In a recent thread Cantotango asked whether I could describe my experiences with the Tomatis method. It’s been 12 years, so I can really only remember the outcome, not many details of the sessions. Like Steve, Alfred Tomatis believed that you can only learn to speak a language through being able to hear it. What you can’t hear you can’t pronounce, but you can train your ear to hear. It needs to be stressed that I didn’t do the language assimilation programme and that, although the treatment was worth every penny, it wasn’t cheap. Following Steve’s advice to listen, listen, listen may be the better option for most people keen on learning foreign languages. Here is now first my recollection and then later a bit more about Language Assimilation.
I had bought two of Dr A Tomatis’s books , “Pourquoi Mozart?” and “Nous sommes tous nés polyglottes” just prior to reading in a biography about Gérard Depardieu that it was Dr Tomatis who had enabled him to overcome his aphasia (?) and find his voice for the stage. I believe, Depardieu had been a sort of juvenile delinquent but showed an awesome promise to become a good actor, he just couldn’t speak on stage.
A year or so later something peculiar happened to me. For some time I had noticed a slight loss of hearing in one ear and then I suddenly lost the power of speech in my French adult education class: not a word would come over my lips. I could speak English and German, but the minute I tried to talk French in class my throat closed up. It was most embarrassing. It was clearly psychosomatic, and I never found out what was behind that, I simply stopped going to French classes.
When I came across my Tomatis books, I decided to investigate matters a bit further. Going to Paris was out of the question. Luckily enough there were two Tomatis Centres near where I lived, one in London, one in Lewes. I opted for the one in Lewes and the “general tuning-up” treatment. The Centre’s main focus was on treating autism in children.
From what I remember, I had three blocks of appointment with a set period between each block. The initial assessment involved a detailed interview, vocal and hearing tests (precursor of brain-mapping, I suppose). The treatment itself being exposed to music played through the Electronic Ear – a Tomatis specific contraption. It was an unbelievably powerful and moving experience to have selected Gregorian chants and/or pieces of Mozart trickling into my brain. The therapist would set the machine according to the patient’s listening graph to address specific areas of interest.
During parts of the session we would be encouraged to do jigsaw puzzles or draw or simply rest; reading and other brain work were discouraged. There were times when I would fall into a very deep sleep, at other times tears would roll down my face. The most amazing thing, though, was that I started to draw. Normally my level is matchstick men without the Lowry genius. I still have those drawings and still can’t believe that I did them. Oh, yes, and another thing: I started becoming a bit left-handed during those drawing sessions and have since then continued using my left side more and more.
The third block included another assessment which was carried out partly by Dr Tomatis: he happened to be in the UK to assess a young psychologist who had flown in from Malaysia, I think. Ooh, I was so nervous to be sat across from the good doctor himself! I was very pleased though that I could understand what he was discussing in French with my wonderful therapist and I even managed to say a couple of words back in French.
The following excerpts are taken from various websites I found when googling for updates of the Tomatis method (Dr Tomatis died in 2003). The first is in English and comes from the Belgian treatment centre. The second one is the synopsis of the French book "L'écoute, c'est la vie" by my then therapist, Patrick Dumas de la Roque.
Learning foreign languages more easily
As a result of ongoing globalisation, command of foreign languages is very important. The gift for languages is first and foremost the ability to adjust one’s ear to the frequencies of a foreign language.
The ear is normally receptive to a wide range of frequencies and can detect a variety of rhythms. During development, however, the ear adjusts to a way of hearing that is conditioned by its mother tongue. Different languages prefer different frequency ranges. When speaking, the English use frequencies from 2,000 to 12,000 Hertz in particular, the French frequencies from 100 to 300 Hz and 1,000 to 2,000 Hz, the majority of Slavonic speakers from 100 to 12,000 Hz, and German speakers from 100 to 3,000 Hz. As a result, there is an “English“, a “French“, a “Slavonic“, or a “German“ ear, as people can only speak frequencies that they hear (Tomatis rule).
It is therefore easy to understand why the French for example find it difficult to learn other languages. For them, and for the Italians, the preferred frequency ranges of the language have a rather narrow bandwidth. People from countries in which Slavonic languages are spoken are, on the other hand, at an advantage. The frequency ranges of the approximately 20 Slavonic languages cover a greater bandwidth. This explains why the Eastern Europeans have a gift for languages.
In order to be able to learn a language well, therefore, one first has to hear the preferred frequency ranges of a language well.
In addition, each language has a typical latency, which is necessary to utter a syllable and hear oneself.
The Brain Activator “opens“ the ear to a foreign language. With specially designed programmes the ear can accustom itself to frequencies, rhythm and intonation. The Tomatis listening training programme makes it possible to learn a language faster and speak it better.
L'écoute, c'est la vie by Patrick Dumas de la Roque
Nous avons des oreilles qui entendent, mais savons-nous vraiment écouter ? Les découvertes du Dr Tomatis sur l'importance de l'oreille et de l'écoute ont fini par lui faire dire que " l'homme est une oreille en totalité ".
En d'autres termes, la vocation ou l'accomplissement de l'homme est d'être une véritable antenne à l'écoute de l'Univers. Savoir écouter est la condition première à toutes les situations, qu'elles soient relationnelles, d'apprentissage, de créativité ou autres. Dans cette dynamique, l'oreille tient le rôle de chef d'orchestre qui met tout notre corps et tous nos sens à l'écoute. Ce livre nous donne de nouvelles clés pour comprendre l'origine de nombreux blocages et échecs.
En effet, l'acquisition de l'écoute est longue, délicate et souvent perturbée par les traumatismes qui jalonnent notre enfance et qui auront des conséquences sur notre développement personnel et professionnel. Cet ouvrage se présente également comme un guide pratique des différents champs d'application de la thérapie de l'écoute du Dr Tomatis. Il permettra à chacun de découvrir ce que peut apporter une telle démarche pour progresser dans des domaines aussi variés que la concentration, la mémorisation, la communication, le chant, l'intégration des langues vivantes et l'équilibre.