Friday, September 21, 2012

The Art of Language, By Jaimmie Stugard

The thought manifests as the word.

The word manifests as the deed.

The deed develops into habit.

And the habit hardens into character.

- Buddhist wisdom

It may be hard to imagine, but in my younger days, I was known for my blunt remarks and my crude sense of humor. I spoke my mind without censoring myself and the results were often amusing and sometimes embarrassing. Eventually, I began to realize that a hasty remark could be very damaging, while a carefully timed and placed word could have a profoundly positive impact. Later, when I began working with children, the art of language began to reveal itself to me.
There is a great focus on language and the development of speech in the LifeWays training. It was there that I learned that when one speaks, the vocal cords of the listener vibrate at the same frequency. This physiological imitation lays the foundation for infants' speech development. Since young children learn through imitation, LifeWays caregivers strive to be worthy of imitation in our speech, our gestures, even our thoughts.

LifeWays fosters language development through singing, storytelling, puppetry and nursery rhymes. Since children learn through repetition as well as imitation, I sing the same seasonal songs for months at a time and there are many songs and verses that we use every day of the year. While a few are just plain silly fun, many of them are more like our blessing - a reverent and practical expression of gratitude, joy, necessity, and life.

Earth who gives to us this food.

Sun who makes it ripe and good.

Sun above, and Earth below.

To you our loving thanks we show.

At nap, I tell a seasonal story *by heart.* I tell the same story, word for word, day after day, for weeks and weeks. Telling stories this way allows the children to live into the tale. The youngest children drink in the sounds and words as their language prepares to blossom. While the older, more experienced children illustrate the tale in their drowsy mind's eye.
It is during our stories and songs that I pay most careful attention to my speech. During common daily activities, it is easy to slip into a muddled Midwestern accent, or to lose awareness of the tone of my voice. At story time, I have opportunity to focus on enunciating and speaking in a pure, gentle tone. It still surprises me how difficult it is to pronounce each and every consonant and vowel properly (especially when reading certain Dr. Seuss tales).

The LifeWays training also introduced me to the practice of right speech. Right speech is an aspect of Buddhist meditative practice. "It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will." Idle chatter and lies are to be avoided. In working with children, I include unnecessarily verbose instructions, lecturing and otherwise carrying on in the *idle chatter* category. Conversations with children can be very insightful and beneficial, particularly when I am listening more than speaking.

It is obvious that children imitate our speech patterns, our tone of voice and the quality of our language. I even have trouble telling my dad's voice from my brother's on the telephone. And there are plenty of times that parent's inquire about the Miss Jaimmie-isms in their child's vocabulary. (Yes, I do ask them not to dash indoors and I help them when their sleeves are confuffled). While few of us have perfected right speech, we can continue to strive. And that striving is, in itself, worth imitating.

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