Monday, May 11, 2009

Spanish Learning Chapter - 14

The Silent Method

A most bizarre philosophy of education called "Discovery Learning," based partly on the educational ideas of Rousseau, Pestalozzi and Dewey, led to The Silent Way Method of Second Language acquisition. It also enjoyed the support of psycho-babblists (psychologists) Piaget, Bruner, and Papert.

Seymour Papert said,

"You can't teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know when they need to know it."

Though it is a nice-sounding axiom, I am reminded of the countries of the world in which this philosophy of education does not reign supreme. The students in these countries overtake our kids in almost every academic subject. The word "they" in the above quote bothers me. Who does the "they" refer to? A bunch of kids who do not want to be in a classroom learning anything? Kids forced to be there because Mom and Dad say so? I know "Discovery Learning" all too well since I received my "secondary non-education" in one of these schools.

In response to what was considered as the "demonic" rote memory of anything having to do with education, The Silent Method of Second Language acquisition arose. In this "affective" approach, " The teacher tries to "facilitate" activities whereby the students discover for themselves the conceptual "rules" governing the language, rather than imitating or memorizing them - Brown (1994:63)." Also, the students had to somehow "develop their own inner criteria for correctness" (Larsen Freeman, 1986:62)."

This touchy-feely method of learning depends on the "good intentions" of learners. It also depends on the learners wanting to be in the educational situation in which they are, of course, forced by the law of the land and the law of home to participate. This approach to American education, in which I was a high school victim, resulted in woefully equipped and inadequately trained high school graduates (no one, of course, was ever failed) trying to get into college (one of our English classes was called, "Sports Illustrated").

Reasons for Failure:

Teacher is too passive. In favor of the student engaging in his own "Discovery Learning," the teacher would not step in to correct or guide the learner. Students would learn incorrect pronunciation in favor of the teacher remaining "silent."

Students miss out on cultural input that could be given within the language from the teacher's active participation.


Georgi Lozanov, a Bulgarian psychologist, introduced what he undoubtedly thought an original and brilliant premise: "... students naturally set up psychological barriers to learning - based on fears that they will be unable to perform and are limited in terms of their ability to learn." Anyone who has ever taught American Junior High school could have told him that.

Adults, particularly, have what I call, "the embarrassment factor" when it come to learning a new language. The thought of losing face is a hindrance to learning a language.

Lozanov held the idea that the human brain could retain and process much more if a more ideal learning environment (conditions) could be achieved. A kind of hypnosis-like hocus-pocus was thought to help the learner overcome self-perceived limitations. He set about creating a method in which an ultimate state of relaxation could be reached, thus increasing the amount of material one needed to learn.

Baroque music was used to facilitate this state of relaxation and ultimate concentration. Extremely comfortable chairs, soft lighting, and a general manipulation of the classroom environment (which was found to be highly impractical in a classroom-imagine adolescents with raging hormones in this scene!). Teachers were given the role of "suggestionists," thus creating this kind of hypnotic approach to learning a second language.

Though a strange approach, the language seemed to be taught by learning dialogues while sitting in overstuffed chairs, listening to relaxing music in the dark while listening to your teacher trying to put the whammy on you. I would have fallen asleep and never learned a word of any foreign language. The environmental factors would have been impossible to implement in a large classroom full of children or adolescents.

I do know of home-study courses that use this method and of those who have used it successfully outside of any classroom.


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