fluently in their mother tongue, there’s no reason why they couldn’t do it in a foreign language. Of course, I can come across challenges. E.g. if I don’t like reading at all in my mother tongue, if I prefer calling to writing an email, I transfer this pattern to the process of learning foreign languages: I won’t like reading in a foreign language, I will prefer calling to writing.
$ Fortunately, it’s not about me. Are people who don’t like either reading or writing doomed to having problems in learning a foreign language?
$ Not more than in case of learning their mother tongue. The number of functional illiterates (people who learned a language at home and at school, nevertheless, they don’t understand much of what they read or listen to) seems to grow every year, which doesn’t obstruct the communication – more or less successful – in our language. Ages ago, in China, hardly anybody could read and write. Books were “read” by people in this way: a group of people learned the content by heart and then recited to the others. A person from another group remembered the content and repeated to the next group. Did it obstruct communication or development of the culture and the language?
$ Evidently not.
$ Talking about China. A method similar to the Birkenbihl’s was used there in teaching Chinese. Mothers read their children e.g. Laozi Daodejing (Tao Te Ching). Look at an excerpt: Bù chū hù, zhī tiān xià. Bù kuī yǒu, jiàn tiān dào. Qí chū mí yuǎn, qí zhī mí shǎo. Shì yǐ shèng rén bù xíng ér zhī, bù jiàn ér míng, bù wéi ér chéng.
$ O, everything is clear!
$ That’s what I’m saying. It means: You don’t have to go out the door to know what goes on in the world. You don’t have to look out the window to see the way of heaven. The farther you go the less you know. So the wise soul doesn’t go, but knows; doesn’t look, but sees; doesn’t do, but gets it done. The text was read until the child learned it by heart. Then she handed in the written version:
不出戶、知天下。不 闚 牑 、見天道。其出 彌遠、其知彌少。是以聖人不行而知、不見而名、不爲而成。
and told the child to recite the text and follow the signs. After the kid “read” the texts by Laozi, Kongzi and others they knew the signs the texts included and could discover other texts, omitting the first phase, i.e. learning the text by heart.
$ The verses you have chosen attracted my attention. How can you get to know the world without leaving your house? And does it make sense? After all, travelling is fascinating. I love experiencing.
$ Let me share my point of view with you. Imagine that a person A is going to India. I am mentioning this country on purpose because you can either love India or hate India. The person A feels at home in India. They love the climate, colors, tastes, beautiful people. They experience spiritual and religious rebirthing in Varanasi. They come to the conclusion that our civilization has watches – theirs has time; we have knowledge – they know how to live; we have money – they have consciousness of possessing everything they need. They come back home completely changed and overwhelmed. They talk about it to a person B with such a passion that they encourage them to go to India. The person B comes back and says: you lied to me. It is dirty there, it stinks, nothing works properly, they are primitive and so on. Both went to get to know the world and everyone got to know…
$ Right. A trip to a remote corner of the planet will only create a different context, where I’ll find out more about myself. However, I have myself at my disposal without going for a long trip.
$ So why more and more people enjoy the possibility of travelling instead of closing the door of their little wood houses and meditating? Of course, I belong to them, too.
$ What is your answer?
$ I don’t know. Laozi’s approach is totally new to me.
$ In spite of the fact that Laozi lived b.C. So many people travel, they come back suntanned, they talk about their exotic experience, they show pictures, they prove they can afford it, that I say: I want to live like this, too. I don’t ask myself the question: do I choose sunbathing or wrinkles? Do I feel like losing time to look for the place where I can get the best shots instead of inhaling a new atmosphere? Just the opposite. I’m still on one trip and I’m planning the next one. My ego needs that at parties, while travel-dropping, to be able to send an email: sorry for my late reply but I was in Japan (as if you couldn’t be on a short trip to Japan or spend many days in my garden with no Internet access) or on the phone: I’ll call you when I come back from Mexico. You can even make a joke out of it.
$ I’ll call you as soon as I come back from Mexico. When are you coming back? I’m not going.
$ That’s a good one.