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ESL, The Silent Way

Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

Caleb Gattegno


vol. IV no. 3

February 1975

First published in 1975. Reprinted in 2009. Copyright Š 1975-2009 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. Author: Caleb Gattegno All rights reserved ISBN 978-0-87825-278-7 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. 2nd Floor 99 University Place, New York, N.Y. 10003-4555

Our many friends in the field who find inspiration and help from our work in language teaching and learning, were the decisive factor in our devoting the February issues of this Newsletter to ESL. In a way it is fortunate that three meetings on the subject took place recently as whole day workshops on three Saturdays (December 7th, January 3rd, February 8th) at which the mornings were devoted to teaching three classes with the same group of college students (but different students on the three dates). Reports on these mornings constitute the main part of the articles that follow written by people who are college level teachers and meet the same problems as Dr. Gattegno who gave all the lessons at the workshops. What happened in the afternoons is touched upon. What is contained in the last two articles is made plain in the titles: “The Common Sense of Teaching ESL” and “Education of Awareness through the Silent Way.” They are included in this Newsletter to stress the contrast between an activity as utilitarian as teaching in order to have a job and the profound sense of what education of the whole person can be. At the end a few news items.

Table of Contents

On The Workshop “The Improvement Of English” ............... 1 On The Workshop “Working On Writing With Advanced ESL Students” .............................................. 5 1 The “Feel” Of The Class .................................................................. 5 2 The Content Of The Session ........................................................... 6 Exercises Used ............................................................................. 6 Awarenesses For Students ........................................................... 6 The Lessons For Teachers ........................................................... 7 On The Workshop “R4” ....................................................... 11 The Common Sense Of Teaching ESL ..................................17 Education Of Awareness - Through The Silent Way ........... 21 News Items ......................................................................... 27

On The Workshop “The Improvement Of English”

“The only thing educable in man is his awareness.” This was Dr. Gattegno’s opening statement at a Silent Way seminar last spring. On the morning of December 7, 1974, participants in a one-day workshop on “The Improvement of English” saw this education taking place as Dr. Gattegno worked with a group of English as a second language students from a community college. The workshop was arranged in response to the expression by many users of the Silent Way of a desire to observe Dr. Gattegno working with the students we work with. Additionally it was felt that, as many of us wanted to observe colleagues teaching, we could benefit from a honing of our observation skills. Thus, the focus of this workshop was on observation. One does not generally take notes at a Gattegno workshop and therefore what is left afterwards is some detail and a great deal more impression. This report must then be viewed as a remembrance. The morning session was divided into three parts: first, Dr. Gattegno and the students talked with each other and worked very directly on awarenesses; second, the class worked with the Fidel charts: and finally, some work was done with the rods.


ESL, The Silent Way

Dr. Gattegno began by talking with the students. Having obtained some bits of basic information . . . names, countries of origin, and through these some awareness of each of the students themselves . . . he set the students the task of pronouncing correctly the name of one of the group: Shum. A considerable amount of time was spent on this task. Students were forced to listen to not only the model given by Shum himself, but also to their own utterances. When they were told “No!” or that a sound had to be changed they had to try to modify the sounds they had made. What had this correct production of a Chinese name to do with the improvement of English? It brought the students into contact with their processes of hearing and listening. The group discussed the difference between the two. The physiology of the inner and outer ears was discussed. (The students ‘invented’ INNER based on their knowledge of OUTER.) This discussion was climaxed by the statement of one student that “I hear with my ears, but I listen with my self.” Indeed, the students had come into contact with their selves in a learning process. Another instance involving the pronunciation of a name seems worth mentioning as it came under discussion in the afternoon session. One of the students said that her name was Inez. She gave it an Anglicized pronunciation. Dr. Gattegno told her that her name was actually EEnez giving it an Hispanic pronunciation. It seemed to some observers that it was the student’s prerogative to pronounce her name as she wanted. Dr. Gattegno’s thesis was that in using the Hispanic pronunciation he was opening the way for the student to identify him with all those whom she had always known; those with whom she felt most comfortable. Presumably such an identification would reduce the student’s anxiety in the class. It was in the second segment of the morning, in working with the charts, that it was perhaps most clear what is meant by “the students work on the language, while the teacher works on the students.” Dr. Gattegno never modeled any of the sounds the students worked with. He began by pointing to I OWE YOU. Through these three words which clearly identify three of the sounds on the charts, the students became almost immediately aware that each color on the charts represents a sound in English. During the time spent at the charts, Dr. Gattegno


On The Workshop “The Improvement Of English”

gave a considerable amount of direction to the students. He told them to make a sound longer or shorter or to put two sounds together quickly to make another sound. One student had great difficulty making an initial /y/ sound. She used a /dj/ sound instead (djello for yellow). She was told that that was a Puerto Rican sound not an English one. The student worked very hard to produce the sound asked for. She separated her first language habit from her immediate task of producing a sound in English. It was clear in watching her that she felt that the work was worth it. She had been challenged and had met the challenge. For much of the chart segment two pointers were available to the students. This seemed to encourage a community spirit as at least one time when one student was at the charts, another got up and took the second pointer to help. There was a spirit of “I can help you” or “I can do it, too” rather than of “Here, I’ll do that for you” or “I can do it!” The two pointers also drew more of the participants into the activity. In the last part of the lesson, Dr. Gattegno and the students used the rods. Students offered various statements to describe what Dr. Gattegno did with a few rods. By slightly altering the tempo of the movement, Dr. Gattegno encouraged them to try alternative ways of saying what had been done and to be more precise. The following sequence is representative of the utterances made. S1 “You gave me a blue rod first, and a yellow one later.” S2 “You gave her a blue rod first, and then another blue together with a brown one.” S3 “You gave her a yellow rod first, and then a blue one, followed immediately by a green one.” S4 “You gave her a green rod first and then a yellow and blue one very quickly one after the other.” The students showed interest in the activity and felt safe in experimenting with English. There was a short, but enthusiastic feedback session with the students. They had worked hard and had enjoyed their experience. Much of the afternoon session was given over to the observers’ feedback on what had happened in the morning. On the whole, we showed ourselves to have been rather imprecise observers. We had seen what had gone on. We had heard what had gone on. But had we 3

ESL, The Silent Way

seen and heard/listened with our selves? We found ourselves reporting almost nothing but the obvious and in some instances being in articulate about the not so obvious. For instance, during the lesson Dr. Gattegno challenged the students to get in touch with the child in each of them. During the feedback session a distinction was made between an activity being childish (how many students have seen the rods and resisted their use because they saw them as children’s playthings?) and allowing the child in each of us to free us in learning. It was obvious in the lesson that the students had worked enthusiastically with the materials used. What was not so obvious, perhaps, was the process through which they had gone to achieve this enthusiasm. In the students’ own feedback session it was startling to hear remarks on how much they’d enjoyed learning in the way they had that morning. It seemed new to them, and yet they were our students. And we felt/feel that we were using the Silent Way in our classrooms. Thus we each took away with us questions about what we had seen and what we had not seen. Hopefully, some of the questions are good ones and will make us better both as teachers and as observers. Rosamunde Blanck Department of Developmental Skills Manhattan Community College


On The Workshop “Working On Writing With Advanced ESL Students”

The second workshop for members of the “Silent Way Users Association” was held on January 4, 1975. The announced topic was “Working on Writing with Advanced ESL Students” and although fewer people were present than at the previous session — perhaps some teachers were still enjoying their Christmas vacation — the seminar room was crowded. I was delighted to see from the attendance that there are enough of us to support a continuing series of meetings for professional development. During the morning, Dr. Gattegno worked with a small group of community college students on writing. In making my report, I should like to distinguish between my sense of what was happening at the time — my immediate impression, so to speak — and my retrospective analysis of what was “covered:”

1 The “Feel” Of The Class. It was evident that no “lesson” had been prepared in advance but that Dr. Gattegno was guided at every moment by the students’ feedback in response to his questions. He seemed to keep in contact with each


ESL, The Silent Way

student so that, although he would be directly engaged with only a single individual at any given moment, their dialogue functioned as a “class-within-a-class” and engaged the attention of the group as a whole. Throughout the morning, each person became more willing to risk mistakes. By the end of the session, indeed, the students were asking questions and showing considerable evidence of their increased independence as learners. They were using much more of their whole selves in learning, and they were aware that this was happening and delighting in it.

2 The Content Of The Session. Exercises Used Visual Dictation of sentences on the fidel for the students to write down. Reading what they had written aloud to see if anything (especially final sounds/signs) had been left out our incorrectly encoded. Visual dictation of sentences requiring punctuation for their understanding. Composing sentences using only words from the ESL charts. Composing sentences using words on the charts plus any additional words they know and wished to use. Working as a group to improve what was written, paying particular attention to the way the words and harass strike one’s ear. Do they sound “correct,” “right?” Is there another way of saying the same thing which in clearer? Why? Awarenesses For Students “Writing” requires that one hold the meaning and the words until they have been encoded.


On The Workshop “Working On Writing With Advanced ESL Students”

The voice, the ear, and the eye, working in concert, are the instruments for making sure that one’s encoding is adequate. The speaking voice is the basis for punctuation. Without awareness of how it “sounds” (actually or virtually) One cannot punctuate. Within a given set of words one has the freedom to compose something which is one’s own expression. Once one has gotten started, one finds more and more to say because words trigger other words and also images, which in turn trigger additional words. One’s expression can be made more correct, more true, more right, more beautiful, etc. One can find reasons in oneself for making improvements. The Lessons For Teachers Relieved of the responsibility to compose, the student can focus on the unique demands of writing – i.e. “encoding.” It is possible to move from “restricted writing” to “free writing” if students are not expected to assume full responsibility for encoding all at once. ESL students possess criteria for editing what they write. They bring their sense of their grammatical awareness (in both languages), their powers of perception, and the aesthetic sense. Two general points emerged very powerfully from the morning’s work for me: 1

What a great difference it makes when we approach “writing” as the encoding of a language already spoken. As Dr. Gattegno said to the students, “Write it by saying it.”


ESL, The Silent Way

2 ESL students bring all of their linguistic and extralinguistic functionings with them. We must not suppose that because of limited acquaintance with English they are less complete than ourselves. Within the limits of their spoken vocabulary, they can do all the things with language that we can do. In the afternoon, Dr. Gattegno worked directly with, and on, us. Others who participated in the workshop might not agree with me, but I found the afternoon much easier both to grasp, and hold on to, than the morning. My experience on this day was characteristic. Although I was very moved by Dr. Gattegno’s work with the students, the experience was rather like watching a film in which each subsequent scene seemed inevitable and ‘right’ and yet I had little contact with the process of the whole. I now remember my state of mind at the time of watching as well as a few dramatic details — but I was never a good enough observer to grasp the reality of what was occurring. In the afternoon, I was no longer watching a film in which most of what happened was invisible to me. Instead, I found myself in a dark room in which, from time to time, a single point was suddenly illuminated by a light beamed in that direction. The invisible was being made visible, but only in one small corner at a time. I guess what I’m saying is that I am more responsive as a student in the class than as a student observer. 1

The necessary condition for writing is that “one must have something to say.” When Dr. Gattegno told us all to write on “the qualifying of Fourier’s transform” we were completely confounded. And yet, we so often do this very thing in our own classrooms without meaning to — we assign a topic or exercise which strikes the students dumb.

2 If we want our students to know that they have something to say and be able to say it, we must create situations for writing which are “inhibition-free.” When Dr. Gattegno told us all to write about “the thing you are most ashamed of” we were put in contact with the power of our inhibition. 3 The most obvious source of inhibition-free exercises is provided by “restricted writing,” especially high restricted situations such as composing using only words from the charts. 8

On The Workshop “Working On Writing With Advanced ESL Students”

4 If we want to dissolve inhibitions we must know which are the aspects of expression where the freedom of the individual must be respected and each person’s contribution accepted as a gift. This awareness was conveyed to me when Dr. Gattegno told us all to compose a poem about “the man with egg on his beard.” 5 There are certain properties of words which, while shared by writing and speaking, are perhaps more easily conveyed through the study of writing; i.e., the power of words to trigger other words, as when one looks at a chart and catches oneself connecting certain items and not others; the power of sets of words to elicit particular inner states, as when one compares the difference in “charge” between “equal, major, might, down, run” and “whore, trade, white, gold, naked;” the way a certain set of words such as “but, since, about” distributed throughout a statement, may give a particular coloration to the other words in the statement. 6 The concept of “belonging” that some phrases or sentences can make sense together and some cannot. We can help students to see that “groups of words can be put in such an order that one is prepared for what comes next.” It was a very full and rich day. Looking back at it, however, I’m less struck by what I got than by how much work I still have to do. Perhaps others will share my feeling that the “Silent Way” is more of a cherished idea than my daily way of working. I hope that there will be many more such workshops to help me advance as a teacher and a learner. Bill Bernhardt Dept. of English Staten Island Community College


On The Workshop “R4”

The eight students at the demonstration lesson for the February 8th workshop came from various community colleges. Their native languages were Spanish, French and Italian. Their ages varied considerably. As a way of getting acquainted, Dr. Gattegno began the workshop with the problem: what are the challenges in understanding a text which goes beyond one’s experience (a college textbook, for example). In the discussion that followed, it became clear that the complexity of the problem eluded the students. They only expressed their feelings of insecurity with the English language. When a student stated that she could understand everything if written in her native language, the others agreed readily. At first, Dr. Gattegno listened attentively without saying much. Later however, he interjected remarks which seemed to have nothing to do with the content of the discussion. I was rather puzzled by his attitude because I interpreted these comments as distractions. However as the class continued on and I witnessed visible changes in the students, I realized that Dr. Gattegno’s remarks indeed had something to do with the tone of the class. Such remarks, usually taken as criticism and therefore avoided, seemed to have liberated the students from rigid social convention, created an atmosphere for a more genuine acquaintance. Perhaps the dispassionate and matter of fact tone Dr. Gattegno used, made the


ESL, The Silent Way

students realize the lack of judgmental quality in his words and helped them to abandon any defensive need to justify a particular behavior. A young woman (who resisted taking off her coat in the hot classroom, for example) seemed to discover the absurdity of her adherence to several of her attitudes when he directed some remarks to her. Later she spontaneously took off her coat realizing that she could make the choice. She also abandoned her attitude expressed as “Well that’s the way I am,” when told that she was maintaining Spanish sounds in English words after Dr. Gattegno said, to her “You won’t lose yourself if you make English sounds.” In the same apparently inconsequential manner, Dr. Gattegno asked the students if they knew what a sphenoid was. They didn’t. So he gave them this definition: “Sphenoid is the name of a bone in the skull which contains the plate that divides the nose.” When asked if they understood, all students said “yes,” but when invited to say the sentence again, they all claimed they had forgotten. A game like exercise started in which, collectively, the students had to reconstruct the sentence. The most striking feature of this task was that all of a sudden the focus changed. The meaning of the sentence had lost its importance. What was important now was the reconstructing of it. This seemingly endless process absorbed the students entirely. From it students realized that: 1

It is not necessary to remember every single word of a sentence to say again what has been understood, and reject what does not belong to the sentence. In fact, suggestions like “sphenoid is a bone” or “sphenoid is the name of a part of a bone” were immediately discarded by the class.

2 Concentrating on the meaning retained rather than on the memory of single words yielded better results. 3 To make a word sound more like English, one only has to concentrate on the few sounds he may have trouble with in that word. 4 The sole reliance on a written text as a way to enter a foreign language can cause serious difficulties in learning 12

On The Workshop “R4”

that language, especially if the written code does not consistently reflect the phonic code. The students’ attitude changed dramatically within the three hour lesson. The help they received at all times in the building of criteria on which to base their responses, freed them of their fears and inhibitions. So did the only demand that Dr. Gattegno made of them: to concentrate on the task at hand, minute by minute. There was no feeling that any amount of material had to be covered nor that any exercise had to be done in any specific length of time. For example, it took a good 10 minutes for the students to say “bone” correctly. However, the exercise to go from “boat” which they could say, to “bone” which they couldn’t, made them aware that the only thing they had to do was to pay attention just to the end of the word and that they could use what they knew as a bridge for what they didn’t. They also learned that if they listened carefully, they would know what to utter. In fact, towards the end of the lesson, they started correcting themselves and each other. When they dealt with the meaning of a sentence, the focus was only on that. When asked to touch their sphenoid, they readily touched their noses. Dr. Gattegno showed them that they were too quickly satisfied in thinking they knew the answer. They had not considered that from the definition they had been given they could not determine the exact location of this bone. In asking them an impossible question, Dr. Gattegno was forcing the students to take responsibility for their learning. He showed them that unless they were willing to engage in a dialogue with the “new,” they would deny themselves the certainty of understanding and of “knowing” what they know. In the exercises that followed, Dr. Gattegno devised situations which continued to force students to take full responsibility. When he asked a student to read a newspaper headline aloud the student realized that unless his English sounded close enough to native English, he was bound to be misunderstood. The statement “Human Error Cause of Crash” was understood by the class as “Human Hero Cause of Clutch.” Later students were asked, one at a time to read aloud from the New 13

ESL, The Silent Way

York Times a reporting of the discovery of water on Jupiter. Because the reader felt the responsibility for making others understand, it became clear that meaning was conveyed better if: 1

he dropped as much as he could his native sounds,

2 if he grouped words together as in spoken English, 3 if he followed with his voice the English melody. That the written language is better understood if speech is kept in mind, was crystallized when, after some discussion, it emerged that the best speed of reading for a person who is learning a new language, may be the speed of speech. When discussing the meaning of the news article, Dr. Gattegno used again the technique of challenging the students to be sure they knew what they said they knew. So in the sentence “the discovery of water on Jupiter fills a very critical gap in our understanding of the chemistry of the solar system,” he asked why the word “chemistry” had been used and in what way it was related to water. Later he asked the students to decide which parts of the article they considered journalistic gossip, and which were more intimately related to the discovery of the water on Jupiter itself. This way of asking, liberated the students from deciding what was important from what was not. They had obviously recognized the different quality of the various paragraphs and it was easy for them to sort them out. The word “gossip” illustrated clearly to them that although one may retain gossip, the every day connotation of the word indicates that it is something one may easily dismiss. Again, they were given tools to decide for themselves as to what was important and what was not. One girl was asked to say in Spanish what the article said. She missed a whole part of the article which interestingly enough had to do with a more technical description of how the detection occurred. This made her realize that once meaning has been established, it can be transferred to any language, but an unfamiliar idea will remain unfamiliar no matter how well one knows the language in which it is ex pressed.


On The Workshop “R4”

What is needed to bridge the gap between the known and the unknown through reading, was the topic of the afternoon session. The participants (the students had left before lunch time) were invited to study the processes we involve ourselves in, when we read an unfamiliar subject. Groups of four were formed and each group read a passage in which the meaning was not readily accessible. Although the study remained at the level of research without coming to a definite conclusion, the participants became more sensitive to the complexities of the problem. Someone pointed out, for example, how easy it is to misunderstand a passage in which familiar words are used in a different sense. Another person related that the discussion with her group made her see that she had forced an interpretation which agreed with her own ideas. Someone else pointed out that the exercise had helped her recognize that reading for information or inspiration is an altogether different activity than reading to acquire new knowledge. The most instructive part of the workshop for me was the morning session in which I acquired a closer understanding of the “spirit” of the Silent Way. Because Dr. Gattegno did not use any of the usual materials and techniques, I managed to observe the dynamics of the class. I saw that learning occurred only because Dr. Gattegno could free the students, open them up, and keep them in touch with their functionings at all times. If one has acquired enough sensitivity to achieve all this, the rest follows. Cecilia Perrault Director of the ESL Project Educational Solutions Inc.


The Common Sense Of Teaching ESL

I have been working on the text of this book for the last eighteen months. I cannot at this moment say when it will go to press, but I can write about some of its salient points for the benefit of our friends who need more material to study than has been published so far. Those who know that a quarter of a century ago I published (in French) a book on the role of affectivity in learning will not be astonished to hear that all the time while I am teaching I allow a dominant position to the affective component. No one who has deeply reflected on teaching can safely ignore this component, but it is one thing to make it into a special preoccupation for teachers, as counselors would suggest, and quite another to integrate it into the fabric of teaching as is suggested in the Silent Way. The only proper human state I know is freedom that permits responsibility and creativity. Hence common sense tells me to work in such a way as to free students from each of the major obstacles they find in their way. Teaching in order to free students is common sense; but only when those techniques and materials have been found which do the required jobs can one say: I know how to free students and, through that freedom, increase their performances. Thinking of language learning as requiring both the spoken and the written language (although it is possible to learn only one), I involve students first of all in the recognition that they can use themselves as listeners and see-ers to receive impacts from outside, and also as


ESL, The Silent Way

people endowed with a will that can affect the production of vocal sounds and can mold their utterances as their various sensitivities tell them they should be. I therefore reduce to a minimum the production of sounds by the teacher while maximizing the part played by the students who help each other to form the criteria without which it is not possible to know and to be free. Only what students cannot do for themselves is given from outside. And this is common sense. Common sense says that the most pervasive component in a new language is the production of sounds and that students must be clear about the requirements of that activity so that they can come as close as possible to the achievements of natives in this aspect. Sounds, stresses, phrasings and melody, can all be distinguished in any language and intensive practice of these components per se is definitely helpful in freeing students. In my teaching of ESL (or for that matter of any other language), I make sure that my students know what they have to utter and how. (For young children it may not be the most advisable activity and common sense will tell the teacher not to enter into it and to use other means. ) I use the Fidel Charts to convey the sounds of a language and, in most cases, the signs as well. Most adults and older children know what numeration means and will at once comprehend all the references to the sets of sounds that form the vocabulary of the numerals in the new language. At the same time numeration makes available a set of useful words and a varied field for practicing sound production in the new language. Common sense will tell us to give the exercises on numeration quite early if we want to put together comprehension (without reference to one’s mother tongue), practice in the flow of words in the new language, and the conquest of a useful and important vocabulary. Because words are triggered not so much by memories as by perceptions, actions, feelings and thoughts, it is imperative that we present immediately and deeply accessible linguistic situations that force people to link sounds with perceptions, actions, etc. By placing words upon words (via translation), the new ones have to be established and the dynamics of the “old� words enhances the process by which the new language is retained, making students dependent on


The Common Sense Of Teaching ESL

weak procedures instead of the powerful connections supplied by triggers and inner criteria. The situations in the Silent Way are produced via a set of colored rods in the beginning. But what is less visible to observers is that it is the involvement of the learners that results in the ease with which images, feelings, the inner dynamics, supply the energy to maintain words in contact with the trigger. Reversing the process after a while, words will trigger meanings in the new language in exactly the same way as they do in the native one, again freeing the student. Common sense demands this approach once the concept of words and perceptions as triggers has been formed. By using the colored rods in innumerable different ways we can make it possible to use, and through it to retain, that part of the vocabulary in the new language that concerns the foundations of that language. I call this vocabulary the “functional vocabulary” — the one that makes it possible for the students to function. Observers call this by other words: “grammar,” “linguistic structures,” and so on. For me as a teacher this acquisition is not knowledge but know-how. My students find how to associate sets of words with actions and perceptions that involve relationships in d space and time, in association with causality, likelihood, and with people (singular or plural). The fabric of life. Since there are many objects around us and we do not always relate to them, the vocabularies related to social and natural situations do not need to be given in the beginning just to make sentences (as so many of the language books do) or to give examples of different structures. Instead by having the functional vocabulary available on charts that can be hung up on walls, we can string some of the words together by using a pointer to form temporal sequences. With a small number of words we can try to make thousands of sentences. Memory is assisted by the simultaneous presence of these words. All the energy of the students is polarized towards producing sentences and, in so doing, testing their mastery of the material studied. If we color the words as is done on the Word Charts of the Silent Way, we provide additional help to the students who now have something to fall back on to decide 19

ESL, The Silent Way

which sound to produce, since color can be used transiently to suggest sound. Common sense tells us that if learners can manage to achieve mastery at every level, this mastery will pervade all levels. The students will be counting all the time on themselves, knowingly, autonomously. This is the real test for teachers. Of course common sense helps beyond these fundamental moves. It tells us that if we know how to focus attention on the rods by producing temporal sequences, and on the precise criteria which make people select certain words, we can convey the meanings attached to words other than the functional ones, by using ad hoc pictures related to particular vocabularies. The Silent Way uses ten pictures with accompanying worksheets. Common sense at once tells us that no one can understand a written text unless it is either composed of words already known or made up only of definitions. We therefore postpone presenting students with books or journals. But we can obviously collect many of the sentences produced with the words on the charts, or formed around the elements of the pictures, and use them as introductory material before books are brought into the class. My book “A Thousand Sentences� is an attempt to come as close as possible to a set of definitions covering some matters of everyday life, although it cannot stand by itself. The book still needs a teacher and some imagination to become an instrument of progress for students. To sum up, my book on the Common Sense of Teaching ESL, will show in more detail that teachers can be much more precisely and definitely on the side of the learners, particularly during the period of greatest vulnerability in their apprenticeship to English. Caleb Gattegno


Education Of Awareness - Through The Silent Way

The basic theme proposed by Caleb Gattegno, the originator of the Silent Way is that only awareness in man is educable. What stems from this theme and instantaneously follows is that no one can do the educating for another, that each one is responsible for educating oneself. Since in the overt activity called education teaching also takes place, and indeed is an integral part of it, Dr. Gattegno proposes that it be subordinated to learning so that learning in human beings takes place with human dignity which resides in our autonomy, and in exercising our right to know ourselves — while we learn — as persons who are able to make necessary changes in ourselves in order to respond adequately to what we meet. Learning in this sense includes: •

our struggle for the grasp and perception of what was hitherto unknown to us;

our confusion and mistakes regarding it as well as our understanding of it as it is unfolded to our awareness; our attempts to reach the criteria through which to make that which is new to us a part of our functioning; and,

our awareness of the formulation in us of adequate responses to the demands of this new reality, in terms of those actions and behaviors that are determined by us. 21

ESL, The Silent Way

I pause to reflect at this point, and the question comes to mind: along the way of living our lives, in the instances where we are our own teachers, do we not indeed subordinate teaching to learning? When for instance, we taught ourselves to walk, did we do it any differently? We kept ourselves thoroughly busy learning and completely free from the pressures of the demanding directions as to what we should do and how. When we learned to talk we became very alert listeners, and made a delightful game out of making utterances like or unlike the ones we heard around us, and we constantly dared to string sounds and their combinations on our voice. We took note of the feedback to our activity from our environment, we made corrections on our utterances, and we did all this by ourselves. With teaching not predominating, our learning seems to bring us to a point in our awareness of ourselves at which we know that we function more or less adequately with regard to what is related to our learning. We also come to know that to keep on educating ourselves is an active part of our endowment. In other words, with an educated awareness we can go on learning to alter and enrich our functioning, which in turn further educates our awareness. Having learned to walk we can teach ourselves to run, jump, hop, hop on one leg or the other, with ease and freedom. Dr. Gattegno holds that the same is true about learning languages. Since we are equipped with all that is needed to learn a language, and have demonstrated it in having learned our mother tongue, and further more our awareness has been educated in that direction, we can enter into learning new languages with an educated awareness. As teachers who teach the Silent Way we need to be sensitive to this fact while we teach. For a Silent Way teacher it is necessary to examine in what way he or she has failed the students every time he or she faces the fact that they have not learned. The techniques that Dr. Gattegno has developed for teaching foreign languages are meant to make teaching related to learning in ways that allow students to learn the language, and in the process of learning, to educate their awareness.


Education Of Awareness - Through The Silent Way

There are three main aspects of the Silent Way techniques that the teachers who want to use it need to be concerned with very specially: 1

how to present the language so that it is a vehicle for the education of awareness,

2 ways in which to work with the learners so that as they grow in their knowledge of the language they also grow in the awareness of themselves as competent users of it, 3 how to use the materials that are designed to make learning autonomous. Since I do not have to go into the description of the techniques and materials, I will broadly consider here those ways of teaching that enhance education of awareness in the early stages of learning a language. Listening to various languages one notices that the same sounds or almost the same, whose combinations form words that go with different meanings in different languages exist in all of them. Sometimes there are special sounds that belong to one language and not to others. For example, in Hindi there exist a few consonant sounds which are composed of two sounds (b+h, t+h, etc. ) uttered simultaneously. The teacher who teaches the Silent Way makes sure that the new sounds (and tones in tonal languages) receive special attention from the start, and that the students practice them well and produce them as well as they can as they launch their first explorations of the new language. We also know that while most of the sounds in various languages are the same, each language has its distinctive melody and rhythm. It is important to capture that melody and that rhythm in order to obtain ease and fluency in a language and be understood by natives. In the Silent Way these components are kept alive from the beginning and are stressed all along. By focusing and insisting on the different melodies, the teacher forces the awareness of the students to block the use of the melody of other tongues.


ESL, The Silent Way

The special quality added to the work of the Silent Way teacher is that by leaving to the students the task of learning, the teacher finds time to help them to know themselves once again, in a new context, as attentive listeners and able to correct themselves with the help of their inner criteria. I say “once again� because these powers of theirs they had exercised well when they learned their mother tongue. In both the areas, namely, a different melody and new sounds, alert awareness is required. The teacher works on the students to mobilize it while they work on learning the language. In the Silent Way since vocabulary falls in three groups: 1. functional, 2. semi-luxury, and 3. luxury, teachers and students must be aware of their characteristics. As prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions, adverbs, some irregular verbs and a very few nouns form the functional vocabulary, a proper use of this vocabulary is very basic in learning a language. While using and practicing the functional vocabulary the students gain insights into the structure of the language, its idiosyncrasies, and its subtleties. They become aware without being taught, that in Hindi for example the verb always comes at the end of a sentence. With their educated awareness they catch the subtleties like the difference in the shade of meaning when one word in the sentence is emphasized rather than another; or the relative change in meaning that follows from altering the place of the same words in a sentence. The Silent Way teacher does not hesitate to present to his or her students the idiosyncrasies that specially belong to the language being taught, because he or she does not ignore the fact that they are aware of the presence of such elements in the languages they have already mastered and that they can use such awarenesses for the learning of a new language. In the Silent Way the presentation of most of the functional vocabulary is done with the colored rods. The teacher creates situations with the rods and in the situations and their dynamics are held the meanings. Selected words that go with the situations are uttered by the teacher, with great care to avoid confusion. The students listen and utter words appropriately linked with their perception of the meaning in the situation. They notice that a slight change in the situation could change


Education Of Awareness - Through The Silent Way

the meaning and consequently demand a change in the words uttered. The teacher provides opportunity for practice without repetition, and the students learn through practicing, while all the time relying on their perception of sounds, perception of situations, and perception of the link between the utterances and the situations. It is by being with their perceptions that the learners educate their awareness. The teacher concentrates on his or her teaching so as not to distract them by being confusing or authoritative. Through practice, the learners improve their awareness of what they are saying by referring to what they are saying and how. They correct themselves till they know that they are saying what needs to be said and in a way similar to that of the natives. The teacher works towards helping the students build their criteria while they learn the language. It is obvious that words have meanings because they have been given meanings. The Silent Way teacher makes the given meanings perceptible through the situations that he or she creates. What is a constant challenge to the creative and imaginative powers of the Silent Way teacher is to produce new situations and refine them so that they clearly convey the meanings linked with the words to be acquired. The more clearly visible the meanings the freer the learners are to concentrate on their learning of the language which presents itself to them with its complexity. Semi-luxury vocabulary consists of expressions and various usages of a language in day-to-day living. Luxury vocabulary extends itself over specialized areas. The Silent Way teacher uses word charts, pictures, slides, films, mime, and other devices for enlarging vocabulary and clarifying concepts. Already learned expressions and vocabulary can be helpful in understanding new expressions. Through contrast, negation, mutual exclusiveness, equivalences etc. new concepts, vocabulary and expressions can be introduced. The stress, however, remains on the teacher’s trust in the resourcefulness of the students. In the Silent Way while practicing teaching, the teacher feels responsible to remain open to go on learning how to teach so that his 25

ESL, The Silent Way

or her teaching is educative for each one of the students who come to him or her. S. Datta Silent Way User


News Items

1 The Association of Users of the Silent Way had its foundation meeting at 80 Fifth Avenue, on Saturday 22, 1975 from 2-5. Twentyfive people responded to the invitation and debated the articles of the Constitution. There was not enough time to enter upon the election of a permanent committee and the steering committee was asked to continue its work, in particular to solve the problem of finding permanent offices for the Association so that work can be begun and a fee decided upon. 2 The “Mini-tests� have continued to be favored by administrators and personnel of elementary and junior high schools in New York City. Our previous Newsletter devoted to Evaluation explained that we were concerned at the present time to restore a little the balance of the testing which is presently tilted against the students and make the test be more a measure of the actual level of achievement of those tested. On the other hand we know that only when a totally different instrument is developed which is capable of continuously feeding back the state of learning shall we be really fair to students. We are considering a schedule of production of such an instrument of which we have the main components planned or worked out. 3

Dr. Gattegno was invited •

to work with the personnel of the University of Massachusetts College of Public and Community Service in Boston on the problems of teaching basic skills to adults who are being


ESL, The Silent Way

registered in an alternative and innovative programs preparing them for careers in some legal and social occupations. The oneday workshop on January 31,1975, was intensive and extensive; the participants considered it useful because for the first time they could see the gifts of the students being stressed rather than their lacks. Two demonstration lessons (one in English and one on Math) were part of the day. •

to work with the personnel of the French International School in Washington D.C. on the teaching of reading, of foreign languages and mathematics. The holiday of Washington’s Birthday was given up by the participants in order to be introduced to the subordination of teaching to learning and the way it is carried out in those areas.

to work on February 18th, with a group of about 80 ESL teachers organized under the Board of Education although all are in non public schools in New York City. This intensive seminar provided an opportunity to present the main ideas of the Silent Way in a compact but apparently still comprehensible manner. There was even time for a short demonstration lesson using Hindi to illustrate how students can be made to function at once and all the time in a new language.

4 This year we have been invited to work in Florida with teachers in the Jacksonville schools. Ted Swartz and Katherine Mitchell have worked with the sixth grade teachers in a group of 28 schools and introduced them to some of our contributions in the basic subjects that are already part of the education offered younger children in a number of schools in the area. Other members of our staff will follow in the coming months.



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.

ESL, The Silent Way  
ESL, The Silent Way  

Newsletter, Vol. IV No. 3, February 1975