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Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

Caleb Gattegno


vol.II no. 4

April 1973

First published in 1973. Reprinted in 2009. Copyright Š 1973-2009 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. Author: Caleb Gattegno All rights reserved ISBN 978-0-87825-271-8 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. 2nd Floor 99 University Place, New York, N.Y. 10003-4555

As far back as the Fifties the problem of bilingualism occupied some of us, as it was a major obstacle to people’s education in a number of countries. Belgium, Canada, Cataluùa, Ethiopia, India, and many others, have had to face its challenge and find some acceptable kind of solution for the specific conditions of their particular environments. In a proposal to the Ethiopian Government in 1958, the bilingual problem of over one hundred tribes speaking as many different languages and having to acquire the lingua franca at school, was analyzed and given an acceptable solution. In 1959 in India, where there are sixteen official languages, three hundred dialects, and a dispute about which should be the national language, an adequate but different solution was proposed. In our first article the question of learning a language will be considered as a technical problem, leaving out the political aspect — as was done in Ethiopia and India, and in a proposal made in 1965 to the State of Colorado. Technical problems are much easier to work on than political ones and offer a chance of an adequate solution in terms that may or may not be acceptable to people pursuing other ends. Still, it is important to inform the public, first that solutions exist to some important aspects of the challenge of bilingualism and, second that there may be some advantage to starting the political discussion after the implementation of these solutions. Governments postpone signing treaties until their position has become stronger because some of their technical problems have been solved. Technology is neutral in education too.

Table of Contents

The Problem Of Languages ................................................... 1 The Cultural Aspect .............................................................. 7 Teacher Education For Bilingualism .................................... 9 LeoColor ........................................................................................... 10 Words in Color ..................................................................................11 The Silent Way ..................................................................................11 Mathematics Laboratory .................................................... 13

The Problem Of Languages

Today, Educational Solutions is known to have an approach to language learning and teaching, called The Silent Way, that has eliminated a number of bogeys in the field of language teaching. 1

There are very few people who cannot learn to speak a new language if they have learned to speak their native language; some specially gifted people can learn several quickly and well.

2 There is more to be gained in learning by making mistakes and correcting them oneself than by being exposed to so-called “models” who are supposed to be perfect. 3 There is more to be gained if the teacher works on the students’ difficulties and lets the language be a byproduct of their work rather than the center of attention. Concentration on the hardest elements in the beginning pays off much better than their postponement. 4 The teacher can use the students’ many gifts all the time and help them to overcome difficulties easily. Retention of the model’s statements, on the other hand, cannot be ensured even by extensive drill and repetition. Languages are arbitrary sets of sounds displaying a number of characteristics perceptible to the ear, and sometimes to sight. They can only be retained if they somehow make sense to the listener or the speaker, i.e. when the intelligence of the user is involved.



Babies learn their native language easily because they do the right things. Studying what babies do can lead us to a way of working which (a) accelerates learning, (b) ensures retention, (c) does not entail strain for the learners, (d) generates joy that motivates further learning. The Silent Way of teaching is a construct which uses the “natural way” used by babies in a multitude of sequences adapted to the special needs of groups of students. In that sense it is an artifact. But it is gladly taken up by learners. It has been found possible to teach a language by putting a pair of people in charge: one knowing how to teach but not knowing the language, and one knowing the language only. It follows from this possibility that the place of teaching is to meet with the students while they are learning the language that is placed before them. If someone knows how to follow the movements of the minds of the learners who are engaged in meeting the challenges offered by the new language, he can help them in a proper manner. This is teaching. The students’ task is to acquire the language and they give evidence all the time whether they are managing it or not. This separation of tasks — the teacher working on the students while the students are working on the subject matter — is known as “the subordination of teaching to learning.” The Silent Way is the name for the only approach to language teaching that performs this subordination. We can state here that if bilingualism is a challenge at the level of language teaching, then it has already been met. For those who want to concentrate on the language aspect of bilingualism the following notes written in 1970 by Dr. Caleb Gattegno for the FORUM Magazine can be useful. 1

The following facts must be remembered. •

There are countries where more than one language is used by the people in their official transactions (Belgium, Canada, Switzerland, India. . .), and we can still find in 2

The Problem Of Languages

them vast masses of the inhabitants who know only one language. •

Most people on earth use a dialect and may or may not use another kind of language considered socially above their dialect.

Since still so many people either do not go to school or do not benefit from their schooling, most people use whatever medium they picked up in their environment and find it adequate to express most of what they wish to express. This means that whatever ideas are in circulation about language, we do not need to believe they are final since they emanate from a self-appointed minority whose prejudices are not known to all and perhaps to themselves.

There are a certain number of people who have attempted to acquire a second or a third or even a tenth language, and among them some have succeeded.

Putting these facts together we can conclude that economic or social advantages have not been sufficient to make everyone wish to acquire a sufficient mastery of either another dialect of one’s language or a totally new language. There is a price to pay in time and effort in order to acquire a language. Such a price is not beyond anyone who is motivated enough to do what is required to own a language. 2 Since everyone has learned his native language to an extent congruent to one’s needs in one’s own community and did this at a tender age, we must agree that it can’t be too difficult and perhaps that we could learn from such a spontaneous apprenticeship what to do to induce people to learn one or more new languages. 3 A baby who would want to imitate the speech of the members of his family around would be defeated since we hear with our ears and use concealed organs to utter words. Therefore another process other than imitation must be found (linguists who are defeated propose: innate potentials). Close observation of very young children will clearly show everyone that before they attempt to learn to speak the language of their environment they learn to talk — defined here as the willed use of one’s vocal system under the control of the always more refined and 3


trained hearing — to listen and to act upon the utterances so that they conform to what the self has willed. Only when they can talk do they enter into a verbal rapport with the environment, using their own system to utter at their pitch the sounds they will. The members of the family then, imitating any one of the sounds produced by their babies, bridge the gap between the ego of the baby and the non-ego. 4 Since words have no meaning of their own (man has almost as many words for most objects as there are languages) no one would ever remember words unless another sensibility was called in to link words with what they are supposed to convey. This is the second reason why babies take some time to learn to speak. They have to gather first a sufficient set of meanings before they attempt to grasp, retain and use words. Meanings are perceived by the deaf or the blind; or the deaf and blind (Helen Keller) through these sensibilities. Much of our early childhood is taken up by the demands of ascertaining that the meanings we reach are secure and unambiguous. Then only do children attempt to use the signals formed of words watching carefully the feedbacks represented by the actions of others. If the signal generates the proper responses a number of times so that beyond doubt the arbitrary sound used can be trusted to be a mental substitute for either pointing with the finger, or pushing mother to a certain spot, and so on, the word becomes part of one’s arsenal of expressions. 5 Because speech is so economical as compared with some actions, man has developed in different places a multitude of speeches to assist him in coping with the environment via other people. But, as can easily be found, he has multiplied his vocabulary for intellectual functioning far more than he has his affective vocabulary, thus showing that speech is more adequate for some of the functionings of the mind and the self. 6 Words make deliberate allowance for individual differences: there is no necessity for two people using the word car to actually evoke the same vehicle. Nouns cover classes, and are adequate labels for concepts. Each of the grammatical categories involves a multitude of samples and therefore to speak any language is a sign of a functioning at a very high level of abstraction; and since no one can teach children


The Problem Of Languages

to speak, we must grant children, one or two years old, what they show us they possess. Hence man has been able to produce in speech an instrument that accommodates individual differences; but also to acquire speech is to find the same instrument adequate for individual expression. 7 Making use of these observations it is possible to devise an approach to teaching a second, a third, or a tenth language to everyone to the level of excellence one reaches in one’s native language. Indeed anyone coming to a new language has done on his native language most of the important jobs. By making sense of sounds, by using himself to produce a flow of words involving a melody and meanings and checked to agree with the intention of the speaker, he has little to acquire. Indeed the only requirements of a new language which are sui generis are: re-use of the same organs to produce a different set of sounds; sensitizing oneself to another melody; holding for each perception, action, meaning, a new utterance checked against what natives of that language do. The inner criteria of rightness, correctness and adequacy already tested and retested everyday for one’s native language, are available and can be made to function for the new language. 8 What is implied here is that bilingualism, trilingualism, etc. technically are no longer problems even if they remain problems emotionally, politically and so on. 9 We can also surmise that those who miss learning another language or even another dialect of their native language would miss more than just a new skill. They would miss the experience of using themselves in different ways and discovering that nothing in them is destined to remain enclosed in one culture, in one way of being. The use of another language fluently displays the flexibility of one’s mind, the coexistence of more than one culture in one’s self, and of some of the mind’s functionings. Hence before one can conclude at all whether one is linguistically limited or not, everyone should be given a chance to enter the challenge of a second language and made aware that to 5


own two languages is not only to be capable of complex behaviors but also of shifting from one set of such behaviors to another by a very slight use of one’s will. Perhaps this is the most important educational consequence of learning to enter the language of another human group.


The Cultural Aspect

Every culture is an expression of the thought and affectivity of human beings living in a specific geographical situation. This thought and affectivity have expressed themselves among other things through music, folklore, literature, dance and body movement. In this sense every culture is an equally valid expression of human endeavors, and entry into more than one culture is a source of enrichment, of greater understanding of human functioning, rather than depreciation of one’s own culture. To make students appreciate the positiveness of living in any culture can be one of the main purposes of involvement in cultural studies in schools. To give them a wider awareness of culture as a product of human activity, we can use their time at school to allow them to gain direct knowledge of the living expressions of culture that human sensitivities have produced: body movements and rhythms, the use of color and sound, handicrafts, rituals, ceremonials. Since it is possible to touch, in the students, the same sensitivities which produced these things they can come to understand that aesthetic reasons and human psychology lie behind the choices of these expressions made by their forebears. Cultures, like languages, are vehicles for human endeavors, and are best understood as a gate to the broadening of the self, best appreciated as such if one is touched by and involved in them. Bilingual cultural education will lose its artificiality and narrowness if it takes into account these considerations, rather than restricting itself to being, as it too often is, a form of political indoctrination by adults who feel their culture threatened by the dominant culture of their environment. 7


Having been involved in setting up ethnographic museums in some schools, in arranging visits to show what the environment offers that can help one to judge its culture pertinently; in arranging concerts and plays, comparative displays of customs, and so on, we believe that we know how to demonstrate that the cultural aspects of bilingualism can become a very valuable component of one’s growth in awareness of others and of one’s relation to others. Bicultural schools can transform themselves into places where the links between countries and cultures keep up with changes as they occur, perhaps faster than museums and university departments can.


Teacher Education For Bilingualism

We have been engaged in this task in the New York area for four years now. The staff of at least four bilingual schools have been given opportunities to study the subordination of teaching to learning in the field of mathematics, the native language and a second language (English and Spanish as second languages). Our procedure consists in making teachers know that they themselves own as their birthright all the competences that we know children have. No theory is offered, only a re-examination of what is implied in the various learnings children have to go through in order to display the behaviors everyone can notice: sitting, standing, walking, climbing, jumping, running, talking, speaking, counting, drawing, and so on. From these studies some laws of learning that are needed by the participants, in order to improve their own performance as learners and as teachers, are looked at critically and practically. The workshops and seminars are essentially practical in the sense that teachers are introduced, through learning situations, to their awareness of their own learning, which then becomes the subject of study, and from this awareness to the use of it on behalf of their own students. If teachers are weak in mathematics, or afraid of it, we replace this state by one of confidence and enjoyment. (As a matter of fact some of the best mathematics teachers that we know and helped were recruited among those who believed that earlier neglect was a final judgment on their ability.) If they do not think they can learn a new language, or have never tried, we show them how easy it is to



become functional in a “strange� language even with a restricted vocabulary. They can sometimes see how easy it is to learn to read a new script they have never seen before. The latter perception is often used to make participants aware that decoding is a function of intelligence and results from the acceptance of a definite number of clues given to the learner. Once decoding is understood as an activity of the total mind and not only of memory, the other aspects of reading are considered as expansions of the first steps and then harmonized with them. In this way participants become sure that teaching reading is no longer the difficult problem they thought it was, and see our materials and techniques for what they are: the scientific tools which take care of a specific challenge at the individual and national level. Below we describe the materials. The techniques are spelled out in other publications. Here we can only say that because we separate the responsibilities of teachers and students, both are helped to function. Teachers work on the students and the students on the subject matter. A good teacher attempts to know what stands in the way of each of his or her students, so, no two lessons are alike and complete individualization is the rule. Students no longer compete against each other but struggle together to overcome obstacles which differ from student to student. Teachers gain a new competence, one which helps them to meet their responsibility of teaching so that all children learn. The thousands of teachers who have taken our workshops, which cost them a fee, do not lead automatically to any credit (district or college), and are extremely demanding in terms of their intensity and of the novelty of the content and presentation, are proof that we meet the real needs of teachers. Through word of mouth alone we have reached those educators all over the country, who are looking for an approach founded upon the reality of the learners and of their activities.

LeoColor is the name of our approach to Spanish literacy. We take students of whatever age whose spoken language is Spanish, and through a series of animated films or through books and charts (with


Teacher Education For Bilingualism

or without these films) we move them from scratch to the mastery of reading, writing and spelling in Spanish. The techniques for these three approaches (films alone, charts and books alone, or both used together) differ and require specific training. All three techniques can normally be acquired in an intensive 40-hour week or in three intensive weekends of 13 hours each. Our scientific study of learning not only guarantees success to almost all students but also never requires more time from them than they need to obtain the successive masteries. The duration of such apprenticeship can be counted in hours rather than in weeks or in months.

Words in Color is the name of our approach to English literacy. Put on the market twelve years ago, it has reached many teachers all over the world and is acclaimed as the most rational approach to the challenge. The enormous experience accumulated over the years is becoming a strong tie between delighted teachers who have received a new lease on life because of Words in Color and have found that problems that used to crop up year after year have disappeared, while they and their charges enjoy every minute of their work. Unbelievable performance at all levels is now commonplace, not simply because of the materials, but also because the techniques used with them are the only ones which make possible the subordination of teaching to learning in the field of English as the mother tongue. The materials are given in our price list.

The Silent Way developed nineteen years ago and tested in scores of settings all over the world, The Silent Way of teaching foreign languages has recently gained a prominent place among bilingual teachers who value the enormous savings in time and effort it permits. The materials exist in printed form for three languages, English, French and Spanish, and training in their use is available all through the calendar year.



As in the case of LeoColor and Words in Color, there are charts with colored words, and “Fidels� for classroom use, as well as individual charts for students. The other effective materials are colored rods which allow the teacher to create an indefinite number of situations for consolidating the retention of vocabulary and linguistic structures. Film strips, pictures, books and worksheets expand the scope of the materials.


Mathematics Laboratory

One part of this project on which we have been at work for some time already exists. Multivalent materials such as Algebricks, Prisms and Cubes, Geoboards, Animated Geometry, Folklore of Math, have already proved themselves to be the best instruments for the mathematization of certain activities. The extension of the Laboratory will be announced in due course. The above materials are accompanied by texts in two or three languages (English, French and Spanish). © Educational Solutions Inc.                


About Caleb Gattegno Caleb Gattegno is the teacher every student dreams of; he doesn’t require his students to memorize anything, he doesn’t shout or at times even say a word, and his students learn at an accelerated rate because they are truly interested. In a world where memorization, recitation, and standardized tests are still the norm, Gattegno was truly ahead of his time. Born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1911, Gattegno was a scholar of many fields. He held a doctorate of mathematics, a doctorate of arts in psychology, a master of arts in education, and a bachelor of science in physics and chemistry. He held a scientific view of education, and believed illiteracy was a problem that could be solved. He questioned the role of time and algebra in the process of learning to read, and, most importantly, questioned the role of the teacher. The focus in all subjects, he insisted, should always be placed on learning, not on teaching. He called this principle the Subordination of Teaching to Learning. Gattegno travelled around the world 10 times conducting seminars on his teaching methods, and had himself learned about 40 languages. He wrote more than 120 books during his career, and from 1971 until his death in 1988 he published the Educational Solutions newsletter five times a year. He was survived by his second wife Shakti Gattegno and his four children.