Teaching Approaches

1. Content-based teaching

2. Functional approaches

3. Task-based learning

4. The communicative classroom

5. What is suggestopedia?

6. What is audiolingualism?

7. The negotiated syllabus

8. The grammar-translation method

1. Content-based Teaching

I recently bumped into a former student in the street. I recognized him immediately and remembered him as a student who, despite a relatively long stay in the United Kingdom on an intensive language course, had made relatively little progress. I remembered his frustration as his classmates progressed rapidly to higher levels while he remained stuck at a level just above elementary, seemingly making very little progress in extending his vocabulary or using even the most basic structures accurately. While he was always able to communicate with a certain degree of enthusiasm, the feeling persisted that he had reached his personal "plateau" as far as language learning was concerned. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when he greeted me fluently in the local accent and enquired after my well-being in language that was entirely appropriate and accurate. In the six months since completing his language course, he informed me, he had been studying vehicle maintenance at a local adult education centre. The course was, naturally enough, entirely conducted in English and his high level of interest in anything to do with cars and car engines meant that he was highly motivated and eager to learn. He had not, on the other hand, spent any time whatsoever learning language during this course. The vast improvement in his use of English was entirely down to the fact that he had been acquiring language at a relatively rapid rate while concentrating on learning something else. I congratulated him on the improvement in his English and, only half-jokingly, apologized for my own lack of success when attempting to teach him English by means of a conventional language course. He replied that he had enjoyed the course but simply could not make sense of the way the language worked. In attempting to study it systematically, he found only confusion and frustration. Now, freed from the constraints of having to focus on the language, he found that he was able to improve almost without thinking and was becoming a highly proficient user. It is true that he was not following a content-based language course and that the aim of the course was to make him a better motor mechanic and not a better language learner but nevertheless he had managed to kill two birds with one stone. This story is by no means unique and many thousands, if not millions, of students have rapidly acquired foreign languages through the study of other subjects. Recognizing the benefits of content-based language teaching is not new either. As early as 1965 language immersion education was introduced in Canada in order to promote the French language at secondary level. Bilingual education projects have also produced good results in a number of countries. Since the fall of communism as the end of the 1980s, there has been a rapid growth in the number of English-language medium secondary schools in the former Eastern-bloc countries, where traditional school subjects are taught through the medium of English and language skills are developed through the study of other subjects with a high degree of success. Even in the United Kingdom, a country not noted for its successes in foreign language teaching, there have been successful experiments in a small number of secondary schools in teaching a specific subject or subjects through the medium of a foreign language such as French, and bilingual education has long been the norm in Wales. Given that the benefits of content-based language teaching can include more motivated learners and a rapid growth in foreign-language skills, it is no surprise that many language providers are beginning to turn to content-based language teaching for at least part of their language teaching programmes. Optional programmes such as information technology (including examinations certified by companies such as Microsoft) and business studies are increasingly in evidence. It seems likely that the provision of language courses that run parallel with a content-based element will soon be the norm rather than the exception.

2. Functional approaches in EFL/ ESL

Methods and approaches such as Grammar Translation, Audiolingualism and Situational Language teaching are based on the presentation and practice of grammatical structures and, essentially, a grammar-based syllabus. In 1972, the British linguist D.A. Wilkins published a document that proposed a radical shift away from using the traditional concepts of grammar and vocabulary to describe language to an analysis of the communicative meanings that learners would need in order to express themselves and to understand effectively. This initial document was followed by his 1976 work Notional Syllabuses, which showed how language could be categorized on the basis of notions such as quantity, location and time, and functions such as making requests, making offers and apologizing. Wilkins’ work was used by the Council of Europe in drawing up a communicative language syllabus, which specified the communicative functions a learner would need in order to communicate effectively at a given level of competence. At the end of the 1970s, the first course-books to be based on functional syllabuses began to appear. Typically, they would be organized on the basis of individual functions and the exponents needed to express these functions. For example, many course-books would begin with the function of ‘introducing oneself’, perhaps followed by the function of ‘making requests’, with typical exponents being ‘Can I ….?’, "Could you ….?’, "Is it alright if I ….?’ and so on. These would often be practised in the form of communicative exercises involving pair work, group work and role plays. It is interesting to compare this approach with a grammatical syllabus. In a typical grammatical syllabus, structures using the word ‘would’ tend to appear in later stages of the syllabus, as they are held to be relatively complex (e.g."If I knew the answer, I would tell you"), whereas in a functional syllabus ‘would’ often appears at a very early stage due to its communicative significance in exponents such as ‘Would you like ….?’, which is extremely common and of great communicative value even to beginners. The need to apply a grammatical name or category to the structure is not considered important within the framework of a purely functional syllabus. Criticisms of functional approaches include the difficulty in deciding the order in which different functions should be presented. Is it more important to be able to complain or to apologize, for example? Another problem lies in the wide range of grammatical structures needed to manipulate basic functions at different levels of formality (for example, ‘Can I …..?’ as opposed to ‘Would you mind if I …..?"). In addition, although it is possible to identify hundreds of functions and micro-functions, there are probably no more than ten fundamental communicative functions that are expressed by a range of widely used exponents. There is also the apparently random nature of the language used, which may frustrate learners used to the more analytical and "building-block" approach that a grammatical syllabus can offer. Another apparent weakness is the question of what to do at higher levels. Is it simply a case of learning more complex exponents for basic functions or is one required to seek out ever more obscure functions (complaining sarcastically, for example)? On the positive side, however, there is little doubt that functional approaches have contributed a great deal to the overall store of language teaching methodology. Most new course-books contain some kind of functional syllabus alongside a focus on grammar and vocabulary, thus providing learners with communicatively useful expressions in tandem with a structured syllabus with a clear sense of progression. In addition, the focus on communication inherent in the practice of functional exponents has contributed greatly to communicative language teaching in general. Finally, the idea that even beginners can be presented with exponents of high communicative value from the very start represents a radical shift from the kind of approach that began with the present simple of the verb ‘to be’ in all its forms and focused almost entirely on structure with little regard for actual communication in the target language.

3. Task-based learning

What is TBL? How often do we as teachers ask our students to do something in class which they would do in everyday life using their own language? It is probably not often enough. If we can make language in the classroom meaningful therefore memorable, students can process language which is being learned or recycled more naturally. Task-based learning offers the student an opportunity to do exactly this. The primary focus of classroom activity is the task and language is the instrument which the students use to complete it. The task is an activity in which students use language to achieve a specific outcome. The activity reflects real life and learners focus on meaning, they are free to use any language they want. Playing a game, solving a problem or sharing information or experiences, can all be considered as relevant and authentic tasks. In TBL an activity in which students are given a list of words to use cannot be considered as a genuine task. Nor can a normal role play if it does not contain a problem-solving element or where students are not given a goal to reach. In many role plays students simply act out their restricted role. For instance, a role play where students have to act out roles as company directors but must come to an agreement or find the right solution within the given time limit can be considered a genuine task in TBL.

In the task-based lessons included below our aim is to create a need to learn and use language. The tasks will generate their own language and create an opportunity for language acquisition (Krashen*). If we can take the focus away from form and structures we can develop our students’ ability to do things in English. That is not to say that there will be no attention paid to accuracy, work on language is included in each task and feedback and language focus have their places in the lesson plans. We feel that teachers have a responsibility to enrich their students’ language when they see it is necessary but students should be given the opportunity to use English in the classroom as they use their own languages in everyday life. How can I use TBL in the classroom? Most of the task-based lessons in this section are what Scrivener classifies as authentic and follow the task structure proposed by Willis and Willis*. Each task will be organized in the following way:

  • Pre-task activity an introduction to topic and task
  • Task cycle: Task > Planning > Report
  • Language Focus and Feedback
A balance should be kept between fluency, which is what the task provides, and accuracy, which is provided by task feedback.

A traditional model for the organization of language lessons, both in the classroom and in course-books, has long been the PPP approach (presentation, practice, production). With this model individual language items (for example, the past continuous) are presented by the teacher, then practised in the form of spoken and written exercises (often pattern drills), and then used by the learners in less controlled speaking or writing activities. Although the grammar point presented at the beginning of this procedure may well fit neatly into a grammatical syllabus, a frequent criticism of this approach is the apparent arbitrariness of the selected grammar point, which may or may not meet the linguistic needs of the learners, and the fact that the production stage is often based on a rather inauthentic emphasis on the chosen structure.

An alternative to the PPP model is the Test-Teach-Test approach (TTT), in which the production stage comes first and the learners are "thrown in at the deep end" and required to perform a particular task (a role play, for example). This is followed by the teacher dealing with some of the grammatical or lexical problems that arose in the first stage and the learners then being required either to perform the initial task again or to perform a similar task. The language presented in the ‘teach’ stage can be predicted if the initial production task is carefully chosen but there is a danger of randomness in this model.

Jane Willis (1996), in her book ‘A Framework for Task-Based Learning’, outlines a third model for organizing lessons. While this is not a radical departure from TTT, it does present a model that is based on sound theoretical foundations and one which takes account of the need for authentic communication. Task-based learning (TBL) is typically based on three stages. The first of these is the pre-task stage, during which the teacher introduces and defines the topic and the learners engage in activities that either help them to recall words and phrases that will be useful during the performance of the main task or to learn new words and phrases that are essential to the task. This stage is followed by what Willis calls the "task cycle". Here the learners perform the task (typically a reading or listening exercise or a problem-solving exercise) in pairs or small groups. They then prepare a report for the whole class on how they did the task and what conclusions they reached. Finally, they present their findings to the class in spoken or written form. The final stage is the language focus stage, during which specific language features from the task and highlighted and worked on. Feedback on the learners’ performance at the reporting stage may also be appropriate at this point.
The main advantages of TBL are that language is used for a genuine purpose meaning that real communication should take place, and that at the stage where the learners are preparing their report for the whole class, they are forced to consider language form in general rather than concentrating on a single form (as in the PPP model). Whereas the aim of the PPP model is to lead from accuracy to fluency, the aim of TBL is to integrate all four skills and to move from fluency to accuracy plus fluency. The range of tasks available (reading texts, listening texts, problem-solving, role-plays, questionnaires, etc) offers a great deal of flexibility in this model and should lead to more motivating activities for the learners.

Learners who are used to a more traditional approach based on a grammatical syllabus may find it difficult to come to terms with the apparent randomness of TBL, but if TBL is integrated with a systematic approach to grammar and lexis, the outcome can be a comprehensive, all-round approach that can be adapted to meet the needs of all learners.

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Tasks: Getting to know your centre
The object of the following two tasks is for students to use English to:
  • Find out what resources are available to them and how they can use their resource room.
  • Meet and talk to each of the teachers in their centre.
To do these tasks you will require the PDF worksheets at the bottom of the page.
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Task 1: Getting to know your resources
Level: Pre-intermediate and above
It is assumed in this lesson that your school has the following student resources; books (graded readers), video, magazines and Internet. Don’t worry if it doesn’t, the lesson can be adjusted accordingly.

Pre-task preparation: One of the tasks is a video exercise which involves viewing a movie clip with the sound turned off. This can be any movie depending on availability, but the clip has to involve a conversation between two people.
Pre-task activity: In pairs students discuss the following questions:
  • Do you use English outside the classroom?
  • How?
  • What ways can you practise English outside the classroom?

Stage one - Running dictation
Put the text from worksheet one on the wall either inside or outside the classroom. Organize your students into pairs. One student will then go to the text, read the text and then go back to her partner and relay the information to her. The partner who stays at the desk writes this information. When teams have finished check for accuracy. You can make this competitive should you wish.


Stage two
In pairs students then read the Getting To Know Your Resources task sheet (worksheet two). Check any problem vocabulary at this stage. This worksheet can be adapted according to the resource room at your school.
  • Stage three
    Depending on how the resources are organized in your centre, students then go, in pairs, to the resource room or wherever the resources are kept and complete the tasks on the task sheet.
  • Stage four
    Working with a different partner students now compare and share their experience.
  • Stage five - Feedback
    Having monitored the activity and the final stage, use this opportunity to make comments on your students’ performance. This may take form of a correction slot on errors or pronunciation, providing a self-correction slot.
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Task 2 - Getting to know your teachers
Level: Pre-intermediate and above
Students may need at least a week to do this activity, depending on the availability of the teachers in your centre

Pre-task activity: In pairs students talk about an English teacher they have had.
  • What was her name?
  • Where was she from?
  • How old was she?
  • Do you remember any of her lessons?
  • What was your favourite activity in her class?
Stage one
Using the Getting To Know Your Teachers task sheet (worksheet three) and the Interview Questions (worksheet four) students write the questions for the questionnaire they are going to use to interview the teachers.
Stage two
To set up the activity students then interview you and record the information.

Stage three
Depending on which teachers are free at this time they can then go and interview other teachers and record the information. You may wish to bring other teachers into your class to be interviewed or alternatively give your students a week or so to complete the task, interviewing teachers before or after class, or whenever they come to the centre.
Stage four
Working with a different partner students compare their answers and experiences then decide on their final answers on the superlative questions.

Stage five
Feedback and reflection. Allow time for students to express their opinions and experiences of the activity. Provide any feedback you feel is necessary.

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Further activities

The Get To Know Your Resources task sheet could be turned into a school competition entry form. Possible prizes could include a video or some readers.

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References

*Krashen, S. (1996). The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom. Prentice Hall
Scrivener, J. (2005). Learning Teaching. Macmillan.
*Willis, J. & Willis, D. (eds.) (1996). Challenge and Change in Language Teaching. Macmillan (now out of print).

  • Willis, D. & Willis, J. (2007), Doing Task-based Teaching. Oxford University Press
They have also set up a website which offers articles on task-based teaching and a number of lesson plans: http://www.willis-elt.co.uk/
Activities:

· Task-based learning - worksheets 3 and 4 (93k)
Level: advanced, pre-intermediate, intermediate, upper-intermediate Type: general lesson plan

Getting to know your teachers.

· Task-based learning - worksheets 1 and 2 (78k)
Level: advanced, pre-intermediate, intermediate, upper-intermediate Type: general lesson plan
Getting to know your resources.

4. The communicative classroom

The approach to language teaching that can be broadly labelled as communicative language teaching emerged in the 1970s and 1980s as the emphasis switched from the mechanical practice of language patterns associated with the Audiolingual Method to activities that engaged the learner in more meaningful and authentic language use. Twenty years on it is interesting to look at the legacy of the communicative approach and to observe how current practice has been affected by its basic principles. Most present-day practitioners would probably like to think that their classes are "communicative" in the widest sense of the word. Their lessons probably contain activities where learners communicate and where tasks are completed by means of interaction with other learners. To this end there will probably be considerable if not extensive use of pair, group and mingling activities, with the emphasis on completing the task successfully through communication with others rather than on the accurate use of form. During these activities the teacher’s role will be to facilitate and then to monitor, usually without interruption, and then to provide feedback on the success or otherwise of the communication and, possibly, on the linguistic performance of the learners in the form of post-activity error correction. In terms of the organization of the lesson, the classic present, practice and perform model, where careful input of a particular structure is typically followed by controlled, less controlled and freer practice is likely to have been replaced by a more task-based approach, possibly on the lines of test, teach, test, where the learners are given a communicative task which is monitored by the teacher and then their language use while performing the task is fine-tuned by the teacher in a lesson stage which focuses on error correction or a particular form that is causing difficulties. This is typically followed by a further task-based stage, where the initial task is repeated or a similar task is performed, ideally with a greater degree of linguistic accuracy than during the first attempt. Another feature will probably be that the traditional grammatical approach of starting the beginner’s syllabus by presenting the present tense of the verb ‘to be’ will have been replaced by a more communicative focus, with basic introductions, requests and questions enabling learners to begin communicating in English from the very first lesson. It is probably fair to say that, as we look at the language classroom of 2001, there will probably be a certain degree from stepping back from the extremes of the totally communicative classroom, with its obsession about reducing teacher talking time to a minimum and maximizing the opportunities for communication. This type of approach tended to give the impression of a syllabus without direction and a sense of communication for communication’s sake, producing the valid comment from at least one aggrieved learner: "Groups, groups, groups. Why do I have to talk all the time to my fellow students. I can do this in the coffee-bar!" What we will probably find now is a more balanced approach with opportunities for structural input (including practice of language patterns). There will, however, almost certainly be an emphasis on more authentic contexts with example sentences being at the very least semi-authentic and potentially of communicative use rather than arbitrary examples of form with little or no communicative value. In today’s classroom we will probably also see a lot of authentic listening and reading material being used and far fewer contrived texts designed to illustrate grammatical form or present items of vocabulary and with no attempt to communicate a meaningful message to the listener or reader. Perhaps the most enduring legacy of the communicative approach will be that it has allowed teachers to incorporate motivating and purposeful communicative activities and principles into their teaching while simultaneously retaining the best elements of other methods and approaches rather than rejecting them wholesale.

5. The grammar-translation method

At the height of the Communicative Approach to language learning in the 1980s and early 1990s it became fashionable in some quarters to deride so-called "old-fashioned" methods and, in particular, something broadly labelled "Grammar Translation". There were numerous reasons for this but principally it was felt that translation itself was an academic exercise rather than one which would actually help learners to use language, and an overt focus on grammar was to learn about the target language rather than to learn it. As with many other methods and approaches, Grammar Translation tended to be referred to in the past tense as if it no longer existed and had died out to be replaced world-wide by the fun and motivation of the communicative classroom. If we examine the principal features of Grammar Translation, however, we will see that not only has it not disappeared but that many of its characteristics have been central to language teaching throughout the ages and are still valid today. The Grammar Translation method embraces a wide range of approaches but, broadly speaking, foreign language study is seen as a mental discipline, the goal of which may be to read literature in its original form or simply to be a form of intellectual development. The basic approach is to analyze and study the grammatical rules of the language, usually in an order roughly matching the traditional order of the grammar of Latin, and then to practise manipulating grammatical structures through the means of translation both into and from the mother tongue.


The method is very much based on the written word and texts are widely in evidence. A typical approach would be to present the rules of a particular item of grammar, illustrate its use by including the item several times in a text, and practise using the item through writing sentences and translating it into the mother tongue. The text is often accompanied by a vocabulary list consisting of new lexical items used in the text together with the mother tongue translation. Accurate use of language items is central to this approach. Generally speaking, the medium of instruction is the mother tongue, which is used to explain conceptual problems and to discuss the use of a particular grammatical structure. It all sounds rather dull but it can be argued that the Grammar Translation method has over the years had a remarkable success. Millions of people have successfully learnt foreign languages to a high degree of proficiency and, in numerous cases, without any contact whatsoever with native speakers of the language (as was the case in the former Soviet Union, for example).

There are certain types of learner who respond very positively to a grammatical syllabus as it can give them both a set of clear objectives and a clear sense of achievement. Other learners need the security of the mother tongue and the opportunity to relate grammatical structures to mother tongue equivalents. Above all, this type of approach can give learners a basic foundation upon which they can then build their communicative skills. Applied wholesale of course, it can also be boring for many learners and a quick look at foreign language course books from the 1950s and 1960s, for example, will soon reveal the non-communicative nature of the language used. Using the more enlightened principles of the Communicative Approach, however, and combining these with the systematic approach of Grammar Translation, may well be the perfect combination for many learners. On the one hand they have motivating communicative activities that help to promote their fluency and, on the other, they gradually acquire a sound and accurate basis in the grammar of the language. This combined approach is reflected in many of the EFL course books currently being published and, amongst other things, suggests that the Grammar Translation method, far from being dead, is very much alive and kicking as we enter the 21st century. Without a sound knowledge of the grammatical basis of the language it can be argued that the learner is in possession of nothing more than a selection of communicative phrases which are perfectly adequate for basic communication but which will be found wanting when the learner is required to perform any kind of sophisticated linguistic task.

6. The negotiated syllabus

Two recent articles in the EL Gazette (November 2000 and January 2001 respectively) have focused on the issue of the ‘negotiated syllabus.’ The negotiated syllabus in ELT is a term which means that the content of a particular course is a matter of discussion and negotiation between teacher and student(s), according to the wishes and needs of the learner(s) in conjunction with the expertise, judgment and advice of the teacher.


The original article was a provocative denunciation of the practice, while the second was a cogent defence of the same. Like many issues in English Language Teaching, there is, of course, no definite answer. One can make a convincing list of points in favour of a particular technique and one week later make an equally convincing list of points against. Perhaps it is one of the strong points of our profession that we are able constantly to question and evaluate in order to establish better practice. As with many techniques and approaches in ELT, when taken to extremes the negotiated syllabus can arouse strong feelings. At the one extreme, learners may well respond extremely negatively to being asked on the first morning of their course "Well, what do you want to do?" The impression that question can give, particularly before a comfortable rapport has been established within the group, is that the teacher is unprepared and unprofessional. It is also worth remembering that many learners have no experience whatsoever in having a say in the content of their course. Their educational background has simply not provided for such an eventuality.

At the other extreme, the teacher who ploughs on regardless through reams of material that may be irrelevant to the needs and wishes of the learners is soon likely to encounter similar negative reactions. As usual in our profession, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. By being aware of the possible reaction of some learners to the wholesale application of the negotiated syllabus and by the reaction of others to the imposition of an external syllabus, a successful teacher should generally be able to keep most of the learners happy most of the time – an essential component of any course.

Those teachers who are required for whatever reason to follow a particular coursebook or course programme will probably find it productive to get regular feedback from their learners on what they find interesting and useful in the coursebook and what they find less important to their needs. Teachers who base their courses on more eclectic sources (teachers on short intensive courses, for example) may benefit from the use of a "menu" approach, offering their learners a list of possible areas to cover and inviting them to amend it and add to it. So we end up with the typical ELT balancing act but it just might be preferable to rejecting the approach outright or applying it wholesale without regard to the feelings of the learners.

7. What is audiolingualism?

There seems to be a widely held perception amongst language teachers that methods and approaches have finite historical boundaries - that the Grammar-Translation approach is dead, for example. Similarly, audiolingualism was in vogue in the 1960s but died out in the 70s after Chomsky’s famous attack on behaviourism in language learning. In this context, it is worth considering for a moment what goes on in the typical language learning classroom. Do you ever ask your students to repeat phrases or whole sentences, for example? Do you drill the pronunciation and intonation of utterances? Do you ever use drills? What about choral drilling? Question and answer? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then, consciously or unconsciously, you are using techniques that are features of the audiolingual approach.


This approach has its roots in the USA during World War II, when there was a pressing need to train key personnel quickly and effectively in foreign language skills. The results of the Army Specialized Training Program are generally regarded to have been very successful, with the caveat that the learners were in small groups and were highly motivated, which undoubtedly contributed to the success of the approach.

The approach was theoretically underpinned by structural linguistics, a movement in linguistics that focused on the phonemic, morphological and syntactic systems underlying the grammar of a given language, rather than according to traditional categories of Latin grammar. As such, it was held that learning a language involved mastering the building blocks of the language and learning the rules by which these basic elements are combined from the level of sound to the level of sentence. The audiolingual approach was also based on the behaviourist theory of learning, which held that language, like other aspects of human activity, is a form of behaviour.

In the behaviourist view, language is elicited by a stimulus and that stimulus then triggers a response. The response in turn then produces some kind of reinforcement, which, if positive, encourages the repetition of the response in the future or, if negative, its suppression. When transposed to the classroom, this gives us the classic pattern drill- Model: She went to the cinema yesterday. Stimulus; Theatre. Response: She went to the theatre yesterday. Reinforcement: Good! In its purest form audiolingualism aims to promote mechanical habit-formation through repetition of basic patterns. Accurate manipulation of structure leads to eventual fluency. Spoken language comes before written language. Dialogues and drill are central to the approach. Accurate pronunciation and control of structure are paramount.

While some of this might seem amusingly rigid in these enlightened times, it is worth reflecting on actual classroom practice and noticing when activities occur that can be said to have their basis in the audiolingual approach. Most teachers will at some point require learners to repeat examples of grammatical structures in context with a number of aims in mind: stress, rhythm, intonation, "consolidating the structure", enabling learners to use the structure accurately through repetition, etc. Question and answer in open class or closed pairs to practise a particular form can also be argued to have its basis in the audiolingual approach, as can, without doubt, any kind of drill.

Although the audiolingual approach in its purest form has many weaknesses (notably the difficulty of transferring learnt patterns to real communication), to dismiss the audiolingual approach as an outmoded method of the 1960s is to ignore the reality of current classroom practice which is based on more than 2000 years of collective wisdom.

8. What is suggestopedia?

Often considered to be the strangest of the so-called "humanistic approaches", suggestopedia was originally developed in the 1970s by the Bulgarian educator Georgi Lozanov. Extravagant claims were initially made for the approach with Lozanov himself declaring that memorization in learning through suggestopedia would be accelerated by up to 25 times over that in conventional learning methods. The approach attracted both wild enthusiasm in some quarters and open scorn in others. On balance, it is probably fair to say that suggestopedia has had its day but also that certain elements of the approach survive in today’s good practice.


The approach was based on the power of suggestion in learning, the notion being that positive suggestion would make the learner more receptive and, in turn, stimulate learning. Lozanov holds that a relaxed but focused state is the optimum state for learning. In order to create this relaxed state in the learner and to promote positive suggestion, suggestopedia makes use of music, a comfortable and relaxing environment, and a relationship between the teacher and the student that is akin to the parent-child relationship. Music, in particular, is central to the approach. Unlike other methods and approaches, there is no apparent theory of language in suggestopedia and no obvious order in which items of language are presented.

The original form of suggestopedia presented by Lozanov consisted of the use of extended dialogues, often several pages in length, accompanied by vocabulary lists and observations on grammatical points. Typically these dialogues would be read aloud to the students to the accompaniment of music. The most formal of these readings, known as the "concert reading", would typically employ a memorable piece of classical music such as a Beethoven symphony.

This would not be in the form of background music but would be the main focus of the reading, with the teacher’s voice acting as a counterpoint to the music. Thus the "concert reading" could be seen as a kind of pleasurable event, with the learners free to focus on the music, the text or a combination of the two. The rhythm and intonation of the reading would be exaggerated in order to fit in with the rhythm of the music.

A second, less formal reading would employ a lighter, less striking piece of music, such as a piece of Baroque music, and this would take a less prominent role. During both types of reading, the learners would sit in comfortable seats, armchairs rather than classroom chairs, in a suitably stimulating environment in terms of décor and lighting. After the readings of these long dialogues to the accompaniment of music, the teacher would then make use of the dialogues for more conventional language work. In theory at least, large chunks of the dialogues would be internalized by the learners during the readings due both to the relaxed and receptive state of the learners and to the positive suggestion created by the music. There is, however, little evidence to support the extravagant claims of success. The more obvious criticisms lie in the fact that many people find classical music irritating rather than stimulating (to some cultures Western music may sound discordant), the length of the dialogues and the lack of a coherent theory of language may serve to confuse rather than to motivate, and, for purely logistic reasons, the provision of comfortable armchairs and a relaxing environment will probably be beyond the means of most educational establishments.

In addition the idea of a teacher reading a long (and often clearly inauthentic) dialogue aloud, with exaggerated rhythm and intonation, to the accompaniment of Beethoven or Mozart may well seem ridiculous to many people.

This is not to say, however, that certain elements of the approach cannot be taken and incorporated into the more eclectic approach to language teaching widely in evidence today. The use of music both in the background and as an accompaniment to certain activities can be motivating and relaxing. Attention to factors such as décor, lighting and furniture is surely not a bad thing. Dialogues too have their uses. Perhaps most importantly of all the ideas, creating conditions in which learners are alert and receptive can only have a positive effect on motivation. Whether these conditions are best created by the use of classical music and the reading of dialogues is open to questions but there is no doubt that suggestopedia has raised some interesting questions in the areas of both learning and memory.

http://www.onestopenglish.com/section.asp?catid=59442&docid=146502 02 June 2009