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I Do Not Teach Children. I Give Them Joy.

I do not teach children. I give them joy.

When I came across this quote the other day, my head exploded.

Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but it’s not an overstatement to say that these nine words once uttered by Isadora Duncan (1877-1927), an American dancer often referred to as the “mother” of contemporary dance, sum up my whole philosophy of educating children and youth over the past 30 years.

No matter what it is we want a child to acquire—and that includes developing active ability in another language—the most effective way forward involves inspiring joy in the experience of that area of knowledge or skill. It’s not that teaching isn’t important, too, but teaching is secondary, really—and even irrelevant to some degree—when joy is given and illuminates the child’s experience.

When joy is kindled, it not only fuels learning in the present, it can stoke further learning that continues far beyond the time we work with that child. After all, whether as parent or teacher, the actual time we spend with a child is necessarily limited. Chances are, the period following our direct contact—the period without our presence, where the child ventures on independently—will last much longer. If joy is given in that limited time we have together, our positive influence may be felt for years to come.

The opposite, it should be said, can occur as well. When there’s a lack of joy in the learning, and the focus is solely on teaching for short-term gain, the greater outcome, far outweighing whatever has been learned, can be an enduring disenchantment with that area of knowledge or skill. I suspect we could all point to certain areas of our own lives where a shortage of joy in early experiences led to dislike and avoidance for decades afterward.

The truth is, it may look like I’m teaching when I’m with a child, but the teaching is really just what lies on the surface of this interaction. It’s what I’m trying to do through this teaching, at a deeper level, that I consider more significant:

I’m seeking to give children joy—joy for language and literacy—that will not only spark stronger progress during our time together, it will glow warmly, and promote continuing growth, for the rest of their lives.

How about you? What more can you do to give joy for your minority language?

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9 Responses

  1. I am, Adam Beck, OVERjoyed to read this information.
    Yes JOY is essential to the curiosity surrounding the learning process.
    However, I might add an additional process…and that is the nature of entertainment in learning.
    My name for this process is EDUTAINMENT.
    The nature of learning must also be entertaining.
    Warm joyful thoughts,
    Al Beck

    [NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: Al Beck is my father! :mrgreen: ]

  2. Hi,

    Your article caught my eye, as I work with bilingual children and I studied dance as part of my degree. Whilst I am a big fan of Isadora Duncan, I feel that ‘inspiring joy’ is teaching, it is part of what teaching is. It is not something separate. As a teacher of dance & drama for many years, ‘inspiring joy’ was always part of my daily job. I don’t see the two as separate…

    1. Sue, I certainly agree with your perspective, though I’m not sure Isadora Duncan was really implying that teaching and “giving joy” are two separate things, at least ideally. My take on her message, as I tried to articulate in this post, is that much of what is called “teaching” is actually a joyless form of activity, and without that joy, teaching loses its deeper purpose, its real power, and thus does become separate, in that sense.

    1. Annamari, thank you for sharing your article. I enjoyed it very much and I give you a standing ovation for your strong efforts to nurture not only a second language, but the joy of language itself.

  3. This certainly rings true when you are dealing with young children. I feel like I spend my time playing with my 14 month old; not teaching. But through our interactions she is learning and developing. It will be interesting to see how this process transforms as she grows up.

    1. Judy, thanks for your comment. I think, ideally, this sort of playful learning process should continue throughout childhood (throughout one’s lifetime, really), though I realize a growing child must also come to accept that there are times when learning won’t necessarily feel so “fun.” It’s a question of emphasis, I suppose, and if we can continue to be as playful as possible with our kids, I think we’ll ultimately enjoy more success (“enjoy” is the right word) on our bilingual journey.

  4. Those who decide to have children and bear the responsibilities that they demand lay the foundation for a promising future of continuing love and affection which keeps US grounded.

    Children are unequalled in emitting a love that no other person on earth could ever approach. That love is the gate keeper of compassion which reigns supreme in the grand scheme.

    Children are untouched by man, free to love unconditionally. As our hands become imprinted upon them they enter the world of the unknown to that of the known which man himself has unashamedly devised for his own good.

    Left to their own devises and following their lead in purity the world would reach the pinnacle of happiness that which continues to elude us.

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Welcome to Bilingual Monkeys!

I’m Adam Beck, the founder of this blog and The Bilingual Zoo, a lively worldwide forum for parents raising bilingual or multilingual kids. I’m also the author of the widely-read book Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability. I’ve been an educator and writer in this field for over 20 years as well as the parent of two bilingual children, now 16 and 13. I hope my work can help empower the success of your bilingual journey.

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