The Silent Way

The Silent Way is the name given to a method of language teaching devised by Caleb Gattegno.  It was developed in the 1970x and shared many of the essential principle as the cognitive code. In the language of experimental psychology, the kind of subject involvement that promotes greatest learning and recall involves processing material to be learned at the ‘greatest cognitive depth’ (Craik 1973) – this means involving the greatest amount of problem solving activity.  These concepts most directly challenged the idea that language learning was all about mimicry and good habit formation.  An emphasis on human cognition in language learning addressed issues such as learners being more responsible for their own learning.  This appears to have much more in common with the way people learn their native language from an early age and can account for the way children come out with new language forms and combinations which they have never heard of before.   The underlying principles here are that learners become increasingly autonomous in, active with and responsible for the learning process in which they are engaged.

Some of Cattegno’s basic theories were that ‘teaching should be subordinated to learning’ and ‘the teacher works with the student, the student works with the language’.  The most prominent characteristic of the method was that the teacher typically stays silent most of the time, as part of his/her role as facilitator and stimulator.  Language learning is usually seen as a problem solving activity to be engaged in by the students both independently and as part of a group, and the teacher needs to stay out of the way in the process as much as possible.

An example of the Silent Way in action can be seen here.

The Silent Way is also well-known for its common use of cuisinere rods and colour-coded word charts depicting pronunciation values, vocabulary and grammatical paradigms.

Teachers using the Silent Way want their students to become independent and experimental  learners.  Making errors is a natural part of the learning process.  The teacher tries to facilitate activities whereby the students discover for themselves the conceptual rules governing the language, rather than initating or memorising them.

Key Features:

  • Richards and Rodgers (1986) describe the key features of the Silent Way:
  • Learning is to be facilitated if the learner discovers or creates rather than remembers and repeats what is to be learned.
  • Learning is facilitated by accompanying (mediating) physical objects.
  • Learning is facilitated by problem-solving involving the material to be learned.

Techniques:

  • Sound colour charts
  • Teacher’s silence
  • Peer correction
  • Self correction gestures.
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