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Aspects Of Language Learning

Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

Caleb Gattegno

Newsletter

vol. VII no. 1

September 1977


First published in 1977. Reprinted in 2009. Copyright Š 1977-2009 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. Author: Caleb Gattegno All rights reserved ISBN 978-0-87825-286-2 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. 2nd Floor 99 University Place, New York, N.Y. 10003-4555 www.EducationalSolutions.com


Most of the articles in this Newsletter were written by users of the Silent Way. They were contributed as papers to qualify for the Diploma of Advanced Study in the Silent Way granted by the Gattegno Institute, a division of Educational Solutions. Many more papers were received, but these few were considered to be contributions from teachers to the ongoing thinking on language teaching stimulated by the seminars of the Advanced Study Program, and beyond their original purpose. This Newsletter may not remain the right channel for such contributions if their number increases considerably, as it seems likely by the caliber of the participants in the seminars that generate at present the opportunity for such writings. A special Silent Way Newsletter will then be contemplated to serve as a vehicle for the reflections and experiments of the contributors. A small number of other articles complete this issue. Let us note the reference to the teaching of Hebrew by video and the presentation of the Gattegno Institute.


Table of Contents

1 The Gattegno Institute ....................................................... 1 2 What Makes Teaching Empirical? ..................................... 5 3 This Paper Describes A Process......................................... 9 4 My Understanding Of My Problems ................................ 13 5 Is There A Methodology In The Silent Way? .....................17 6 States In Learning........................................................... 21 7 Some Observations From A Teacher Who Becomes A Student............................................................................ 25 Book Review ....................................................................... 29


1 The Gattegno Institute

People who know us may have noticed that we have generally preferred to label our contributions with non-personal names such as the Silent Way, Algebricks, Animated Geometry, Words in Color, My Life and My Work, although Dr. Gattegno has been behind all the work which led to the existence of these approaches and materials as well as others. Why this coming into the open on this occasion? This question raises the double issue of why and when to use or not use the name of a contributor. Whether the answer is needed or not, here it is. Whenever a label can be descriptive or capable of evoking a desire for what it refers to, it is preferable to use it. “Animated Geometry” or “Folklore of Mathematics” are in that frame of reference. “Words in Color” and the “Silent Way” less so, but they managed to become labels familiar to many educators. “Pop-ups” is short and snappy but not explicit in any way; no one can guess what it refers to. “Absolute Visual Reading,” on the contrary, is very explicit both because it is descriptive through the words “visual” and “reading” and also categorical because of the word “absolute.” None of these far-reaching contributions to education is associated in name with the inventor. It was his choice to let the public know that, once found, answers go to join the anonymous flow of human inventiveness and the general adoption of what is functional. The Gattegno Institute, in contrast, is a social creation in which a person’s personal evolution, conclusions, findings, attitudes play a cardinal role. Although Dr. Gattegno hopes that his new institute will

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Aspects Of Language Learning

become a center for study, giving a body to what he considers to be a new science — the Science of Education — at this stage it can most appropriately be known by his name, as he is the founder and perhaps the solitary worker in that field. Those who come to the Gattegno Institute seminars are told that they will be presented with challenges he has encountered, singled out, circumscribed, and for which he has developed instruments of study. They know that while being assisted to take their steps in the Science of Education, they are guided by his work and vision. Of course, outside such occasions, the participants are not only free to go their ways, they are encouraged to be original by being put in contact with the universality of the field and the ease with which new discoveries can be made by serious investigators. The Gattegno Institute operates from New York but is active in a number of places, as is fitting to the universality of a science and of education today. It will grant its own diplomas and associateships in the science of education, and these can set a very high standard of performance on the part of its associates, so that the titles bestowed signify the level of excellence asked of true scientists. The level of the awards will thus guarantee that those who can secure them are on their way to defining their own areas of work and to contributing to the findings in the field. In particular, in the area of language teaching, the Institute will be the first to prepare people to work on problems which most have considered only solvable as a consequence of progress in other fields such as linguistics, sociology, biology, and psychology. We now know how to work on them directly, through the instruments of the science of education, in the places where we find the problems of language learning, i.e. the students themselves at work learning a language. The Gattegno Institute was established because it seemed that most institutions that could have taken the lead in providing the basis for a science of education to exist preferred to put their energies somewhere else. Since Dr. Gattegno has for the last forty years been at work to find what was needed in education to replace the prevalence of opinion by 2


1 The Gattegno Institute

that of facts, it seemed right to begin the shift from one man’s efforts to those who present themselves as interested in moving forward. The new institute is the social frame which can provide that shift. From the number of those already interested in joining, we can say that its time has come. The process of selection is the following: almost everyone who applies and is deeply and personally stirred by what education presents today is given the opportunity to become an associate. The work done at the seminars and workshops, the quality of the papers submitted, the area chosen to work on, the findings offered in a thesis, will help in assessing whether one will actually be made into an associate by the Institute. Of course, the Institute has no more a monopoly on a science of education than any institution in any of the other sciences. Students of the established sciences can choose among many institutions to receive the best preparation, however. Today this competition does not yet exist in the Science of Education, since the Gattegno Institute is, the only one dedicated to preparing people to contribute to that science, as defined in the work of Dr. Gattegno. The source of this new science is the field of study based on the insight that awareness can be aware of itself. The laboratories for the science of education are our own lives — single and in isolation when we become aware of how awareness operates in us at all levels, at every moment, and in all our activities inner and outer, and collectively when we extend to others whom we observe or to others with whom we relate, what we found in ourselves. These laboratories are so numerous that the crops cannot fail to be enormous. They are also easy to maintain, only requiring watchfulness and no expensive funding. So each of us can own one, work in it at all hours of the day and all days of the year. This too cannot fail to increase the yield. As to publication, it will be all right in the beginning to publish many of the findings however reduced their examination. Such investigations 3


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will tend to disappear from the publications as more significant ones that will stimulate still more significant ones, are submitted in the way it happens in the serious journals of the established sciences. Today we still are at the beginning. The articles in this Newsletter have qualities but may not claim that of real significance. They may be properly called exercises. Limited in scope, they still serve to convey that questions can be posed and that the questioner in order to find answers to them must undergo personal changes that make him or her more capable of asking further questions. This is the way scientists educate themselves. At the Gattegno Institute seminars and workshops, we learn to be with a problem and to be guided by it in the elaboration of the instruments for its study and when we consider the yield, know whether they are at hand. This can be tested at once in experiments that extend the field of application and serve to give the collectivity valid conclusions to use in its practice of education, in improving teaching considerably. Since these criteria have been used for the past quarter of century in Dr. Gattegno’s life, this gives legitimacy to the founding of the Gattegno Institute as a place where one becomes acquainted with the Science of Education.

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2 What Makes Teaching Empirical?

Recently I attended a seminar on the Silent Way. At one point, the theme of the seminar was mentioned to be a two letter word: “me.” The implication was that in order to study the various aspects of human learning one does not need to go farther than oneself as one is now; that as one sees — is aware of — what one does with oneself while engaged in learning, one finds oneself able to be with the relevant inner activities at work at any stage in one’s life. The subjective study can lead one to an objectivity with which one sees how it is that one learned to meet all sorts of demands and challenges all by oneself in one’s early childhood, or, that one learned — while doing it — to objectify one’s somatic existence the best one could with what was available in one’s mother’s womb. Human beings bring into existence, through the acts of learning, that which wasn’t there before their intent and the actualization of the intent. Up to a certain stage in my life, for example, I was not able to express myself in English. Now I am. I learned; that is, I lived the activities which were generated from within and took place in me with regard to the reality of the English language. Up to the age of six I did not know how to ride a bicycle. Till the age of fifteen I could not drive a car. Only when I was twenty did I learn to swim. Much before that, sitting, standing, walking, running, jumping, hopping, climbing, etc., or, within moments after birth, activities like breathing, swallowing and digesting, all were learned and have been maintained as a part of the way I am now. This is stated, not on the basis of memory but in terms of awareness. I do not possess these functionings as I possess a piece of furniture but they are rather a part of my being which I can put 5


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to work and can count on. These learned functionings are expressive of my presence in them. In this sense, they are me and I am them. They have come into existence as a result of my learning as it took place in relation to the reality of each of them. What did I do to, and with, myself so as to have generated and integrated these functionings into my normal, natural way of being? If our sight is turned outward we ask the question: how does one learn? — and we find the answers in the ways of working which can be provided from outside for certain behavior patterns of the learners to become compatible with the goals that are set to be achieved. We believe we are concerned with learning when we emphasize the role of what should be done by an outside agency for learning to take place. The Teacher’s Guides written by the authorities on the matter to be followed by the teachers, make evident what the outward-turned sight looks for. So do the tests and exams which compare the goals set and the behavior patterns established (or not), to know something about learning. Those of us who follow the directions of the sight turned outward, formulate or accept the already formulated theories of teaching and learning which have an intellectual appeal, which sound logically correct. By so doing, do we not remain essentially on the level of theories whether expounding them or practicing them in teaching? If, on the other hand, a different sensitivity is at work in us, we pose a different question. In the course of a dialogue with ourselves, instead of asking the very broad question, “how does one learn?” we may ask: “what does one do with oneself and to oneself while looking at the reality outside, for any learning to take place.” This is an empirical question concerned with actual facts. And, to find an answer we look within for what actually happens. In my learning, for instance, is there, present in me, an intent to learn, that is, am I willingly transforming the energy that I am and the time in which I live, into new ways of being which are related to the reality whose impacts I am open to receive? In learning, is my sensitivity being heightened to the reality which is other than me and which is in the process of becoming part of me, and this because I am prepared to receive it through my senses as best I can, because of my growing understanding of it, because of my insights into it? While learning, do I exclude jumping to conclusions

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2 What Makes Teaching Empirical?

and do I perceive what the reality being received signifies of itself? Do I feel related to the totality of what there is to learn and at peace with all that I do not know, as I approach it? When learning, do I operate simultaneously on different levels, consciously acting upon certain things while letting others settle themselves within me, consciously leaving aside some others in which I would be involved very soon? Do I provide for what I perceive the integrating elements by being concerned with the whole and seeing how its various aspects are related? Do I make use of what has already been learned to further my learnings? Do I act upon myself to create specific changes in myself and thus learn to meet adequately that which needs to be met, and for what it is? Do I find myself acting upon the existing “me” in the awareness of what calls for my attention and for change in me? My contention is that in these questions some of the springs of actual learning actually reside. In the light of awareness they become the facts of learning. Since all of us go through life, a life certainly not devoid of learning, it is neither a theory nor a claim, but an empirical statement, that we are endowed with these sources for learning. Our constantly transcending being is the evidence of the active presence in us of these sources. They maintain in us the potential for learning as breathing maintains our somatic being. To be aware of their existence, to be vulnerable to their reality, to take them into account in one’s teaching, to be guided by them at work in the students, to be given to learning how to energize and vitalize these sources through the distribution of one’s own energy in one’s teaching, is to make one’s teaching empirical. S.G.

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3 This Paper Describes A Process

It is a personal exploration of what I do to and against myself in a learning situation. I have observed myself in various situations, including writing this paper and have synthesized my observations. At first, I felt hesitant about watching myself. It heightened my selfconsciousness rather than my awareness and prevented me from carrying out the activity I was observing. But gradually, by first examining activities that are automatic and then ones that are less so, I could order my watchful self to go in and observe without feeling that I would lose my active self. I could hold my flute, breathe, blow, read the printed music, play the notes, listen to the melody and get in touch with these various functions separately without confusing or losing them. In fact, as I allowed myself to be present in all facets of the playing, it became less and less labored. Where I have struggled in the past to push my self down as it surfaced because its presence seemed to interfere with my performance, now I find that it provides extra energy. By ceasing to turn off my emerging awareness I provide myself with several energies; the one formerly wasted in fighting awareness and the ones which my heightened awareness lends me. I find the impulse to shut out thinking to be very strong in me. I have tried to enter both physical and mental tasks with all the automaticity that I have available. However, if it is a task that has many new elements and I feel myself running up against one of them, rather than permitting my conscious self to come in, survey the obstacle and send the necessary energy to it, I actually deny awareness any part in the process. By insisting on pure automaticity I limit the number and scope of tasks which I carry out. I misunderstood thoughtful proceeding, 9


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labeling it intellectualizing, and have thus left either undone or partially done many tasks and projects. It seems crucial to develop through awareness a way of working which eliminates the obstacles which I cultivate in opposing my conscious self. I must exploit the energies in my functioning, direct them and control them rather than using them against each other. I must turn them into a positive reliable force. In dealing with a difficult problem, I find what helps me most initially is the belief that I provide the source of its eventual resolution. If I work with this assumption then I can focus my energy more quickly and concentratedly. I eliminate the time spent seeking out and investigating external sources. I settle down and put to use what is immediately available to me and then excess what is not. Memorizing or recording these observations is not necessary, because they are internalized and therefore can be recalled. At any stage of working if I feel confused or unsure of my bearings, I still have a grip on the source and all its potential energy. Another element in working through a problem is awareness of the process as a process. Rather than restricting my concept of my work to one of acquiring a predetermined body of knowledge, I see it as movement in a large, partially unfamiliar, area with many subgroups of varying levels of difficulty. Then, when I find myself encountering difficulty with a particular subgroup I can work on it without feeling sidetracked or disoriented. I don’t lose energy trying to suppress an element whose focus may not be central. When I am preoccupied with achieving a goal quickly I inevitably lose time blocking out those things which have no immediate relationship to the end. However, when I see learning as a process of personal confrontation with all the components of an area which present themselves to me, then, it moves in an organizing way. Awareness of the process is a matter of presence of self in all the confrontations. There are different energies in my functioning which I can mobilize according to the demands of the task ahead of me. The energy which both my automatisms and sense of working towards a goal provide me is steady and consistent. They are self-perpetuating

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3 This Paper Describes A Process

awarenesses containing the source of the more concentrated energy I need to work with on unfamiliar parts of the activity. I can depend on my awarenesses to supply the initial energy, but must force my awareness to a more active state when gathering and applying higher level energies. Once I have felt the resistance by a particular subgroup to progressive movement in a larger area, I deal with it on its own terms. If I feel that I can’t master it at that moment then I will send out enough energy to allow me to pass over it and continue working. I might return to it at another time as a separate task, but I don’t allow it to block me (unless it presents physical constraints). My source energy is always available to fall back on and use, to try out a less resistant path. As I work with my awareness towards a predefined goal, I am so busy meeting the new challenges and refining the automatisms that I feel less anxiety about pushing things to a completed stage. I know that the process is leading where I need to go and that eventually I will feel my way to assimilation of enough of the challenges which comprise the whole, that I will get the spirit of it. Knowledge is mine only when I have taken care to personally examine its components as they present themselves to me. The time spent working this way is an investment for future learning experiences. The process is the same even if the goal and the content of the challenges are different. It functions without my awareness, but can be improved and refined with it. The more I am present in all that I do, the more I make into automatisms, and the more I can take on. When I am in control of my energies I can summon them, dispatch them, determine their degree and stay with them while they work. Knowing that I am the source, the energy, the transmitter of energy and the synthesizer in all that I do, and have the potential to be aware of these powers, throws all the responsibilities for learning on me. However it also reassures me that I can eliminate much of the internal struggle and outside interference which present obstacles to my learning. S.B.

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4 My Understanding Of My Problems

This will be my first real encounter with the writer in me, a part of myself I was never aware of before last weekend when I was confronted with the challenge of expressing my self in a much more profound way than ever before. For the first time in my life I knew that sharing in spoken dialogue was not enough to complete my experience; it had to be written in order to be transformed and integrated into my SELF. I became aware of my self as a potential creator of a written dialogue. Perhaps no dialogue will come out of this but that isn’t what’s really important. The simple art of choosing to write has been a learning experience for me. Through it I’ve learned that if a learning experience is to exist, there must be an act of will. I could have chosen not to write and the learning experience would not have happened. As it is, I’m writing and I will learn. As my self-imposed study, I’ve chosen to examine what an individual brings with him or her to the experience of learning a foreign language. I was overwhelmed by the realization of a very obvious fact: the only difference between “me” teacher and a potential “student” is the fact that I already have English and he or she doesn’t have it yet. Language is the instrument by which we express ourselves and the fact that “students” have already acquired their mother tongue proves that they bring with them everything that’s necessary for learning another. All the language learning powers are part of themselves. Therefore, the

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“teacher” can strike a bargain with the “student” in which, by making the necessary act of will, the “teacher” can give the “student” the language to be learned; providing the “student makes” the act of will necessary. Each individual brings his or her will to the learning situation. Both “teacher” and “student” can choose to learn or not to learn. If only the act of will is there, learning may take place. I would like to consider myself as a potential learner of all the languages I don’t have yet. I enter the learning situation with the fact that I’ve already learned my mother tongue and to acquire another language I’ll use exactly the same powers as in my first experiences. The fact that I’ve already learned at least one language proves that I am a user of energy that gives myself certain attributes; awareness, will, retention, remembering, the power of imaging, affectivity, the power to integrate and transform the power to respond to symbol. All these are in my SELF and are expressions of my energy; by studying them I can know what happens to me in language learning. As a child I devoted a part of my energy to the act of choosing to express my awareness of myself by learning how to speak my mother tongue. It was an act of my will and I can do it again by choosing to express my self in other languages. I already know how to express my self with languages; nobody has to teach me this. As a child I chose to use my own voice in a certain way in order to make the sounds which were consistent with my environment. This was an act of my will and I can make a similar act of will to use my voice in a different way to make different sounds. Nobody has to teach me to assume responsibility for this because I’ve already done it at least once. In order to have chosen to speak I must have had a self that realized that language was consistent with what my self perceived of the reality around me. As a conscious user of energy I would not have wasted it, otherwise.

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4 My Understanding Of My Problems

It is an attribute of my self that I am capable of perceiving reality and objectifying my perception by making images. My powers of conceptualization go from the simplest to the most complex. I live in space and time and can understand most aspects of relations of time and space. It was through my powers of making images, by passing from the actual to the virtual, and through the realization that there was a reality in my images and that words were consistent with this reality, even if arbitrary, that I chose to engage in learning to speak. My perception of reality is mine and no one has to teach me this. I can choose again to learn different words or “labels” because I know the consistency of language with the reality around and inside me. My powers of the virtual keep me to respond to triggers. Things in the actual world: sounds, colors, symbols, shapes, positions can stimulate images in my mind which will trigger language. A certain color can produce a sound, a combination of colors can stimulate various numbers of sounds. Indicating a position can trigger a word I associate with that position. Seeing hands used in certain ways can trigger certain uses of language in me. What I perceive as truth I retain. I don’t have to remember it. I know it “in my flesh.” What is arbitrary, however, I have to remember. I have to spend the amount of energy necessary to hold it in my mind, to remember it. The “labels” for my images are arbitrary. Each of them could have been different as when changing languages. But, because they are consistent in any one language, I make the effort to “stick” the labels to my images. I can make a similar act of will and spend my energy to learn and remember new labels. Retaining and remembering are attributes of myself. To learn my mother tongue I used the attribute of my self which can “stress and ignore.” I was in contact with the whole of the language but I chose to concentrate on one aspect and suspend judgment on others until I’d had time to integrate and transform it and it was mine. By doing that I could move from one plateau to another constantly integrating and transforming what I was learning. I am aware that this is an attribute of my self. Nobody has to teach me this.

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Through my powers of integrating and transforming I was able to acquire the know-how and automatisms of language. I was able to formulate criteria which tell me that my language is right. I no longer have to be aware of what I do with my language because it’s “in my flesh.” It’s an attribute of my self, however, that I can summon all my language awareness to serve me in a new learning experience. I think my most fundamental attribute and the one which served me best as a child is the urge for adventure and exploration. My self knew that confronting reality motivated me to learn. This is the attribute of myself known as affectivity which permits me to mobilize my feelings and turn my images into action. I respond immediately to any challenge as a child and I summon all my affectivity to respond to any situation which motivates my urge to explore, thereby constantly reaffirming and transforming my self. I am aware of all these things about my SELF. It’s part of me — it’s a fact of reality. If I know this to be true of me then I know it’s true of every human being. We’re all part of humanity — we share the same experience and yet each individual’s experience is different. “Student” and teacher bring to each other the uniqueness of his or her SELF and its energy. Each person given the situation, can become aware and thereby grow. In writing of my feelings I have become more and more sensitive to the infinite possibilities for dialogue in the human experience. Each of my “potential students” is a self, capable of growth. And if I, as his or her “teacher,” can become an instrument of awareness; I consider my self extremely privileged. A.M.

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5 Is There A Methodology In The Silent Way?

The question of methods, fixed procedures, stable orderly systems preoccupies me at the moment as the birth of my second child becomes imminent. Inspired by our reading of Frederick Leboyer’s Naissance Sans Violence, my husband and I initially thought that his ideas involved a procedure — a system that complemented the programmed progression of breathing exercises defined by Fernard Lamaze’s psychoprophylactic method of childbirth. We quickly realized, however, that the characteristics of a non-violent childbirth were only aspects of a fundamentally new way of considering the first ten minutes of a newborn’s life. Since Birth Without Violence resists codification, it seems to me to share something in common with the Silent Way — i.e. both depart radically from traditional patterns of thinking, and therefore, constitute a conceptual evolution (if not revolution). They are mutations in thought. If the Silent Way were only a methodology, it could be reduced to its pointer, fidel, word charts, wall charts, rods and silence; and if Birth Without Violence were simply procedure, then it, too, would be limited to a few salient steps — delay in cutting umbilical cord, massage, warm bath, and hushed voices. As a result both approaches could be defined in and implemented in birth and teaching manuals which would then furnish everyday practical procedures in the respective class and delivery rooms.

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Since the two techniques, however, are anchored to the concepts of individual flexibility, sensitivity, common sense, awareness of relationships, they become unwieldy, resistant to simple text book reductions. It seems to me that what’s important to both is the dynamism of a process and not simply the end product of a procedure. The individual — be it the new born baby or the student — is considered as a unique person whose dignity and personal awareness can be developed through an approach that allows him to grow. He is not putty — an object to be fashioned through the directives of pedagogical or parental authority. As far as actually teaching a foreign language is concerned, this means that the target language ceases to be that — i.e. it is not simply an accumulation of knowledge but rather an access to know-how. It seems to me that the Silent Way concentrates on the learner and focuses on increasing his competency as one; and so the teacher must be sensitive to, and in tune with the learning needs of her students in order to help them with their task. It is they who are learning to function in the new language, and so the teacher must learn to take a back seat — to subordinate her teaching to their learning. My own experience as a student in Silent Way classes has shown me that in the beginning the feeling of elation experienced by actually speaking a new language was what fired and inspired me. I found that common sense and intuition were some of the personal props required to meet the specific demands of the situation at hand. This teacher for me acted as a diagnostician revealing problems as they came up and indicating ways of resolving them. The individual solutions, however, were the responsibility of the learner. For example, in the first Italian seminar, I perceived sounds and gestures which I then tried out, measuring my sounds against the noises I heard around me. Such measuring up and sifting through helped me to discriminate the sounds which were needed to sound Italian. Much time was spent as the teacher pointed out the melody, the beat, the breath groups by means of gestures and the pointer on the Fidel. As I sang through my first notes of Italian, my exhilaration came from a sense of sounding like an Italian although I couldn’t identify what I

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was saying. This was far less important to me than being aware that I was responsible for each utterance I made. It seemed to me that if I could sound Italian, then the meaning would follow as the lessons progressed. After all, I had the concepts for the words already; what I was missing was the sound system — the proper tune. Such an apprenticeship in melody of the new language, then, constitutes the first in the series of temporal hierarchies that create a loose framework for the Silent Way. The aim of freeing students to correct themselves, to develop inner criteria about the new language, to feel autonomous and independent from the teacher are elements that cannot be reduced to a methodology. Learning is progressive and the teacher’s silence allows him the possibility to observe, to stay alert to the learning problems of his students. His observations can then be confirmed or corrected in the feedbacks. Methods are like recipes. They don’t demand invention, just unconditional surrender to a system. If the cook slavishly follows the recipes’ instructions, the results can be a culinary disaster, for the cook has chosen to follow a procedure and at the same time ignore changes evoked by different pans, measurements, temperatures etc. If a teacher opts for preconceived notions locked in programmed progressions, then how can she remain open to the experimentation, to the element of choice in the trial and error of her students. Methods are goal-oriented. They are concerned with the final result, the finished product. The consumer/student is not as important as how much he consumes. However, when the emphasis shifts to the process of learning — the progression; the trial and error, the independence inspired in the learner — then it is the dynamism of the process that can generate the learner’s progress. Such a change in focus creates a new connection between the teacher and the learner; the functions of both based on a new awareness change — the student works on the new language while the teacher studies the student. N.V.

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6 States In Learning

During the Chinese language course, I found myself in three different major states vis-à-vis the task of learning Mandarin. The first, I’ll call the “free” state (i.e. the freest state I’ve ever experienced faced with a foreign language). I felt I was “with” the Chinese and was almost totally accepting of not understanding a structure, a word, a character, etc. A part of me kept reassuring my psyche by constantly repeating, “Don’t worry, you’ll get it later — It’ll come up again — Just try to be with what’s going on NOW. .” I felt no pressure. I noticed that in this state, I would surprise myself by saying something I thought I didn’t know. This happened mostly outside the classroom —especially early in the morning — but it even happened during the class. Other times, I noticed the ease with which I could understand another struggling student and yet my own difficulty when it came to speaking up out loud. I know that my optimum learning went on while I was in this state — and that the energy expenditure was low. The second state, I’ll label the “panic” state since it sometimes made me physically tired. I used up an incredible amount of energy which was misguided. At this stage my psyche took over and was able to argue with quite logical arguments. 1

You can’t learn at this breakneck speed, after all you need more time on new things.

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2 You can’t translate this, so how can you know what it means. 3 You still don’t know what the colors on the fidel represent so how can you know any of the Chinese characters. 4 Some of the other learners are much faster so you’d better hurry up — you’re getting behind. Since I was aware of creating my own blocks, and still did it, I’ve come to the conclusion that awareness is not enough in this situation. It plays a vital role, though, as it gives me the entry into examining the problem. I could never put my finger on it without being aware that it exists. Now comes the hard part: working on myself to be in a free state rather than a panic state. The intellectual part of me realizes that this is well worth working on and that blocks are distracting, time consuming and tiring. It also seems willing to accept that spending the least amount of energy for each task is a sensible plan of attack. All of this seems so simple and I have expressed what this step beyond awareness is to me. At the same time I recognize it as a complex step to take as it involves a change in my “self.” I’ll therefore accept it as a long-term challenge and give it over to that part of me in charge of on-going changes. The third state which I only discovered towards the very end of the seminar had to do with my relationship of a learner to the teacher. This was the most startling awareness to me because of its newness. I had no criteria to notice its existence at the beginning of the seminar and now I have some. I’ll call it the “teacher-student responsibility seesaw.” This state was definitely an intermediary step between the free state and the panic state. I felt myself very calm and “into” the Chinese, but since (and these are the only factors I can pinpoint at the moment) the teacher didn’t 1) find out if I had paid my ogden(s) and, 2) didn’t set up enough practice situations, I slowly (or quickly!) degenerated into the panic state. During most of the seminar I felt the learning responsibility was totally mine, but now I know to a greater extent that the direction and 22


6 States In Learning

exercises chosen by the teacher can hinder or enhance learning. The line or area where the teacher’s responsibility stops and/or overlaps and the student’s begins and/or overlaps, is very nebulous at best but now I have a new insight into it concerning myself as a teacher and a learner. I know now that I’ve been unfair to myself whether as a learner or a student because I’ve taken all the responsibility upon myself. I can now begin to re-evaluate the “teacher-learner responsibility see-saw” in a more enlightened way. J.R.

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7 Some Observations From A Teacher Who Becomes A Student

The primary appeal of the Silent Way for me as a teacher lies in its claim to liberate the student, to make him aware of what he has to do to learn, and to encourage him to assume responsibility for his learning, making the experience a source of personal awareness and growth as well as a means of acquiring a new skill. My experience fully convinced me of the efficacy of learning sounds without meaning, and further, of experimenting with sounds without a model to “imitate.” The vagueness of the teacher’s gestures was frustrating at first, but I relaxed when I saw that all that was really needed was any signal that could be interpreted, “Try something else.” In the course of trying all sorts of things, without the pressure of achieving the perfection of a model, I found out what I could make my vocal organs do and how to control them. Then, when the directions became more precise, or when a student provided the right sound, I had only to choose among sounds I had already made, instead of trying to approach an unknown sound. This was so absorbing that meaning would have been an unwanted distraction. So, contrary to what I have always thought, it isn’t necessary or even desirable to make the student feel secure at every step of the way. Another point might be mentioned here, namely that students who, like me, have had more experience with linguistics or grammaroriented courses, may find themselves trying to dissect the language

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instead of using it. A fast pace tends to short-circuit this process, at least until after the structure has been acquired. At that point, a student’s consciously formulated grammatical hypothesis becomes more a commentary than a recipe, and he may discover that he doesn’t really need one at all. Linking sounds into sequences which obviously had meaning for the teacher but not for me, also surprised me by its logic and adequacy for the stage I was in. I was again totally absorbed in the task, aware that I was hearing and producing what Chinese is supposed to sound like, and not at all disturbed that I didn’t know what I was saying. I was agreeably surprised to learn at the end of that exercise that I had just learned all the vocabulary required for the next one! This is a tremendously effective strategy, since it catapults the student into immediate contact with the structure, the “guts” of the language, without passing through a stage of laboriously learning “words,” — that is, sounds with their meanings attached, but no function and hence no earthly use. Since most students come to us convinced that language is “words” it’s important to show them how rewarding it is to be plunged into the actual functioning of language. I was impressed at finding that a great many things can be left in uncertainty for periods of time. An observation concerned the role of the charts; perhaps nothing could have demonstrated their value so convincingly as trying to work with unreadable ones. This demonstrated to me conclusively the central importance of having the “entire language” visually and unambiguously displayed at every moment, since it is this tool above all that makes the student independent and self correcting. It is a continual invitation to hypothesis testing, and being continually available it puts the entire responsibility on the student; two very good habits to acquire from the beginning. A potentially disturbing factor was the many stylistic variants the teacher proposed for most structures (the famous “or. .”), but in fact, though confusing, they were easily accepted. It’s obviously an important fact about Chinese that they exist, so why not from the very 26


7 Some Observations From A Teacher Who Becomes A Student

beginning. Given more time, they were leading to more opportunities to determine those structures. Since this is also the case for English (contractions, etc.), it’s important to know that such variants can be assimilated from the beginning. Several approaches for helping slower students were illustrated in the course of the lessons. First, such students said in feedback that they found the anonymity of choral work reassuring, so that clearly has its place as well as its dangers. The lesson on a given point usually proceeded at the speed of the faster students, to give them a sense of achievement and perhaps to provide clues for the slower ones. But at the end of such an exercise, the teacher would ask for those who “can’t” do it, which would free her to work with a smaller group without the chorusing of the enthusiasts. There seems to be no embarrassment or resentment engendered by this, — the slow ones were glad of the chance to catch up, and the fast ones usually found that they hadn’t been that “right” after all, or at least had time to consolidate their gains. Students who complained of being blocked were asked to produce the simplest sentence they knew — and sure enough, this would trigger a succession of longer sentences. Or the teacher would take the student through a series of operations, usually with the charts, which would demonstrate to the student that in fact he had assimilated more than he thought. This was also the effect of reconstructing a chart from a blank wall, or words from dashes on the board. In the end, I have to admit that I left the seminar with a certain amount of confusion about what had been taught. But at the same time I distinctly have the feeling that I would rather have this state of uncertainty than to have come away “knowing” a lot of things I had been told about Chinese. What I know, I know in a very different and more organic way than anything I might have learned “about” the language. I feel as though I have at least been in the presence of, in the form of the charts, and worked with the essential elements of the sound and structure of Chinese, and I’m very grateful that this “image” is not encumbered with word lists, grammatical explanations, dialogues and the like. I am also grateful and excited about the facts that I was allowed to discover the language on my own (I was even rather nasty to some neighbors who were comparing translations and spoiling my

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game, and I even was shocked when the teacher gave a word here and there!). Three aspects of the experience impressed me especially: the amount of uncertainty it is possible to tolerate over periods of time (but also the limits of that tolerance); the feeling that arises from having the “entire language� embodied visually in a mental image of the charts and certain manipulations of the rods; and the realization that only what has been learned functionally in this way is truly ours, anything else is illusory, and that one not only must but can trust one’s capacities as a learner, and to tolerate the unavoidable areas of uncertainty until they can be clarified in the same way. I hope I will be able to provide a similar learning situation for my students.

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Book Review

The 1977 restricted printing of C. Gattegno’s essay, On Love, contains 57 pages. Although short as a book it is long as essays go, and is a text to be read slowly. In the preface, the author explains that he does not develop many points in his monograph and that much is left unsaid. Instead of writing as a scientist concerned with doing justice to the subject being studied, Gattegno states that his decision is to write a personal statement that may “stimulate discussion and selfexamination.” Indeed, this writing on love differs considerably from others of Gattegno’s works where care is given to generate “instruments” with which to study a particular subject. On Love is more varied and less systematic than previous works. Every few pages I felt myself engaged differently: sometimes benefiting from the author’s need to distinguish minute, subtle realities; other times questioning why my point of view differed from the author’s; occasionally not comprehending what was being expressed. The topics discussed are varied. Some of these are: love-attachment, longing, pulls of the past, projections into the future, masses of energy, love in one’s evolution, love-making, friendship, universal love, complexity and relating, and outgrowing egocentricity. I was guided in my reading by his statement in the preface that he has been personal at every moment and makes no claim to speak on everybody’s behalf. The thread holding these topics together is a question the author asks himself: “What can I learn about love if I consider it as an attribute of

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the self and look at it in terms of energy?” Throughout the essay Gattegno refers to love as “a property of the self,” “a tool of the self,” “an instrument of the self.” It seems the author is expressing that love is a very primitive endowment of all of us (like recognition or intelligence) which allows us to break through individuality so we can be more ourselves, and more evolved. “Evolution in love may simply be the present acknowledgment that one can do with the beloved one, for the beloved one, what one could not do so far.” The author points out that as we become more evolved as persons, we simultaneously increase our capacity to love. Gattegno considers love as a state, not as an idea or abstract relationship. To understand the author’s examination of love in terms of energy, I drew upon others of his works, particularly On Being Freer and Affectivity and Learning, where “psyche” and “affectivity” are defined as parts of the self since they are formed of the energy of the self. In On Love, the author states that love does not have energy of its own, but that it has the energy of the self at its disposal. As one proceeds through the essay, one can note how the author’s consideration of love in terms of energy and as an attribute of the self has affected his thinking. For example: “Stressing the importance of another being in oneself is clearly for the self a mobilization of energy. An energy kept aside, reserved for that person.” “Through the psyche, love seems more to consume and absorb energy than produce it as it does when affectivity is dominant.” Two aspects of On Love have touched me most. The first results from the author’s point of view that in love the stress is on the other. Many of us have noticed that falling in love produces such profound changes in oneself and that one can be carried away with what is happening to oneself. The author insists, however, that the test of evolution in a

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Book Review

couple is “whether one knows that the other is more accessible, feels one’s concern for the other without feeling any pressure, delights in the newness of relationship between oneself and someone who is clearly living differently.” The stress on the other also permeates Gattegno’s comments on love-making. The second contribution to me from reading On Love came from noting the care with which the author defines and distinguishes subtle realities which are expressed every day by all of us, but which I had not examined in a dynamic manner. For example, Gattegno writes that when one is “infatuated,” one does not feel that a status quo must be preserved and that one’s energy is seen as a pursuit, a mobilization toward something to come. Infatuation is not viewed as a stage in the evolution of a couple, but rather as a component of love which allows “the self to be engaged wholeheartedly in creating the time, the arrangements of events which would produce the desired encounters.” “Affection” is defined as another component of love which is felt as part of that which makes life continue smoothly, that which maintains a link between the members of a couple. “Tenderness is the deliberate move of a member of a couple to provide the other with enhanced features of affection.” Friendship, when it exists in a couple, “includes a vector that places both partners in the presence of other contents of life, beyond the calm and smooth feeling for each other that we called affection.” “Acquaintance” is a way of entering a relationship and knowing what it is, “the instrument the self gives itself to meet the challenges posed by individuality and ignorance.” What seems more important than the author’s definitions is the selfexamination which they can inspire. If the dynamics described are not descriptive of what goes on in me, then what do I know about tenderness, about affection? Other readers may find themselves interested in different aspects of Gattegno’s essay; for example, the author’s descriptions of various kinds of “love-relations which the literature confirms, can be totally different from the experiences each of us has lived. Or, readers may be more absorbed by the author’s account of how love has been lived in his own life. What is clear is that although Gattegno has not written as

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a scientist, his essay retains the density which is characteristic of his other works. On Love is a book I know I will read again. In fact, the second reading, which was in preparation for this review, was very different from the first. Its overall impact is the feeling that I have been with matters which are of vital concern to me. Also, I am left with the feeling that it is a book I would wish the people I love to read. Katherine Mitchell                          

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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.

www.EducationalSolutions.com

Aspects Of Language Learning  
Aspects Of Language Learning  

Newsletter, Vol. VII No. 1, September 1977

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