Last spring I played Beethoven's "Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt" Op. 112, with the Arlington Philharmonic. I was carrying the music with me and the kids saw it briefly. "Meerschweinchen?" they asked. "What's that about a Meerschweinchen?" Meerschweinchen is the German word for guinea pig. As in, we have two of them living in our basement. And when both my kids were younger, in a hopeful attempt to teach them some German, I used to read them this book, Ich bin das kleine Meerschweinchen by Amrei Fechner.
"What does this have to do with a violin blog?" one might reasonably ask. Well, like everything else about the violin, it all seems to come down to practicing, one way or another. I started making a deal with my daughter: some days I would clean the guinea pig cages while she practiced her violin. The cages are in the basement directly under the rec room, so I (and they) can hear her practice through the ceiling. I can verify she is doing what she is supposed to be doing while I'm scooping the you-know-what. My husband thinks I have the raw end of the deal, but I usually don't think so. I kind of enjoy doing something mindless for 20 minutes, communing with the guinea pigs while being serenaded by "Sitka City." And I want her to practice without me, to take charge of the journey.
It's possible the whole rewards-for-practice concept is getting a little out of hand, though. I've read research that points out that if kids get rewarded for everything they do, they may never develop the necessary internal motivation. I agree that's something to think about. The issue I wrestle with is that some people don't seem to develop internal motivation no matter what their parents do or did. Or they develop it on their own schedule according to their own plan, again relatively free of outside influence. It's called "internal" motivation for a reason. And while you're waiting for it, you might as well be doing something useful as not.
While I engage in the endless search for violin practice motivators, my (German) husband has been engaged in a parallel search for German language practice motivators. When we were first married, we had this dream of raising our kids to be bilingual. I thought this would be nice for them based on my own experience learning German. Although my ancestors immigrated to the USA from Germany in the 1800's, the language had been completely lost to the Allendoerfer family by the time my brother and I were born in the 1960's and 70's. Typical monolingual American suburban kids, we had to learn it in school, and had a difficult time when we lived in Berlin for a year during a sabbatical of my father's. While I did enjoy and got a lot (including, ultimately, my husband) out of the cultural experience of learning a foreign language as a teen and young adult, it isn't the same as being a native speaker.
However, even with a native speaker or two in the house, it was never as easy as it looked from the outside. When the subject of bilingual kids came up, well-meaning people would ask, "do you speak German at home?" and it got to the point where I'd want to invite them over to my house and give them an earful of what I got when I tried to do that: Why do we have to speak German? We don't know anyone else who speaks German! And the killer: It's boooor-ing! (In English, of course).
Still the violin practicing, with reward scheme in place, had been (slowly) yielding results. And then my daughter came up with the next idea on her own. She wants her ears pierced. She's been talking about it for ages, even longer than she talked about the guinea pigs before we got them. Then another friend got her ears pierced over the weekend, and that was the last straw. She's now willing to speak German every day for 2 months if she can get her ears pierced.
This morning at breakfast there was a lot of talk about Meerschweinchen, since they are having trouble coming up with new words easily, but they are making a good faith effort. The words Geige and Bratsche are also getting more use than they ever have before. And, down below, the guinea pigs are listening to their daily concert.
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