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The Birth Of The Language Video Project

Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

Caleb Gattegno


vol. VI no. 4-5

April/June 1977

First published in 1977. Reprinted in 2009. Copyright Š 1977-2009 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. Author: Caleb Gattegno All rights reserved ISBN 978-0-87825-289-3 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. 2nd Floor 99 University Place, New York, N.Y. 10003-4555

For years at Educational Solutions, we have been engaged in finding the solution to the challenge of teaching language through TV. Once found, the theoretical solution had to be implemented. The subscribers to this Newsletter read, in issues of the last two years, reports on our progress in attempting to give a sound basis to the presentation of our solutions to the public. Four months ago, the answer to this last question was the creation of a new corporation — “The Silent Way Video Company, Inc.” — whose only concern is to produce and distribute series of video cassettes capable of making viewers into language users. Hence, this Newsletter is not, as strictly as the previous ones, an Educational Solutions letter. Still it belongs to our publication to inform our readers of a major breakthrough in the field of education generated by us, in that we licensed the new corporation to execute and undertake what we created, but were not equipped to handle. In fact, all the articles in this issue are concerned with education. The writers were involved in one way or another as witnesses of a complex and rich educational experiment. The visible end product of that experiment is a set of more than 140 cassettes which can be viewed through a monitor. However, the experiment included other components which were lived by the participants. The writers here have tried to make those no longer visible components accessible through their articles. The catching of these moments we deem important. We feel happy that they can be recorded for the interested public.

Table of Contents

1 Introduction ...................................................................... 1 2 I Looked At Various Aspects.............................................. 5 3 I Worked With The Use Of Video Techniques And Technology ................................... 9 4a I Was In The Director’s Booth ....................................... 13 4b ........................................................................................17 5 I Watched All The Tapes .................................................. 21 6 I Taught The Class ........................................................... 23 7a With The Evaluation Group ........................................... 29 7b ....................................................................................... 33 7c ........................................................................................ 37 8a The Students Speak ....................................................... 41 8b ....................................................................................... 45 8c ....................................................................................... 49 Book Review ....................................................................... 53 News Items ......................................................................... 57

1 Introduction

More than a year and a half ago, we reported to our readers and friends that we were moving towards producing a new approach to language teaching that could be put on TV and made available to everyone on earth. We can now tell the story of how it became possible to transform such a vision into a reality. A number of participants in the project produced these notes. *** The germ of the idea occurred in 1970, when a group of Silent Way users met in our premises to hear that such a project was contemplated. The vague suggestions that were expressed by those willing to consider the proposal were annihilated by the loud opposition of two or three who were sure that it was a pity to get into something that removed the teacher from his or her personal touch with the students. At the time, McLuhan’s impact was beginning to lose momentum and my work on TV and education had barely had any impact at all. We bought some video equipment (black and white) and taped a few scenes at Silent Way classes in Chinese at 821 Broadway and in Greek, German, French, Tamil, etc., at our new premises on Fifth Avenue. All the trials indicated that the main challenge was escaping us and that we did not yet have a solution to the teaching of languages through TV. How could we reach unknown students, sitting in their armchairs at home and who were supposed to find motivation to keep watching


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lesson after lesson, if we showed them a class at work? No one had any answer to such a question. The Silent Way — because it subordinates teaching to learning — could easily be in front of all other approaches, but even it failed to show us how to meet the unknown student who may need much time to retain what is being taught and who never meets his teacher face to face, to respond to him and get encouragement from him. The answer came to me suddenly while on a trip to Mexico over two years ago. I saw there that if I could put all the clues needed for learning on the screen, as I had managed years earlier in the animated films I had produced for teaching reading (Pop ups, LeoColor, Amharic and Absolute Visual Reading) and for teaching mathematics, I would be able to let the viewers interact with the material to which they were exposed. In the field of language, this inspiration took the specific form of: “Do not show the teacher on the screen, only learners learning, and show all they need to gain awareness of what is demanded of them and give them time for gaining facility.” Trials began at once and a sequence of pre-pre-pre-pilots, pre-pre-pilots, pre-pilots and pilots were entered upon. These led to the certainty that people anywhere could learn language by becoming part of a class shown on the screen. All they needed to do was to interpret the clues in the way the taped class was doing, if we could present the clues. The hardest challenge thus being fully met, the implementation of the project produced its own challenges. Now we needed to find out whether it would take forever to become facile in a language by learning it from the TV set. The writing of my book, The Common Sense of Teaching Foreign Languages, provided me with the opportunity to estimate accurately that I could put in a program (not longer than about 150 half hour “shows”) all that was needed by any student who was sufficiently motivated to turn on the TV knob — provided he was not handicapped and had learned his mother tongue. Armed with all the insights, trials, devices and know-hows that had accumulated over that time, I began thinking in a pinpointed manner about risks, costs, recruitment, assistance, markets, etc. In every direction, there were obstacles, often unforeseen. But the soundness of


1 Introduction

the project seemed to be confirmed every day. Now that we have produced the first series of tapes for English, we can say that the distance between the initial impulse to get into this and the delivery to the public of a finished product has been rather short and proved sheltered because it has been possible to solve all problems in harmonious and even beautiful ways. I knew, for instance, that I needed to teach, under the cameras, a mixed group of people that I was not acquainted with. We found in a very short time twenty people ready to cooperate and become the TV class. Luckily, they presented so many problems that the viewers of any caliber would find someone among them to identify with. I knew that I needed to produce materials for The Silent Way that would be capable of offering, from the beginning, the numerous stepping stones needed by students to take their leaps into the unknown world of the new language and, for the home student, to see to it that they could be visible on a TV screen. Fortunately, the stock of English Silent Way charts was being exhausted and a new edition was to be prepared in any case. I produced one which was ready in time for the taping session. Luck and the good will of my associates made that possible. Thus, appearing on the tapes, we have materials that have been conceived for such a project, which the original ones obviously were not. The rods we use on these tapes are plastic and of a quality only recently achieved for the first time. They are readily distinguishable and look beautiful on the screen. That too was a contribution brought by our luck. The studio crew entered the challenges offered them by this project in a manner we could only hope for, but which could have been beyond them as had been the case in some of the pre-pilots. Their sensitivity and esprit de corps helped us obtain a series of tapes functional and attractive, varied and always to the point, conveying to viewers what will help them learn the material presented.


The Birth Of The Language Video Project

The various groups (the technicians of the medium, the two groups of students, my colleagues and myself) managed to work for days without noticeable tension and to arrive at a harmonious cooperation which made it possible to move ahead steadily and to see the production of the series through. Caleb Gattegno


2 I Looked At Various Aspects

One of the deeply rooted ideas about learning languages is that those who do not know a language must learn it from those who know it. During the month of March, I have witnessed a new kind of learning taking place; namely a group of students learning English from another group of students who do not know it but are engaged in the learning of it. Anyone could make the observation that people learn not only from their own mistakes, but from those of others as well. But to be pinpointedly aware that learning can beget learning in a more profound manner than knowledge can, and to actually transform this insight into a technique of teaching is a daring act with the potential of adding a new dimension to the understanding of the entire process of teaching and its relation to learning. I have had the opportunity to see this dimension being created on video tapes. There follows an account of how it took place. In one room the technological instruments (animated by the sensitivity of those who know how to use them) capture the images and voices of a group of students learning English. These are transmitted onto a monitor in another room where the viewer learners are. Seated in front of the monitor, the viewer learners are exposed to the actual learning taking place, including the mistakes, hesitations, slowness or confusion of the students at work. In the midst of all this, the viewer learners are touched by the subtle movements of the energy of these students, who are acting upon themselves and finding ways of generating through their utterances specific forms of the English language regarding the situations placed before them. One of the most striking features of what is going on on the monitor is that there is no pressure on anyone 5

The Birth Of The Language Video Project

for perfection. Each student is acknowledged to be doing the best he or she can at all moments. In this climate, they are being urged to get to know how the English language behaves. For this they go through various exercises. The appropriate expressions, the correct structures, the right utterances with the melody and intonation of English, are being made explicit. This is being done in more than one way. It appears on the TV screen as much through the learning of the students as it does through the specific materials and techniques being used by the silent teacher, who is neither heard nor seen by the viewer learners. His presence, though, is felt as he keeps on offering his students — and through them, the viewer learners — numerous possibilities of forming criteria for the correctness of English, and of transforming their use of themselves so as to make English a part of their functioning. The viewer learners are in contact with the mistakes of the students in the process of learning as well as with the clues for attaining the right criteria. They are in a unique position. While they watch the students work on their problems, the viewer learners have the time to work on their own difficulties. They are free to do this entirely on their own initiative. They learn to sift the in adequacies to which they have the opportunity to relate objectively. At the same time, they absorb and learn to observe the criteria for the rightness of English which are being presented in the successive lessons. During and at the end of viewing the series of tapes the viewers have given evidence of having gained some facility in expressing themselves in English, even though still in a restricted manner. But what is more significant is that they have become better related to the English language as a whole and more sensitive to its various aspects. They are now better equipped to go on learning English, because for seventy hours they have experienced themselves meeting in a complex way the complexity of the language they wish to acquire. The above statements are based on the following observations: 1 I have observed them reach out for the right criteria and make them operative within themselves. While, for example, the viewer learner, A, participated in the attempts of the students whom she was watching on the monitor as they learned to pronounce the new words,


2 I Looked At Various Aspects

she was also forming her own criteria for their correctness, because she had discovered that the colors in which the words appeared on the screen consistently represented their sound values, irrespective of their form. The viewer learner, B, learned of this at a specific point, when she saw the three letters “ffe” all having the same color in the word “different.” From this moment on, she knew how to work on her pronunciation. It was brought to another viewer’s notice that the “igh” in the words “right” and “light” have the same colors as the words “I” and “eye,” which she had already learned to pronounce correctly. Instantly, something about the English language seemed to touch her awareness, and this she expressed with a twinkle in her eye. Another learner managed to learn to utter the sound “o” (as in old, low, etc.) as well as a native. His face expressed that he was in touch with his competence and his smile seemed to say: “The task of learning English is certainly not beyond me!” 2 I have watched them become such enthusiastic learners that, during the breaks, most of them preferred to go on working and make sure that they could immediately apply to similar situations that which they had learned from tapes in the previous hour or so. During one of the lessons regarding spatial relationships — such as: “in front of,” “behind,” “between,” “on the left/ right,” — one of the viewer learners turned around and said to another: “You are behind me, I am in front of you, he is on my right and she on my left.” Then she added: “Now you do it.” This is just one example of their keen involvement in what they were engaged in. 3 I noticed some of them proceed cautiously at times and take bold steps at other times. I found some of them very vocal and others quietly busy. I watched some of them — and not every time the same ones — manage in their learning to be ahead of those whom they were viewing. Because of their involved participation, they were mobilized in different ways for their own learning to take place. Their learning left them every day full of energy to learn more, even if signs of physical fatigue were obvious at times. As I watched this group of learners and paid attention to the content of the tapes, I found myself being more and more sensitized to the


The Birth Of The Language Video Project

potential of these tapes as a tool for learning. To what extent learning is an individualized activity was made visible to me, and I saw how well these video tapes succeeded in respecting it and maintaining it as such. I found how the responsibility for learning could be assigned to the learners and how willingly they could take it upon themselves. I perceived the extent to which the learners are indeed capable of helping themselves when they are trusted for their ability to do so. These tapes made it evident for me that one’s being immersed in the activity of learning energizes one to move toward further learning. As participants in the production of this pioneering product, these students no doubt worked under conditions which put various constraints on their learning. They could neither replay any of the tapes if they so desired nor had sufficient time to practice what they were engaged in learning. For this reason, during these three weeks I often wished for them to have the occasion to work with the tapes under more congenial conditions and fully feel the impact of these tapes on their competence as learners. Shakti Gattegno


3 I Worked With The Use Of Video Techniques And Technology

Looking at lessons from English, The Silent Way, now generates in me a feeling of calm, because I know the series exists, I accept it for what it is, and I see that it does what it does so easily. Images follow one another effortlessly. Instantaneous split-screens precede smooth wipes which dissolve slowly into superimposed images, all spending minute quanta of energy in the process. Such was not the case during production; and yet those tiny transformations of energy are sufficient to mobilize the viewer and focus his energy as a learner on the multitude of challenges encountered on the way to learning English The Silent Way. Watching the images flash by on video tape offers few clues to the considerable energy spent on, or the actual process of, discovering, realizing, and producing those images live, unless the viewer has lived the experience or is an expert in the world of television. Nor will watching them move many viewers to ask such questions as: how were the images chosen; on what criteria; who chose them; what were the available alternatives; how long did it take to set them up before putting them on the screen; how many cameras were there; where were they located in relation to the students or the charts or the teacher; where was the director’s control room; how far was it from the studio and from the tape room; how many people were working in each; were other things going on at the same time; was it noisy or quiet; was it often distracting; and what were the means of communication used by those of us who were involved in suggesting, choosing, and controlling 9

The Birth Of The Language Video Project

the video techniques called in to create the images which now form the objective video lessons. These were, however, some of the questions and concerns which I entertained and which went into shaping my response to the job of watching over the use of video techniques. In the teaching of a language on television, video techniques serve two purposes of which I am aware. First, they focus viewer’s attention on what challenge is being worked on by the students on television and how they are working on it. This tells the viewer what he can do. Second, the use of video gymnastics varies the visual content of the lessons so as to make the viewers’ work on the language more enjoyable. These two purposes do not have to conflict, but I realized early on that, as visual variety was more present in the minds of the television experts, we ran the risk of seeing it subordinate the primary purpose unless we were watchful. For instance, for the first four lessons, I knew that superimposing the simplified English Fidel over the faces of the students would facilitate viewer involvement, because of the movements demanded of the eyes. As that is contrary to traditional television wisdom, which says that one does not put letters or signs over faces, the director wanted to use a split-screen with the Fidel on one side and the students on the other. I insisted. On other occasions, working with the director and his crew forced me to become more aware of the possibilities and constraints of television. Using his sensitivity to the medium, the director brought in the softcircle insets for student faces or the clock, as in Lesson 16, and the spotlight on the Word Charts in Lesson 96. These are examples of discoveries which blend the two purposes of video techniques. Such ongoing finds on both sides helped enrich the teaching impact and learning effect of the final product. Two particular experiences gave me the occasion to observe another aspect of video techniques and technology — its weight and tyranny — from the points of view of the one operated upon by it under production conditions and the one actually using it to produce effects. By chance I taught one of the lessons midway through the series. I was 10

3 I Worked With The Use Of Video Techniques And Technology

tied into the director’s control room by a microphone and headset and was told how and how not to move. The pressure on me increased when the blazing studio lights went on and the countdown began. While trying to think of my lesson, I had to shift my attention to my ears to listen to the director give me final instructions. The lesson began. I whispered to the director that I was going to the charts, waited a second for the camera’s field, all the while trying to focus on the charts and find what I wanted to work with. Then I had to listen to the students in the studio, work with their mistakes, watch out for the camera, give the students enough time, wonder if I was giving enough to the viewers, maintain contact with oddities of the English language, and, when that segment of the lesson had ended, inform the director that I was shifting to the table to work with the rods, decide how fast to move to avoid the camera, and get ready for the next part. When I began working with the rods, as I had no idea of what the camera was showing, I had to guess which part of the table to work on. Then I had to go to my ears to listen to the director tell me to move in tighter. The students were beginning to work. Listen to them. Mistake. Go to the chart. Tell the director first. Watch out for the camera. Back to the table. Tell the director first. Make the hand signals clear and keep them in camera range. Move in tighter; the viewers have to see the hands. What is the camera showing? Listen to the students. Give them time to understand the signals. Vary the situation. Tighter on the table. Until, by the end of the lesson, I felt 1 had almost turned my back on the students on the set so as to satisfy what I could only imagine to be the field of the camera. What is important here is the extent to which a silent, invisible teacher must be aware of, work with, and respond to so many different inner and external pulls and movements from so many different sources, generated by the demands of television. The second experience came late in the production when I became the operator of a character generator, a typewriter-like machine used to put words on the television screen. My task was to type words or phrases directly onto the tape as they came up in the lessons. Working in the control room, I could not see the teacher’s use of the charts or chalkboard, except when visible on a monitor. Nor could I hear very


The Birth Of The Language Video Project

well because I was wearing a headset linking me to the director and the entire production crew, who were frequently getting or giving instructions or just chatting. Nevertheless, I had to strain to hear what was being said by the students, give meaning to their sometimes hesitant utterances, type the word or words, correct my mistakes, center the effect on a monitor, and tell the director he could use it, all before the class moved on to something new for which the insert would no longer serve. Once again I became aware of the dispersal of myself in various activities whose technical demands governed my use of time and my actions and required that I put more energy into the simplest and most automatic of human activities in order to keep the whole together. What is perhaps most remarkable for me, other than the fact that the production is over, is the fact that electronic video techniques and the heavy complex equipment used to produce them have come together in the hands of expert technicians working with educators and learners to create yet another piece of equipment whose offering only asks a viewer to be what he is, a human being. Allen Rozelle


4a I Was In The Director’s Booth

Before I ever got involved in the making of this video series, I used to think that filming, or taping for that matter, was a way of preserving part of the present, of setting aside some aspects of a reality once lived by one or several individuals together. Now, I know that putting something on tape is, in fact, creating a new reality. Along the “chain” that goes all the way from eight students being actually taught in a classroom to any number of unknown people turning on their television set and watching a program designed to teach them English, my place was to be in the director’s room to serve as an on the spot consultant. The director’s position was, I felt, a very strategic one — something like the narrow part of a funnel — since, cooped up in a small dark crowded room, we were able to see simultaneously all three images sent by three cameras, as well as the instant synthesizing process out of which one single tape was produced as a final product. We were already one step removed from the total scene, since the cameras, from the angles where they had to be, could not possibly pick up all that was going on — and indeed, sitting in the studio as the class was going on was a very different experience. Yet, they could pick up so much (also using effects such as zooming, rotating on their axes, etc.) that another drastic kind of selection had to be made all the time in order to encapsulate every minute of actual teaching-learning time in one minute of taping time.


The Birth Of The Language Video Project

For the first few hours, I was overwhelmed by the complexity of the selection process, feeling that so much was being lost, and sometimes I was afraid that the rigor of the need for selection would, in the end, damage the product, or at least make it a lot poorer than the real situation from which it originated. After a while, I realized — mainly by watching the same tape twenty-four hours later or by getting some feedback from people who had not had a chance to see the “unselected” images — that the final tapes formed a reality of their own, with a richness of their own, that any student could relate to in terms of what they were and in terms of what they brought to him or her. This discovery helped me relax somewhat in the midst of that otherwise incredibly intense and absorbing experience shared with a crew of four. This is not to say that everything went smoothly and that the numerous choices that had to be made all the time met with everybody’s approval. In fact, there were a few of the half-hour shows that had to be discarded — for this or another reason — and others taped instead. But, as we went along, the various criteria for selection became clearer and clearer, and also easier to apply. There were, basically, three major areas to pay attention to: 1

Make sure that enough clues and information got on the synthesized tape to allow viewers at home to function as independent learners.

2 Select, among all the possible video effects, the ones that would be most compatible with the activities being displayed, permitting the generation of aesthetically satisfactory images. 3 Whenever possible to prompt the cameras whose images are not being used to go and “hunt” for shots and images that would be suitable, making suggestions as well as integrating the cameramen’s initiative when appropriate. A lot could be said about the skills involved in being a director, both technical and artistic, the sensitivity it takes to be at the same time the


4a I Was In The Director’s Booth

one who analyzes the images that are available and makes the synthesis of all that is visible quickly enough to be able to formulate sensible directions to the people who have to punch the keys or press the buttons in time to create the desired effect. I know for myself that this experience has helped me educate my sight in different ways, and has made me sensitive to a number of new realities. Clermonde DominicĂŠ



At the beginning of the shooting of our first video project, many of us were given assignments. Mine was to be in the director’s room and assist him in whatever way I could. This task was to be shared with another person (cf., 4a). The role we were supposed to play was, to begin with, very vague, and from the little experience I had gained during a trial day a year ago, I knew that it could be very frustrating. I decided that my presence in the control room would be of some use to me and to others only if I kept my mind open and let things happen as much as possible, rather than try to impose my previous experience of teaching The Silent Way on this new situation. Very soon, mainly two things emerged in my consciousness. 1 What appeared on the three monitors from which the director was choosing his images in no way represented the whole story of what was going on in the studio. Indeed, on a few occasions, it was impossible to even guess what was happening in the studio. The director had to choose, from a very small number of images, the material to be put on the air. Trying to represent what was going on in the studio turned out to be not only an impossible task, since Dr. Gattegno’s lessons are unpredictable, but perhaps a useless one. Video taping has definite limitations. But also definite strengths. So, one had better deal with what the means offer rather than try to fight to obtain what one conceives in advance.


The Birth Of The Language Video Project

Thus, for example, the complexity and variety of the whole, which is a given in the classroom, had to be foregone because cameras at present don’t have any device which can replace our neck. On the other hand, the intensity of single images which are so powerful and so concentrated on the screen had to be exploited to the full because it was this element that would not only pull, but glue the viewers to the screen. I think that just as I am writing, I begin to fully comprehend the absolute necessity of eliminating the teacher and of showing the students struggling. Only through the struggle of students, at times painful, even excruciating, will the viewer be affectively mobilized to the point of wanting to release his or her tension by uttering the language put in circulation on the air. If the mobilization of one’s affectivity is what is required for a TV program to become a teaching tool, it is clear that the presence of the teacher would in no way do the job. It would lack the tension that is provided by images of students struggling. Still the intensity of images does not restrict itself to showing people. I can’t forget my surprise and delight when just two white rods, lying on a white background, were first shown in a close-up. The image was so powerful, so beautiful, that it still lingers in my mind. 2 My having taught The Silent Way for a number of years and knowing what students can do after a certain number of hours of instruction, definitely interfered with my assessment of what was actually happening. I kept reminding myself that this was a course taught through television and not a regular classroom, but this didn’t help me much in overcoming my expectations as to what should happen on the screen. What helped me realize that the criteria I was using were definitely wrong was the fact that on numerous occasions, when I thought that a lesson was too slow or too static, the feedback from the room where students were watching the lesson on a monitor was exactly the opposite. Those students apparently were actively participating and derived a special pleasure in beating the students on the screen. The opposite also occurred: lessons that seemed full of Life were sensed as being much too fast for the viewers. It became obvious to me that in judging a lesson, I did not take into consideration what viewers, who would be beginners in that language, would supply. As a matter of fact, I also didn’t take into consideration in my judgment of a lesson, my own tension while the lesson was being taped.



I didn’t take into account, for example, that during the taping I might have disagreed with the director’s choice of some images, or that because of technical impossibilities, something that I thought would be effective could not be shown, etc., etc. This I found out when I looked again at some lessons, which I had thought very poor, at first, when viewing them from the director’s room, and my feelings about them changed completely. Because I shared my task with another person, I didn’t watch all the tapes, and at times I would go back to my function after twenty half hours had been taught and taped. As I think of it now, I am struck by the fact that I could not guess which structures had been covered during my absence. It became clear that the choice of the material presented had not been linear, but rather had had a “spherical shape.” The language used by the students, albeit with difficulty and at times without much fluency, was always complete in itself and appropriate to the situation. Ordinary logic was definitely not one of the criteria chosen to make students progress. Once, I found the students so changed that I could hardly believe I had been away for only two days. The whole experience was a very rich one, because of the unbelievable complexity and difficulties of the project as well as the coming together of so many people from different backgrounds and personalities. In more technical terms, I think that what I have gained most is an awareness that the whole is not made up of all the details, but only of those which each of us decides to take into account, and that the cumulative effect of impacts which strike one is far greater than the sum of the others. The medium of television can provide, I think, with live material, what animation has done in the case of films. It forces, through a precise selection of significant details, the viewer to come in touch with the whole. Thus, the viewer will be able to reconstruct the whole reality because this is a normal functioning of his, one he uses every day in his life. Cecilia Bartoli


5 I Watched All The Tapes

It was not until the 4th day of taping that we realized that someone would have to sit down and look at the tapes as they were being produced. In the beginning, this only involved watching the technical side, such as electronic “hits” or jumps and audio problems. The job soon began to spread and involved noting the contents of each lesson, as well as making sure that whatever was being worked on was clear enough so that the viewers will get the information they need. I felt a great responsibility while I was doing this, because, with the exception of the director, I would be the only person who would have watched the whole series — 140 lessons of half hour each. Lots of things needed to be taken care of at the same time, all of which called for non-stop concentration, and I wished I could have found the time to look at the tapes at least 3 times — each time putting aside everything except just one aspect of the problem. Now that the taping is over and I am sitting here writing what I have experienced during the last 21 days, it really feels to me that 70 hours of television is a long time; but I am also amazed to notice how clear the whole story is in my mind. For some reason, while typing the notes I made, I did not put down the names of the students. Instead, I used X, Y, Z; but I knew who X, Y, Z were. I was able to remember exactly who said this or that; I could hear their voices and see their faces. For the first time, I experienced what it is to be “in one’s eyes,” and I must say that watching TV for 5 or 6 hours a day is extremely tiring. Will it be as tiring for the people involved only in learning? To focus on looking for


Video Project

mistakes and, once found, to go back and make sure that corrections are consistent, requires a lot of energy and generates tension. Once this amount of energy is freed, it can be used somewhere else. One can let one’s self go and let whatever happens happen. I am a non-native English speaker, but an “advanced” student. Still, I found myself very involved as a learner. While I learned exactly 6 words of “luxury” vocabulary, I certainly worked a lot on the sounds, the stresses and the melody of English. I must say I was a Little jealous to see that words which had taken me years to utter as natives do, such as “southern,” “simultaneously,” and “little” (which sounds Like “leettel” as it is taught in French schools) were being said correctly by the students after a very short time. And it seemed so obvious to them that this was the only way to say them. Very often I would catch myself involved in learning more English and not doing my job of scrutinizing the tapes. Therefore I had to go back and start again. Being alone in a room and, therefore, not being pushed along by other students, I was surprised to find myself talking as the video students were struggling. It was not enough for me to say it inside; I felt the need to work out loud. Another point is that the first time I watched certain lessons I really thought they were slow and heavy, but I changed my mind when I looked at them the second time. The first time, immediately after the taping, I was definitely looking for what was wrong and therefore was very focused and very critical. I know that this did not happen during the second viewing. I could feel myself opening up to the impact of the tapes and letting them affect me. I simply took them then as they were. I feel very calm and very confident about what we have just achieved, even though it is not always what we should have done or would have liked to do. I am calm because I did work on the English language and I was caught up in these tapes.


5 I Watched All The Tapes

Annie Rozelle


6 I Taught The Class

The class I taught under the cameras was made up of 8 people, four women and four men recruited randomly by accidental contacts and with one provision only: that they knew as little English as possible. They were adults from Africa (2), from the Far East (2), from the Middle East (2), from the U.S.S.R. (1), and from South America (1). The problems of these people were not assessed beforehand and revealed themselves during the 140 lessons in which they participated under the strong studio lights. The severest of the problems for me was that I could not through my words in their own languages reach all of them to move them when they got stuck. Another severe problem was their belief that languages are hard to learn because one must remember so many things, and mainly words. Since what I did did not stress memorization, some of them remained baffled to the end. Working under the lights and before the cameras was not a particular handicap, not even a strain. But waiting for long periods for the crew to solve technical problems was very taxing. On some days, the time of teaching was less than the time taken for the adjustments of the lights. To work under the restrictions imposed by the state of the art of filming and the limited amount of time for shooting and editing, made enormous demands, particularly on me. For example, since under the existing arrangements cameras could not show at the same time more than two of the word charts used in my approach in a manner that renders them as clear to TV viewers as they are to students in a classroom, I was forced to operate in a new way with my materials created for maximum flexibility. It is perhaps a measure of that flexibility that it has been possible to accommodate them within the 25

The Birth Of The Language Video Project

restrictions imposed by the demands of this project. We had to create new materials. These may have uses beyond this context. The students in the TV class could not move freely. In fact, a very small degree of freedom of movement was compatible with the needs of the cameramen and with the location under the lights of any of the materials. I was essentially immobile during each lesson, only allowed to use one or two pointers. When I used my hands, they had to remain within a certain field; when I used the rods, the configuration I was submitting to my class had to be true to the viewers of the images on the screen rather than to the students in my class as they were seated around the table. Nevertheless, my students were reconciled as I was, to these demands of the medium which I had decided to use in this teaching. Since so much had to be organized in order to conform to the half hour format, beginning and ending on cue, and to the matching of the images on the set with the activities in the class that corresponded to them, the students quickly managed to abide by the strict discipline of only doing so much but not more. This translated itself into a passivity on their part and a certain lack of initiative, and I felt myself carrying the weight of it. Paradoxically, some of the lessons that looked bad to me in the studio became very useful to viewers in the other rooms, and I had to learn to think of the radical transformation of what was there in front of me because of the selective and synthesizing powers of the means at the disposal of the video director. In compensation for this, what I found good or adequate may not look that way on the screen. To be engaged in a project of this kind, a first in history, cannot fail to create opportunities for one who wants to learn and grow. The most obvious one was a test of my preparation over the years to meet complex situations in a complex way and to be ready to abandon at once every preconception proven false by the facts in the situation. The numerous people connected with me in the transformation of the events in the studio into a TV program seemed (often at once and sometimes soon after) to be made to take steps that harmonized with my decisions and my intentions as seen in the final product. Each lesson was a unique event to be treated wholly as a unit, not to be


6 I Taught The Class

repeated and only rarely expanded into a following one. Even when we spent a few hours on the same picture, each half hour concerned itself with something different. The continuity was to be found somewhere else. Indeed, my work with the students was my guide. There were so few of them in my class that I soon knew what their needs were and I tried to serve each in so far as each let me, and the circumstances for a change were favorable. But the tension between producing a valid series and catering for individuals remained in me as one of the sources of strain and at the same time the challenge met from moment to moment. Spontaneity is most important; peace at making mistakes and determination at working on what causes them no less important, if we want to have a series that produces the right kind of contagion in the viewers. The component most obvious in the tapes is the peace of the students in making their mistakes. Some do work hard to correct their own mistakes, helped by my trying to give them the criteria for this or that point. These criteria were perceptible most of the time, and one or another of the students would discover them and transmit them to all the rest. But spontaneity in other areas is not as obvious and perhaps by its nature is not compatible with the restrictions of the situation mentioned above. This was compounded by my silence, the fact that my students were mainly met under the lights and the cam eras, and the need to be involved in a number of mental activities at the same time. What I can say has been achieved in the studio by the class is: 1

that they confronted with a certain degree of relaxation and equanimity new demands of considerable magnitude;

2 that, generally speaking, they were forced to produce English statements triggered by perceptible clues rather than via their own language; 3 that they acknowledged that they were to make the efforts of putting things right with only the means available among them and on the materials;


The Birth Of The Language Video Project

4 that their ideas of learning a language, of what matters for that, may not agree with those I used in my studio lessons; 5 that learning related to my teaching, supposedly taking place under the cameras, was in fact taking place in all the circumstances provided by what they were capable of doing in their sleep, at home, or at work with the language in the environment; and this because they had no homework, and no materials to refer to once out of the studio; 6 that their prejudices could be challenged in some circumstances, as was the case when I showed them that they not only had retained the vocabulary of the lessons, but also the location of the words on the wall charts; 7 that they knew much more English as a result of their involvement in the lessons, because the vocabulary presented was recurrent, rather than because of repetition and drill, which was minimal; 8 that to know English did not mean to know words, but to be able to sputter, with a certain fluency, longish statements bringing together expressions of ideas which were both complex and refined; 9 that English, like their language, was a flexible tool for expression, coming from within and produced by one’s own will; 10 that proper communication results from correct and careful expression; 11 that things can be said in various ways and that a number of different statements may describe the same situation seen from different viewpoints; 12 that one and the same statement may mean different things to different people placed differently, in space and time; 13 that it is advantageous to learn clusters of words rather than isolated ones; 14 that, in English, prepositions are very important and serve as hinges for the expression of shades of meaning; 28

6 I Taught The Class

15 that verbs are essential and particularly require one’s attention, especially the verb “to do;” 16 that once we know that what is “right” is what English speaking people say, the sense of what is right for oneself does not result from logic or one’s own usage in one’s native language, but from the adopted melody, intonations and stresses one has been forced to practice; 17 that language learning is as much an affective phenomenon as it is intellectual, i.e., that a feel for the language is extremely helpful. That I was aware of all this, and that I made a point of presenting the material to work on so as to force such awarenesses whenever possible, made this project part of the overall research that has been going on under the name of The Silent Way. This is more important than the silence I observed all through the 140 lessons. For instance, the proposals of presenting on the screen only the raw material of learning and, as far as possible, nothing of the teacher, was the right thing to do, because I wanted to force awareness of what English demands of outsiders like myself. Each half hour can be seen under that light as well as offering students some time to practice and to observe how other classmates work. Whoever wants to know exactly how I did my share in the project will have to scrutinize the 140 tapes we made for English — a task newcomers to English will do more happily than any person knowing English. It may not be a useless task for students of education through TV. It is one I intend to engage in as soon as I have the opportunity to do so. I know I’ll learn a lot. Caleb Gattegno


7a With The Evaluation Group

As each lesson was produced, a second class of non-English speaking students viewed it on a monitor placed in a separate room not far from the television studio. The eleven students in this evaluation group were volunteers representing a wide variety of language backgrounds and life experiences. Their presence enabled us to observe first-hand the impact of the lessons on the learners, and to obtain the feedback usually precluded by the medium of television. In our work with this evaluation group, we attempted to serve four purposes: 1

to provide feedback following each half hour lesson to the teacher and production staff about how the lessons had affected the viewers;

2 to learn to what extent the tapes could stand alone as a means to learn English, and what help from materials and teachers appeared to be required; 3 to assess the effects of viewing the tapes on the students; and 4 to assess the overall impact of viewing the entire 70 hours sequence on the students’ ability to speak English. Providing useful feedback to the teacher and production staff required an immediate assessment of the impact on the viewers of each lesson. There fore, no formal evaluation procedures were used; rather, we depended on developing our sensitivity to the students — getting an


The Birth Of The Language Video Project

overall impact of their affective states, watching where they put their attention, or their expressions and facial gestures, which indicated confusion or understanding, and listening to their utterances to know as well as possible what was happening to them. At the beginning of the lessons, we had decided, in order to assess the effects of the lessons alone, to provide the students with no additional materials or instruction. We modified this approach on the third day, however, for several reasons. Since the evaluation group watched each lesson as it was produced, the viewing schedule was both fixed and unpredictable. The students could not watch lessons more than once when aspects of the lesson were not clear to them, and they frequently had to wait out long production delays. These conditions placed the students at a considerable disadvantage compared to the viewing conditions we anticipated for subsequent groups. Since we felt a responsibility for the students’ learning, we decided to work with them to offset the effects of these conditions. In addition, we had found that sometimes it was impossible to know what the students had obtained from a particular lesson without working with them, and that having the materials present in the room both clarified what was taking place on the screen and enhanced the evaluation group students’ opportunities for participating in the televised class by doing what the televised students were doing. Having charts, rods, and worksheets available during some of the lessons also allowed us to assess to what extent these materials were helpful to the students. Accordingly, we worked with the students between the lessons whenever possible, taking care to provide an opportunity for them to show what they could do on their own before presenting additional cues. When students gave evidence that they did not understand, we proceeded as follows. When we thought that the lesson had presented sufficient information to allow them to sort out their difficulty with another viewing, we worked with them. When we thought that the lesson was not sufficiently clear, we presented feedback to the teacher and production crew and asked the evaluation students to wait and see if the next lesson would clear up the difficulty.


7a With The Evaluation Group

To formally evaluate the effects of the televised lessons on the students, we will observe the video tapes of the evaluation group students viewing these lessons. Observation instruments will be prepared to collect data from the tapes. For example, one simple instrument will be formulated to record the percentage of time during the lessons the students watch the monitor, write, participate verbally in the lessons, talk to each other, etc. We will also look into the relationships between what is happening in the lessons and what the evaluation students are doing. Since one property of the medium of television is to draw the viewers into the activity on the screen, we expected that portraying learning on the screen would involve the students in learning. We can assess this objective by first using observation instruments to collect from selected video tapes a temporal sequence of types of activities present in the lessons, matching this to a temporal sequence of the activities of the evaluation group students viewing the lessons, and then looking at the effects of the former on the latter. For example, we observed that the evaluation group frequently responded to visual dictation on the screen by engaging in this activity, to students performing actions, such as standing or leaning, by performing these actions, to clumsiness by trying to say it better, to mistakes by voicing corrections. One role of the formal data analysis will be to carefully document these observations; in addition, by studying protocols of the inter action between the lessons and the evaluation group, we may be able to learn more about the effects of television on viewers, which can help our subsequent work and form the basis for further research. Protocols will also be useful to look for evidence of increased awareness and facility obtained by viewing the lessons. Gestures, facial expressions, repeated efforts to produce sounds or structures, corrections of self or others all can provide evidence of awareness taking place. Facility can be observed by noting increasing fluency, ease of expression, and growth in what can be produced in a given amount of time. The analysis of protocols will reveal something of what the students can do, but only what is observable on the tapes. Because of this


The Birth Of The Language Video Project

limitation, we built feedback into our work with the students between the lessons, thus providing an instrument for knowing a little better what was taken in by the students, but not demonstrated during their viewing. To shed some light on the overall impact of the course on the students, we will look at the changes over time in the students’ utterances on the tapes, their written work, and their performance in inter-lesson sessions as recorded on tape and in our observation notes. To assess their growth in pronunciation, for example, we can take samples of their English speech at several points in time, then scramble the time sequence and ask an observer to rate the approximation to English of the melody in each. If the ratings of the later utterances are consistently higher than those of the earlier ones, then growth has been demonstrated. Similarly, procedures will be worked out to assess the students’ growth in other aspects of English. The post-course interviews with the students will allow us to add their perspectives to our assessment, and to know better the affective impact of the course on them. The evaluation is being conducted in consultation with Dr. John Fanselow of Columbia University Teachers College. When the study is completed, the results will be made available to interested parties through The Silent Way Video Company, Inc. Steve Shuller



I was present for all but five days of the videotaping. During that time, I usually had the responsibility of “audio man� for those students who made up the evaluation class and who were watching on a TV screen the video tape series as it was being produced. This job mainly entailed my making sure, through the manipulation of certain electronic equipment, that the voices of the dozen or so evaluation class students were being recorded clearly on audio tapes and/or video tapes that were made to keep track of these students’ progress. Thus I had an opportunity both to watch the students as they watched the program on the TV screen and to listen selectively, through a set of headphones, to the individual voice of each student. The overall impression I have in retrospect is one which struck me again and again as I actually watched the students from day to day. This is the sight of three rows of chairs, one behind the other, with four chairs in each row, and on each one a student sitting with his or her eyes glued to the TV set which was placed before them on a table, raised with the aid of some boxes to a height of almost six feet from the floor so that all could have an unobstructed view in a room too small for so many people. Notwithstanding the facts that at times only nine or ten students were actually present or that many spent some time looking down to jot some notes on a pad or that a few appeared to be occasionally distracted or even to momentarily doze off, still there remains this very strong impression of a room filled with a group of persons completely absorbed by what they saw and heard. To be sure, it seemed that they were in the truest sense a captive audience, captivated by the images and sounds from the TV set; and so long as 35

The Birth Of The Language Video Project

they were in their seats and the TV set was on and showing the series, they appeared drawn to it and into it, hour after hour, day after day. There were students whose eyes, after three or four hours of almost continuous viewing, would become watery and very reddened; and yet they would still lean forward in their seats, eyes intent on the screen. Such deep involvement implies participation, and this was also evident in the students’ behavior. During most of the time I was present, the evaluation class students were saying either what they heard from the TV set or what they thought was appropriate for situations they saw displayed. Indeed, they would many times anticipate or even correct what they heard said by the students who were shown on the screen. Often, their laughter indicated their amusement at the mistakes that they saw and heard being made, even when they themselves had been making similar or identical mistakes shortly before. A few students spoke very loudly, even shouting some of the time. For them, I had to keep the volume control connected with their microphones turned down all the time, since there was no telling when there would be a sudden outburst which would not only drown out on the tapes the voices of the other students, but would also cause a mechanical interference which distorted their own voices. Other students would only occasionally produce their sentences with enough energy so that they were audible to a person standing right beside them, and thus they presented another problem. I could sometimes hear them if I turned the volume controls for their mikes all the way up, but this only produced on the recordings another sort of distortion, which I was told is called “background noise.” Yet, by being able to selectively isolate, at least for myself if not for the recordings being made, the voices of the various students, I could confirm that the most timid and reserved of them were now and then participating in a manner directly accessible to an outside observer. When I occasionally took the time to listen in this way to a particularly quiet student for a few minutes at a time, I could trace the progress of a statement at first produced under one’s breath to an utterance which could be clearly heard, even if it was only made one time.



It is clear that each learner was free to participate in his or her own way, since the teacher was the TV set, which while somehow commanding their attention, did not demand of them this or that which they might have been reluctant to give. While they used each other’s utterances when these seemed to offer support or assistance, their relationship mainly was directly with the students on the screen and with what those students did and said. Thus, mistakes appeared and disappeared as easily and as naturally as one could imagine, bringing to mind the sort of learning that is managed by very young children. And it is most significant to realize the resemblance, in at least two other respects, of the evaluation class students’ learning to that of young children: in its spontaneity and in the seeming, though by no means real, lack of effort on the part of the learners. The situation had been met fluidly, almost casually, and somehow, without strain or apparent struggle, learning took place. Ted Swartz



During the videotaping of The Silent Way ESL series, I was present nine days. I was assigned to the evaluation group and helped to assess the learning of the ten or eleven students who were viewing the lessons on a monitor. Those of us who were assigned to the evaluation group shared the responsibilities of providing feedback to the production staff after each half-hour lesson and working the audio and video hardware which was recording the students’ work. Since I was present only parttime, my co-workers were taking care of most of the technical jobs. I was free to watch the lessons as they came over the monitor and to work with the evaluation group between lessons. Initially, we had not planned to provide the evaluation group with material or instruction in addition to what they saw on television. And I personally had not anticipated working with students, since I had had very little experience teaching ESL The Silent Way. But after the third day, when our policy changed, I found myself on my feet between lessons, working with students. After a few teaching sessions, I asked how it was possible to be teaching ESL with such ease and with so little preparation. My answer was that the taped lessons were my preparation. By viewing the monitor, I was becoming aware of how unambiguous situations could be presented one after the other, and how a particular selection of language could be put into circulation in a way that seemed systematic and reasonable. By viewing with the students, I was becoming acquainted with the word charts and with ways of presenting clues to students.


The Birth Of The Language Video Project

In fact, to say that I was “teaching” between the lessons would be incorrect. Instead, I was providing opportunities for students to test themselves and providing clues which were presented in the lesson but which some students had not noticed in only one viewing. A variety of ways of working occurred between lessons. On some occasions, a student would ask a specific question. For example, one student inquired about the difference between “there” and “they’re.” Sometimes it was possible to form sentences with words from the charts and to observe whether this action cleared up confusions. On this occasion I touched: “They’re here” and then “They’re there.” The student’s feedback was a convincing, affirmative nod of the head. At other times, when something new had been introduced at the end of a lesson and students asked questions about it, I would ask them to wait to see the next lesson. This was the case when students asked about the difference between the two statements: “How many rods did she get?” and “How many rods does she have?” Sometimes students wanted to test whether the new lessons were related to some vocabulary with which they came. For example, the last sentence of Lesson #53 was: “If this rod were as long as this one, it would be yellow.” In the moments which followed the lesson, it was clear that most students had not grasped the meaning of these words. One or two students could say all of the words, but expressed that they did not understand. I put two yellow rods next to each other and pointed to: “This rod is as long as this one.” Laci questioned: “As long as means equal?” Three students appeared to grasp the meaning and began to practice again the utterance of the previous lesson. Often, the students taught each other. After one lesson I held a blue rod and an orange one end to end and pointed to: “How long is this?” I was expecting the response: “19 centimeters,” but Laci said: “It is 19 by 1 by 1.” Although this was not quite the answer to the question, I pointed to “or” on the charts. Laci said: “It is 19 centimeters long, 1 centimeter wide, and 1 centimeter high.” Helene spoke up: “I don’t understand “long,” “wide,” and “high.” Marcar, another student, took a book, slipped his finger along the length and said, “long.” He did similar 40


gestures and said “wide” and “high.” Helene understood and began to practice. The stories are numerous. What is perhaps more important to convey is that each student responded differently to the opportunity to work with us. Some appeared to prefer to work during the lessons and to take breaks between sessions. Others seemed to delight in testing their production on every occasion. Others remained in the evaluation room, but watched their classmates work rather than test themselves overtly. Moreover, each student changed from day to day and within the day in how they responded to opportunities to practice between sessions. The atmosphere which surrounded our work between lessons with the students is perhaps more important than the content on which we worked. I remember these sessions as lacking competition; being light and full of humor; containing much chatter about how difficult it was to learn English; and being filled with mistakes occurring, disappearing, and then being replaced by new mistakes to be worked on. In general, I am left with two impressions. First, I have been affected by ten people — being so childlike and delightful, living for many hours in difficult physical conditions, but taking it in their strides, and for the most part, verbalizing how poorly they believed they were doing and claiming not to know how much progress they were making. Second, I have only begun to articulate what a different role I had as a teacher. It is clear that the tapes were doing the hardest task. The producers of these tapes had taken responsibility for making situations unambiguous, giving the criteria needed to understand the language introduced, and engaging the viewers. At the same time, it seems clear that the presence of materials and teachers who understood what underlies The Silent Way had a contribution to make to the learners. Katherine Mitchell


8a The Students Speak

My brother Carlos had recently come to the United States, when he was offered the chance to participate in an English course which would be videotaped for use on TV, in which The Silent Way would be used. His only experience in learning foreign languages had been of French during his years of high school, and this through a very traditional method. Now, he was in urgent need of learning English in order to continue his studies of Political Sciences in a North American University. The course in itself promised to be an interesting experience for him, since its conditions were different from any language situation he could think of — a TV studio instead of a classroom, an absolutely silent teacher and a group of classmates who saw each other for the first time and who came from different parts of the world. The facts of having to remain for hours under the television lights and before the cameras and entering into a way of learning so unusual were challenges which contributed to his alertness and made him be in a state of permanent awareness. After the first session, he noticed that any concern about the cameras had disappeared, while his interest in his own process of learning had increased. The class consisted of students of seven different linguistic backgrounds, who were to cross the boundaries of their own languages and cultures to enter those of English.


The Birth Of The Language Video Project

When the taping sessions began, my brother’s state of mind was one of mixed uncertainty, hopes, and decision. The second day, uncertainty disappeared, because he had realized that, although he could not see the goal he had to reach, each time he gave himself to the concrete task of producing sounds — foreign to him and so different from his mother tongue — he was attempting something which monopolized his whole attention and at the same time asked of him a different use of himself; not only of his intelligence, memory and powers of observation, and not just of his capacities of hearing and articulating, but of all of these and of “something else” he could not describe. As soon as his uncertainty disappeared, I noticed that his hopes and resolution increased. Each evening when he came back from the studio, he tried to put in circulation what he had learned; sometimes it seemed that what he had to say was a lot and that he couldn’t hold it in anymore. At such times, he may have found that he did not have a sufficient vocabulary and he would ask for words; however, all needed structures seemed to be present in his incipient command of the language studied so far, in a way he described to me as “strongly tied to his consciousness.” One evening, for instance, he took some objects whose names he had asked for, and made with them several combinations, changing places and positions so he could apply the whole perceptual scale of “in front of, behind, on, under, beside.” The sentences came fluently and with clarity. When I invited him to reflect on what he had just done and said, his answer was: “I am still immersed in what we worked on this after noon: I want to say it, I want to say things because they flow out.” But he was not in this kind of mood everyday; sometimes he preferred to allow what he had learned “to rest,” and he would not say or try anything purposefully. However, during a radio broadcast or an overheard conversation in the sub way, he suddenly recognized the presence of elements he had learned in a session of that day. In our after dinner talks, I had the opportunity to ascertain how the course operated on my brother beyond the linguistic field. He made comments related to the atmosphere of the class, its development, the role of the teacher, the constant “auto-observation” of the students and


8a The Students Speak

the self-teaching. All these aspects were for him indicators that he was learning in an integral fashion. First of all, he observed that since he was not in a competitive class, the wish to be ahead of the others was replaced by a real desire for a mastery or a correcting of this or that point (the pronunciation of a sound, a wrong stress, the melody, etc.), and that all this operated from “within.” There were no interferences from the threat of failure or the pursuit of success. But even when one could say that he did succeed, the effort he had made appeared as valuable and satisfying. For the same reasons, everyone could, at any moment, be the first or the last; but this without emotions, freely. Soon he realized that the dynamics of the group, generated and established from the beginning, permitted a relationship of immanent collaboration among the students and that each of them could confirm this sense of solidarity when she or he moved from dismay or discouragement to being motivated and successful. He also observed that because of the aptness of this unique way of teaching, he had refined his perceptive capacity to the point that his intuition was so expressive that it delivered knowledge directly to his intellect, without going through his own language. The fact that, in the beginning, action verbs were learned served to illustrate this perception of his. At the end of the course, a complete change had taken place. I noticed in my brother a spiritual opening towards the “new language,” the most visible features of which were — the joy of knowing whatever he had learned until then, the awareness of being able to transfer that knowledge to new situations, of recognizing it in the speech of others, and the certainty that the veils of incomprehension began to be removed. Patricia Perez



Two of my sisters had traveled long distances to participate as students in the videotaping project, one in the studio class and the other in the evaluation group. Based on my almost daily contact with them outside the classroom and some occasional contact during a few class sessions, I shall report some of my impressions of their involvement in learning ESL. Because both of them, immediately prior to the shooting, had to relocate themselves far away from their homes, some initial feelings of being unsettled were expected. In the beginning, their anticipation of having to “memorize� all the colors and their corresponding sounds, along with their being asked to utter sentences without comprehension and some other unfamiliar techniques made them quite nervous. They felt that most of these tasks were too demanding and beyond them. However, to their own amazement, they gradually learned to be at peace with the instruments used in the sessions. Thus, with the expectation and hope that they eventually could learn how to utilize these tools more efficiently, they plunged further into this hew adventure. It was clear that their cultural background and learning habits of the past played a very decisive role in their performances. With the socialization which they received in their schooling, where students were not encouraged to display individual differences, they were selfconscious and found it difficult to be in a situation where taking initiative was acceptable, proper and even encouraged. Many of the


The Birth Of The Language Video Project

comments they expressed during this period were more centered on fellow students’ learning styles than on English itself. It took them some time to reorient themselves to cope with the new reality of a classroom where they saw that much room was allowed for individual preferences of learning strategies. When they were able to shift their attention from other students to focus on English, they appeared to be more calm on some specific aspects of the language. On the one hand, some verbal expressions, such as: “I can never learn these colors;” or “I can’t utter the whole sentence unless I know all the components well;” or “How can I remember all this material when new things keep coming in;” or “it is impossible to become good at English;” etc., indicated that they were still uncomfortable and uncertain. On the other hand, they showed their zest for learning the language. Very often, after an exhaustingly long day, they worked hard in the evening on their self-assigned homework sessions. At first, I was often called upon as the expert; but gradually they began to inquire from each other to clarify their doubts, and I would be treated as some kind of consultant. Generally speaking, the moods they came home with were a fair reflection of their thoughts on the happenings of that day. There were moments of high spirit when they were eager to practice further what they did during the day; and there were subdued nights when they were quiet or even withdrawn in their own thinking. Although it was a formidable task to have to struggle to use themselves better, I definitely witnessed progress at various stages. I shared with them the excitement of discovery, of becoming more proficient in certain areas of the language. When they started to place the tips of their tongues between their teeth automatically when they needed to use words with the two “th” sounds, and no longer said “d” or “l” instead, I realized that there was a certain awareness at work in them. I was further delighted when, near the end, after much attention had been paid seemingly in vain, to the use of the word “it,” they suddenly began to put “it” in statements like “I like it,” and “Put it on the table.” Their learning to use “it” properly, to me, seems evidence that they had obtained, not merely theoretically, but in their flesh, the notion that English requires a different usage of words than Chinese does, and that



they had yielded to this reality in this particular instance. And I believe that with more exposure and practice a similar realization would soon be applied to other statements of theirs. For example, the Chineseoriginated: “You said what?” would be changed to: “What did you say?,” thus replacing literal translation with the correct English statement. There were other signs of their advancement. One of these was a change in the tone of their voice. For some time, they both uttered sentences with a raised pitch and question-like endings, which made their supposedly affirmative statements sound bike interrogative forms. Sometime during the second half of the course, I noticed that they did not raise their voices so much anymore. They had taken a stride forward, as common statements, like “thank you,” “I don’t know,” etc., were no longer said with a shaky, upraised tone, but rather with a solid downward melody. Another example was their increasing attention to the full production of final consonants. Paying special attention to this effect — the lack of which I myself still suffer after years of speaking English — again revealed that there was an understanding that, unlike the sound structure of their mother tongue, English requires all sounds to be fully uttered. An omission of ending sounds can lead to embarrassing situations, like the one I caused when people took me to an interesting “spa” when I had asked them to take me to an interesting “spot.” Other than the above mentioned examples, they were also on their way to gaining proficiency in other typically difficult areas, such as: distinguishing t and d, l and n, l and r; uttering more fully the w in aw, ow; and the i in ei. In spite of all the learning that took place, there were also periods when our anxiety was high. Mine mostly came from my having expectations and wanting them to master many things within a relatively short time and from my feeling desperate in trying to understand why certain mistakes were made. Theirs perhaps was a result of a head-on encounter of their belief of how a foreign language should be learned and what actually was asked of them in the classrooms. And indeed, 49

The Birth Of The Language Video Project

the effort in trying to stop the strong link with the more familiar learning methods of the past proved to be the most difficult task for them. To trust their ears, to utilize their visual perceptions, and to practice their vocal apparatus with less inhibition were very demanding requirements and remain critical areas to be improved upon. Shiow-Ley Kuo



I arrived from France on the 19th of March and, a day later, I started viewing in the Manhattan office some of the tapes already available since the 12th. I was alone, facing the TV monitor. For two days, I had some assistance in “reading through color� which was a very new experience for me. Then mainly on my own, I went through 24 half hour lessons, numbered 9 through 32, before I joined the class at Yonkers on March 22nd. Although I had not found the time to look at the tapes more than once when I was on my own, I believe I understood almost everything that appeared on them. The main contrast between the solitary viewing and the one that followed, when ten other people were engaged in the same task, was the absence in the first of a measure of any progress in learning. The class I joined began working on lesson #49, leaving for me a gap of 16 lessons I had not watched. This thought contributed to my finding the first two days in that class painful and demanding. I could not always fix the meaning of some words, either because they had been studied in the tapes I missed or because other factors made me miss the meaning of those just introduced. Gradually, these problems disappeared and I found myself fully integrated in that group. Two items eased my way in this adaptation: 1 This group had some assistance between lessons from English speaking people working the evaluation equipment in that room. They used some of the materials that appeared on the screen: charts and rods. It was then possible to reproduce the situations shown on the TV


The Birth Of The Language Video Project

set and be more precise either about the sounds, the vocabulary, or the structures. We were personally taken into account, at least for a few minutes. 2 Because of the individual differences of the students shown on the screen, it became possible for me to identify with the one that was closest to my situation and to be thus guided into the content of the lesson. *** During these fifteen days of study of English through this approach, I met some obstacles. 1 I was occasionally repeating statements for which I had no associated meaning, and this created an intellectual tension that slowed down retention of the words. Since I did not always manage to relax in time so as to benefit from the surrender to the rhythm of a sentence of the melodic phrases in it, I know I wasted some time, since I did manage to understand the meanings on the occasions when I let myself go. 2 In the “reading” of the colors, I did not at once attempt to become facile in the sounds-color associations and I believed that my slowness in that area was caused by my late integration in the group. In fact, now I think that I could have mastered the relationship through a more thorough dedication to it and a resistance to my inclination for the written form of the words. Paradoxically, I found no problem in the pronunciation of the English words met, although the sounds for the letters and the stresses differ so much from my own language. It seems that I caught simultaneously the form of the written word and its pronunciation. I did not have to call in a “conscious” interpretation of the colors present. 3 I also seemed to need the written word to hang on it the meaning and the sounds, the oral form and the tapping on the colorrectangles of the TV Fidel both being insufficient for my retention.



These three difficulties translated themselves into a greater ease for writing than for speaking English. But I must add some words about the class that we were watching on the monitor. Two students in it played a considerable role in making me more aware of what I was doing with myself. She (Odile) seemed to me to be the driving engine of the group. Relaxed and attentive, she managed before the rest to catch the meaning of some or most words. She was also sensitive to the rhythms and the melody in the wholes, and I related to her in almost all complex situations. With the other one (Carlos), I found myself identifying with him in most of the lessons, even when I found that I was ahead of him in meeting the present challenge. His problems, his behaviors, I found to resemble mine. *** On reflection, I have found this way of teaching language through TV and The Silent Way particularly apt and fascinating for the following reasons. 1 The teacher having disappeared, I am free to concentrate on the subject at hand, as displayed by the materials and the techniques (be them, rods, pictures or charts); and this becomes the only real support of the learning going on. The fact that the rods illustrate so many different situations, which render so clear the corresponding uses of words already met or just being introduced, gives help in finding new meanings of old words or simply meanings of new words. We catch ourselves inventing our own version of the new language, rather than depend on memorized forms presented to us. 2 The vocabulary is assimilated with great ease, without effort and mainly without resort to the traditional techniques of memorization through drill and repetition. 3 Since the students, on their own, face the cassette player and the TV set, they can put any cassette in the machine again and find exactly


The Birth Of The Language Video Project

what they were related to and the exact point that they needed to go over to obtain mastery. This advantage seems to be capable of compensating for the absence of a teacher. I believe this because: 1

the solitary apprenticeship of my first two days did not seem to handicap me in my way when I joined the class of viewers, and I found myself working as easily as the others soon after. Hence, the work without a teacher had been efficacious in my case, even if I was not aware then that it might be.

2 at the end of the course, I had an opportunity to spend a few hours “reviewing” some of the cassettes taken at random. I found then that I was learning faster and better in every case. Even when the previous viewing had all been understood and retained, the path through which comprehension arises is gone through again, but much more easily. A fraction of the energy that had been mobilized before became available to be used on some other tasks, such as pronunciation, rhythm, structure, etc. 3 the material used with the students — Fidels, charts — makes it possible to do individual work in a manner not reachable in a classroom and with a teacher. 4 on the screen, when the students are working, they make explicit what is needed by the learner in front of it. They provide a dynamics which carries the viewers, as well as a frame of reference they can refer to in their learning. Moreover, the affective charge released by the participation with the group on the screen and especially the particular “guide” one has selected for oneself, provides a sense of comfort that I found very helpful. This contact with the original class translated by our working with them and our sharing in common the difficulties, generates a communication that makes us forget that we are watching a screen. Claude Billerey (translated by C. Gattegno)


Book Review

C. Gattegno, Evolution and Memory, New York, Educational Solutions Inc. 1977 The slimness of this volume is deceptive, since the insights it contains span the whole of evolution of all aspects of this planet, as well as foresee a future in which mankind evolves into humanity aware of itself as energy and transformations of energy, and as possessing this awareness. The author himself entered into the vertical leap ahead in evolution inherent in these insights over eighteen years ago (by the centenary of “The Origin of Species�), but he had not yet succinctly formulated them so that others could link with his vision. Now this view of the future can begin to be shared by all those who find they can let its impact reach them through these pages. As this can happen, one can see that a new horizontal extension of evolution will begin taking place, making it possible for this vision to become part of reality. For those who have found an insufficient understanding of evolution in the work of Darwin and of the later molecular biologists who have discovered the DNA, Dr. Gattegno is to my knowledge the first one to offer a scientific proposal. His formulation integrates, these previous findings, giving them their rightful place, yet presents in simple terms what thoughtful people in many cultures have known for sometime at the intuitive and spiritual level.


The Birth Of The Language Video Project

In the first two-thirds of the book, he makes clear what is the essential role of instinct and heredity as committed energy within the organism, yet how the uncommitted energy, by increasing generation after generation over the millennia, has given a larger and larger place to the individual “I” and “will” as they, by chance and experiment, develop new behaviors. He finds that new behaviors are often integrated into the DNA, where they are subsequently transmitted. Here their new efficiency allows more energy to remain uncommitted and to be used for individual experimenting with new behaviors and for discovering that it is more efficient to induce others of the species into these new behaviors through education after birth than to increase the amount of energy committed through the DNA. He shows how man, in his own evolution, has chosen to become progressively freer by preferring to stress the increased use, by each individual intelligence and will, of the uncommitted energy for finding his own way and for affecting others similarly through education, rather than to stress transmission through DNA. In the last third of his book, Dr. Gattegno makes clear that in the psychological truth and power-to-inspire of myths and in the precise demands obviously inherent in creating languages, both integral to the unique education developed by each of the many civilizations and cultures of man, we have scientific evidence that a number of our ancestors reached very high levels of awareness of themselves and others, as well as awareness of their awareness at many moments. All this lets us know that they had access to ways of knowing we abandoned during the most recent period of our history in the West, when we allowed positivism to dominate. He signals that what is necessary is a relativistic view of all these alternative evolutions of man, in which the facts of language creation and of the science of myths used consciously and intuitively by our ancestors are honored as much as the facts of the newer sciences developed in the last few hundred years. For him only using relativity as a criterion can yield a synthesis that allows mankind to transcend to a higher level of evolution and find the humanity that links us all. This leads him, in the final pages, to project a new awareness of energy as the ultimate reality and new ways of handling it in ourselves and in our world — especially of our free energy — so that we can use less and less of it to achieve greater and greater transformations under the direction of our will, 56

Book Review

freed from the conditionings of the past and guided by our sensitivity and vulnerability in contact with the future or the present. Along with this is needed a continuing permanent awareness of our awareness so that “it becomes clear that the energy of the self generates one’s own evolution*” and “living at the human level means evolution all the time.**” Dorothea Hinman

                                                        * **

p. 83 p. 86 


News Items

1 The new edition of the English as a second language materials will be available to the public early this summer. They differ from the 1965 edition only in a small number of features. These will make them a better tool, but not a radically different one. We still have 8 Fidel charts and 12 Word Charts. We still have the books, pictures and worksheets of the first edition. We have incorporated the use of two colors for the two sound vowels, as we did in the mini charts kit. We have increased the number of words per chart and made a number of transfers, so that the first four charts contain the most useful words of the language. We have also introduced the many abbreviations that more colloquial English demands. These charts and the new Fidel have already been used in the tapes described in the body of this newsletter. They proved that still more language can be extracted from a very small vocabulary. Teachers will be able to design many lessons around each additional chart after number 1, which is now much more flexible than the old one. The numeration chart (“N” or “12”) can be introduced immediately after the Fidel, even before chart number 1, if teachers follow the advice given in the book, The Common Sense of Teaching Foreign Languages. That chart will find its place again after the last two charts, which refer to the calendar, to time, and to the family. The modest increase in price of the new edition results from increased costs of printing. The materials of The Silent Way remain the most


The Birth Of The Language Video Project

effective and the least expensive of the language materials on the market. 2 A new edition of the Words in Color materials is being prepared for the printers and we hope to have them for sale next fall. As many of our readers know, there have been four editions of Words in Color in the United States: the first, for Learning Materials Inc. (1961); the second, by Encyclopedia Britannica Press Inc. (1964); the third, by Xerox Education (1968); and the fourth, by Educational Solutions Inc. (1972). The last edition had two reprintings. Except for the manual for teachers, all these were very slight variations of the original 1961 edition. The present edition, while remaining very similar to the others, will show the following variations: •

Like the ESL materials, it will use the two-color vowels and a few new two-color signs for consonants.

The appearance of some new items (such as possessives) will make the use of the first few charts much more varied and permit the production of more interesting sentences for and by older students.

Words with very limited scope have been either shifted to charts that come later on or dropped altogether, leaving their space for more useful words.

The game of transformations still links the selected vocabulary of these charts, but more interesting examples can now be proposed.

The old chart # 1 that was reserved for 5 vowels only has been discontinued and the new charts #1 and 2 correspond to R1. (Ro is to be achieved on the chalkboard and through a new booklet dedicated exclusively to the first 5 vowels.)

Old charts 2-21 are now compressed between 1 and 17, with a number of rearrangements that we are sure teachers and students will welcome.


News Items

The new charts #18-19-20 give many new words that illustrate the various spellings which until now only appeared in Book 3 and on the mini charts. Not all spellings found on the Fidel have been exemplified, but a sufficient number are now given on these charts.

The large Fidel reproduces with very minor variations the Fidel of the mini charts. For remedial students, it will be a particularly useful instrument. All English classes, whether they use Words in Color as their reading scheme or not, will find the presence of the Fidel on their walls of considerable assistance in spelling lessons and for composition.

The primer booklets have been rewritten. Most of the features that made them valuable have been kept. They remain slim, systematic and exhaustive. They only offer lower case printing, up to the end of Book 3, where capitals, all punctuations, and the Roman typeface appear with the alphabet. o The word building book has in part been integrated in the primers, as have some pages of the worksheets. o The book of stories remains as it was, a joyful companion to the austere but attractive primers. o The worksheets, created as testing materials capable of providing continuous feedback on the students increases of awareness and of facility, remain what they were. Teachers will perhaps find in them the precious ally they need in order to keep in close contact with their students’ learning of the various skills associated with the study of English, from the youngest age.

3 We now have five new films in color in the series, Animated Geometry.


The Birth Of The Language Video Project

Initiated in 1950 with the twenty-one films of J. L. Nicolet, the series now appears (still under this name) as only computer animation could realize it. These jewels can revolutionize the teacher of geometry in ways that were only permitted to dreamers. Indeed, the beauty of these short films makes them attractive to the general public at school or watching TV. Each film can be seen again and again, and always delivers a little more of its contents. If one verbalizes what one sees, the statements that result are precise facts of mathematics, capable of blowing the mind of viewers and revealing universes reserved until today to the privileged few. No titles have been put on the films, though they display in their content specific subject matters that could be labeled. One of them is concerned with four definitions of a celebrated plane curve, called already in Greek times “the right strophoid,” that has guided potters for millennia in the shaping of vases and cups. Another one centers around the fact that three points determine one and only one circle, but the content is so much wider that about 18 one hour lessons at the high school level may be needed to make it explicit to keen students. Another summarizes the generation of conies, showing how they can be unified by one definition and displaying three cases of the situation. But of course a great deal more is also present in these beautiful diagrams that link instances by playing on the variables. A fourth and fifth film begin with a specific question, relating circles, straight lines and points, and attempts to indicate how to extend the opportunity offered by the question. The fourth could be named, “pole and polars,” as it refers to the subject matter found in geometry books in chapters with that title; but since there is a world behind it, the title would be restrictive to non-specialists. The fifth film is dedicated to the exploration of the problem of finding where are all the points in a plane from which two given circles can be seen under the same angle — an easy question with a lot to teach and from which a true mathematical education may result. The films are silent, as Nicolet wanted them, and they should be if the visuals alone must inspire the searching mind. Notes are being prepared for users who want to exploit as fully as possible the mines they represent. We toyed with putting inconspicuous background


News Items

music to make them palatable to TV and artist audiences. In classrooms, with much time to study, the sound track can easily be silenced. If we allowed ourselves to be proud of the quality and scope of our products, these would spur our pride, but our true concern today is to permit millions of viewers to benefit from the enormous educational potential these films offer and that were not available before we made these films. We can of course make many more, since our vision of geometry is one that synthesizes chapters and recasts subject matter, while opening up new questions kept hidden in a static presentation. The future of mathematics teaching may well be very different from what it has been until now.              


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.

The Birth Of The Language Video Project  

Newsletter, Vol. VI No. 4-5, April/June 1977

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