The other night Lizzie and I were was watching "The Miracle Worker" on TCM. It's one of my favorite films, and in fact, the touring stage production was my first experience seeing professional theatre (at the ripe old age of 10). (Well, I was watching. I'm not so sure about her.)
It sent me on a childhood quest to learn all I could about Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan. My passion for the play included working crew for it as one of my earliest college experiences. (Let me say that cleaning up scrambled eggs from the end-of-act-one food fight was not particularly fun!)
As I was watching the film I was fascinated with how Annie Sullivan was trying to teach Helen both the words and the connection of the words to their meaning, finger-spelling over and over, saying the words aloud, even though Helen couldn't hear, touching her hand to the doll or door or spoon.
Let me tell you, this method does not work with cats.
They appear to have better things to do.
And I don't know why, really. All they do is sleep, eat and watch birds. Can't they learn a little? They are being raised in an English-language environment where those words are heard over and over. And OK, their brains are different and smaller and maybe they can't handle all those words. One thing is certain. It bores her.
But I'm not sure Lizzie Cosette is the tastiest kibble in the treat bag when it comes to brains. She's about three. I think she does know her name (when she chooses to acknowledge it). But I'm having a heck of a time getting her to understand "toy" or "fetch" (or even "bring") or chase.
When we're by the bird window she does seem to get excited when I say "Birds!" and run to the window. But I'm pretty sure it's the whispered, gaspy tone of voice. "Birds, Lizzie! Look!" The exclamation marks are key.
She'll sit on two legs for her food when I say "Releve, sil vous plait" or "Uppity Downie." It has nothing to do with the words. Only the bowl above her head.
Rewards don't seem to help either. She's rather bored by the whole educational focus on vocabulary.
No one ever accused Gypsy of being the Alan Turing of the cat world, but I could inject the words "Fancy Feast" in any tone, in any conversation and he would look up with sparkly eyes. It made for a great photo cue -- no cheese for him!
Well, most of the time the eyes were sparkly. Not always! On occasion they looked at me with disdain.
And his sitting was A+!
So, if anyone has any hints on this matter (apart from taking Lizzie's little paw and finger-spelling "toy" into it), pass 'em on. Or tell me to get a life, she's a cat, after all. But right now, I'm not holding my breath waiting for her to say "Wah. Wah."
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