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Language is Music; Your Body the Instrument


russian wordsDoes the idea of speaking a foreign language sound exotic and exciting?

It does to me. I actually think about… no, dream about… conversing with locals on deep topics in their native tongue — perhaps in a pub or bar, or maybe while sipping on a coffee in a trendy cafe. The idea of learning languages is like honey…

…and I’m the fly that lands on the sweet substance just to get trapped in its sticky goodness until I drown.

Dramatic, I know. When it comes to being able to communicate in a foreign language, the act of speaking has always been the issue for me. Sure, sitting in a room for 80 hours in one month, being forced to make chit-chat, helps, but it wasn’t until I met and spoke with Susanna Zaraysky that I understood how much listening and tuning played an important role in the process.

Meeting Susanna Zaraysky

Meeting Susanna Zaraysky was a strange coincidence. When I got on a bus in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to visit the eagle hunters, I had no idea I was about to be chatting with someone pretty much involved in the blog world I exist in (besides Kirstin, of course) and someone so advanced in the art of language learning. She can speak like 7 different languages, so I’d call her an expert.

brooke and susanna at mimino

Brooke & Susanna at Mimino. Photo by Susanna.

We decided to meet up at my favorite restaurant in all of Bishkek — Mimino — for a Sunday lunch and to talk about all things travel, blogging and language learning.

That’s also when Susanna left me with a copy of one of her books, Language is Music.

Reading Language is Music

Language is Music is not a hefty text book but more of a “get ready to learn” guide. Less than 100 pages in length, this book, I found, was something that put the idea of language learning into perspective.

The main point was that languages have their own beats, rhythms, and sounds — and we (our bodies) have to act like the instruments to perform them properly. It’s not just about understanding vocabulary on paper; it’s about tuning our instruments to perform.

When I was younger, I didn’t understand this. I thought that when I put on a stereotypical Italian accent that I sounded like I was taking the piss. Only, it’s sort of necessary. To speak like the locals, you kind of have to put on an act… until it becomes natural.

Otherwise, you will continue to be that foreigner with the incredibly monotone and thick accent that makes people struggle to understand you.

With Russian learning, I mentioned before that I’ve watched people literally change their characters when switching from English to their Russian speaker mode. I remember thinking, at first, that it seemed strange to me, but then again, these were the people that could pass for a local if necessary.

Now, I understand that these individuals were simply choosing the right instrument to perform.

Importance of Music in Language Learning

russian signIn the same way, Susanna also puts emphasis on using music to learn a language. We all know that music is said to stimulate the brain, which is why so many parents enroll their kids in the school band. For the same reason, listening to foreign music and using music in language lessons can take your language learning even further.

Music stimulates the brain, so more parts of the brain are active in the learning process. And, if you are able to incorporate the foreign language, music and video into one, you are going to get more out of your lessons — especially a lot more than just sitting in a classroom reading words off a blackboard.

The Methods Used by a Polyglot

I enjoyed my time getting to know Susanna and her language learning methods. More than that, I love that Susanna is such an advocate for the need to learn a second language, which you can read more about on her site, Create Your World Books.


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6 Responses to Language is Music; Your Body the Instrument

  1. Petra January 16, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

    Dear Brooke, I’m a translator. And I speak 7 languages. However, I’m learning other 2 at the moment and I can totally understand you! Chit-chatting with locals is one of the few experiences which can give you (really give you!!) a glimpse of the local culture while travelling!

    • Brooke January 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

      I don’t understand how you can know so many languages! Not fair 😉

  2. Robert (@Kenya Safari) January 17, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    Its always great to read about the language interactions between a traveller and the locals. Thanks for the post Brooke.

    • Brooke January 20, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

      Thank you for reading 🙂

  3. Neoglitch May 17, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    Interesting article Brooke. I agree with you and Susanna; specially on this insight:

    “The main point was that languages have their own beats, rhythms, and sounds — and we (our bodies) have to act like the instruments to perform them properly.”

    Only by listening constantly to the target language, by LIVING it, is how we can get used to their rhythms, sounds and beats; to those little details that make each language unique… even when at first we can’t understand what we are listening to.

    I can’t wait to get my hands on that book… by the way Brooke, have you ever visited

    • Brooke May 21, 2012 at 2:38 am #

      What exactly is A language learning site?

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