The Tomatis Method for Learning a New Language

Dr Alfred Tomatis was a French ear specialist who discovered the correlation between speaking and hearing. His research helps us to understand why it is so difficult to learn and speak a foreign language. He developed a method and the equipment to overcome this difficulty.

The core of the method is training your ears before starting to learn a new language.

Dr Tomatis discovered that your voice can only produce what your ears can hear. He asked a well-known opera singer to sing a song. He blocked the singer’s eras with an acoustical filter, which masked certain frequencies. After a while the singer’s voice started to lose the sounds blocked by the filter.

How does this relate to learning a language? In the last 5 months of pregnancy the baby hears the mother’s voice, which sounds quite different from her real voice. Her voice passes through the amniotic fluid, which acts as a sound filter. Only the high pitch (high frequency) sounds pass through, the ones above 8000 Hertz. These high-pitched sounds are ingrained in us as the structure of our mother tongue.

Languages differ in the frequencies used, the length of the syllables and the rhythm. Our ears constantly listen to ourselves and those around us, leading our ears to be most attuned to the frequencies of our mother tongue.

English uses a lot of high frequency sounds, while French rarely uses high pitched sounds.

The Tomatis Method trains your ears by using special equipment with filtered music and headphones. The Tomatis practitioner or consultant will first do a listening test, which will show the frequencies you can or cannot hear well. The programme will then filter out the frequencies you can hear well. Those remaining are the ones you have to “learn”.

Next you have to listen to text spoken in the new language. You will also repeat full sentences and learn to control your pronunciation and intonation.

Since 1989, Eurocopter, a big company building helicopters, used the Tomatis method to train its employees to learn new languages. The international business of the company made it necessary that people could speak fluently in the language of the business partners. It not only enhances communications between business partners, but creates ties which may lead to further contracts.

The European Council estimates that it takes about 700 hours to become fluent in a foreign language. The employees who received the Tomatis Method, along with a regular schedule of classes, reached this goal after 520 hours, which is a reduction of 180 hours.

When your ears can hear the frequencies of the foreign language, it is much easier to retain the vocabulary and other aspects of the language.

Adapted from “How the Tomatis Method Accelerates Learning Foreign Languages” by Jan Gerritsen Ph.D.

Esmé Strydom
Tomatis Practioner
Owner of Brain Train