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How the Tomatis method accelerates learning foreign languages

On March 25, 1957, the French Academy of Sciences listened to an intriguing speech. They heard about the discoveries of a young specialist-otolaryngologist Alfred A. Tomatis. He discovered laws that connect the process of hearing and speaking. The data obtained by him have a great practical application in many areas, including the study of foreign languages. He found the reason why it is quite difficult for some people to learn a foreign language and speak it fluently. And, more importantly, he invented a method and equipment that helps to overcome this difficulty.

Professor Tomatis has repeatedly received various awards for his discoveries. Among others, he was awarded the gold medal for Scientific Research (Brussels, 1958) and became the Knight of Health of France (1951) .

Professor Tomatis was also the founder of the Tomatis Centres around the world so that an ever-increasing number of people could benefit from the achievements of his inventions.

The originality of the Tomatis Method is to “train” Your ears before You start learning the language. As a result, You will be able to learn the language much faster. Or, if You already speak a foreign language, this method will greatly improve Your pronunciation, saving You from accent.

This article will help You understand the theory on which the method is based, as well as visually present You how this method works in practice.

The Discovery Of The Tomatis
The present experiment, conducted by Professor Tomatis, had nothing to do with the study of languages. It was not one of those serious and difficult tests, which are often written in scientific journals. In fact, it was a very funny experiment. Professor Tomatis asked the famous Opera singer to perform one of the works from his repertoire. While he was singing, Professor Tomatis covered his ears with a special device – an acoustic filter that blocked the sound of a certain frequency. As a result, the quality of performance, which before the experiment was perfect, has deteriorated significantly. This was because the voice lost the sound blocked by the filter. This experiment, and many others, gave the basis for the derivation of the First Law of Tomatis:

“You can’t play a sound you can’t hear.”

You may ask what is the connection between this discovery and the study of foreign languages. To understand this, let’s first explore some of the fundamental differences between languages.

Charm of language
Have you ever wondered why piano is so different from violin even if You play the same piece of music? Have you ever noticed that the American, which speaks, for example, a Spaniard, does not look like an American at all?

In both cases, the reason is the same. First we’ll look at the difference between piano and violin, and then we’ll go back to languages.

When You press the piano key, you produce a certain sound. However, at the same time, there are several other tones called overtones. These overtones are much less intense than the main tone, so You mostly hear the main tone. When You play the same basic tone on the violin, a completely different overtone is formed. Therefore, the sound of the violin is so strikingly different from the sound of the piano.

One of the reasons why the piano and violin create such different overtones in their sound is that they have completely different sizes of the sound reproducing part. The piano has a large, heavy sound reproducing part, while the violin has a much smaller, more delicate, so to speak. Because of this, and formed such different overtones.

Now back to the differences between languages. Like musical instruments, all languages use the same basic tones. Their range is from 125 to 250 Hertz. Overtones, however, differ depending on the language. English, for example, uses many high-frequency sounds in the formation of overtones, ranging from 2000 – 12000 Hertz. If You listen very carefully, you will be able to distinguish them from the basic tone. Listen to all the sounds of “S” (as in the word sessions) and to the sounds of “TH” (as in the word thanks). French, on the other hand, rarely uses sounds of such high frequency. For example, “S” at the end of the French word almost never sounds.

You may ask why English and French have different overtones. To understand, we need to draw an analogy with the case of the piano and violin, which we discussed earlier. The main tones are produced by the vocal cords. Then these tones, passing through the oral cavity, form the same overtones, that is, the oral cavity in this case plays the role of a “resonant shield”, since the oral cavity is divided into two parts by the tongue. As you know, when a person speaks a foreign language, his articulation is largely different than he would say in his native language, and the language is located in the oral cavity quite differently. Thus, speaking in a foreign language, we are using language to build in the oral cavity “resonance shields”, different from our usual, and thus reproduce other overtones. That is, in other words, it is the position of the tongue in the oral cavity that creates this difference! That is why we call our own language “mother tongue”.

The main idea of the above is that most foreign languages differ in a set of overtones.

Our ears, constantly listening to us and those who are close to us, are most attuned to the frequencies of our native language. For the frequencies of foreign languages, we are, so to speak, deaf. And here we find a connection with the discovery of Professor Tomatis: due to the fact that we can not “hear” foreign tones and overtones, we can not pronounce them correctly. Worse than that, they are very hard for us to remember. It would be almost hopeless if the discovery of Professor Tomatis Did not allow you to “teach” Your ears to hear the tones and overtones of foreign languages.

By “teaching” your ears first, You can significantly reduce the time it takes to learn a foreign language. Once your ears are “trained”, You will be able to hear the new language correctly. Therefore, You will be able to memorize words much faster as well as significantly improve their pronunciation.

Fitness for the ears: the theory
Now let’s try to explain how Your ears can be trained to perceive the tones inherent in foreign languages. But before that You should know why Ho can’t hear certain tones. This is because the two tiny muscles of the middle ear, the muscle straining the mallet and the muscle straining the stirrup, are not ready to focus on sounds rarely used in our native language. The task of the method is to “teach” these muscles to work with these sounds.

Professor Tomatis invented a unique way to help achieve this. In a simplified version, this can be represented as follows: You listen to the sound of a frequency that objectively hear bad or do not hear at all. This sound is continuously turned on and off, with the corresponding tension and relaxation of the muscles of the middle ear. As a result, the muscles become “trained” to the sound of a certain frequency, and You begin to hear a sound that was not previously perceived. In this case, You will not physically feel the work of the muscles of the middle ear. This is such a delicate process that You can not worry, it is these small muscles “overtrained”, and, of course, it will not change You as a person, on the contrary, will open up new opportunities for self-improvement.

Ear fitness: practice
Now let’s see how it works in practice. First, an audio test is carried out, which determines the sounds of which frequencies You hear well, and which are not very or not at all hear. Audio testing takes an average of 30 minutes. In this case, the doctor conducting this procedure, sees the “problem areas”, and in accordance with this is for You an individual listening program.

Next, You will listen to specially selected music for You. The peculiarity of this music is that the sounds of those frequencies that You have heard well, filtered through a special device. As a result, the recording remains the sounds of those frequencies that You heard poorly or did not hear during audio testing. The machine, which filters the sounds invented by A. Tomatis ‘ “electronic ear”. This unit filters the sounds of the “problem area” for You and delivers them to You via headphones in the on-off mode. As a result, You hear quite unusual, but pleasant music. Listening lasts about two hours, at this time You can sleep, knit, play chess, just relax.

Features of the syllable
Foreign languages not only differ in the frequencies they use, but also in the length of the syllables. Their correct pronunciation in the structure of time is one of the most important factors for the study of foreign speech. On average, it takes 75 milliseconds to pronounce an American syllable, which is significantly longer than the time for a French syllable (50 milliseconds). It follows that if You want to learn French, You need to learn to pronounce syllables faster, and according to Tomatis, your ears need to react faster. All this is achieved through this method.

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