What are the best language classes and why?
Many language learners go to language classes believing that is the best way to learn languages. Sometimes, of course, that may the only way, especially in cases where the language is not used where you live and you have limited access to resources. However, as has been previously noted, language classes sometimes can do more harm than good especially when the learner is taught in ways that distance them from their own innate organic learning powers.
Language classes can be great because they can organize the language into sequenced instruction that builds the language from the bottom up. This can never happen in a typical immersion type environment. In immersion, the language comes in any old way, and the learner attempts to make sense of what they hear, see and do. There are of course the language learners who can learn a language in any situation but for the vast majority, this is not the case.
There is, of course, another key factor which effective language learners need to develop and that is the ability to keep learning whilst they are getting on with life in the second language. This in many ways is the gold standard in language learning. Most adult language learners have lost this ability and to regain it is crucial if they don’t want to get stuck at a level below what they would like. Some learners manage this by themselves, but many may well need to learn this skill.
So how would it be if we could have language classes which immersed the students in the second language AND taught the language in a concentrated way at the same time as teaching the learners how to learn in an immersion environment? That really would be something, wouldn’t it!
The one approach I have found that can do all this is the Silent Way approach to teaching languages. Many of you may well not have heard of this approach, however, it has been used for nearly four decades all over the world. Some of you may well have heard of it but not really been exposed to the power of it. I won’t go into it here in much depth but I will provide you with some links below where you can check it out further.
Very briefly, this approach to language learning (created by Dr. Caleb Gattegno):
- is delivered in the language you are learning.
- structures the instruction (hence the learning) in a systematic way – building on the foundations it lays in the early stages – specially designed tools and materials to aid the learner are there for the teacher to use.
- consistently puts learning at the helm of the classes rather than the teaching, so a sign of learning that teachers look for, and consciously works towards, is when the participants can independently produce what has been worked on in class.
- understands that the learner needs to do the learning, so the lessons inevitably help learners develop their powers of learning. The classes have a different feel about them to most other classes for this reason.
- is delivered in a way so that learners are constantly engaged. There are no repetitious or boring exercises, the understanding being that learners learn best when they bring themselves of their own volition to the task in a proactive and energised way.
- helps to also develop the teachers’ understanding of learning, so their practice keeps improving.
So if you are looking for not only effective language classes but ones that help develop your powers of learning, my vote would be to seek out courses that are based on this approach.
There are a number of places around the world that use the Silent Way. Some trade on that, whilst others may not mention it.
Here are some of them. (I will add to this list as I become aware of more places that use the approach.)
Bronx School for Better Learning A school in New York, that teaches children in the approach on which the Silent Way is based ( including languages).
Educational Solutions An organisation that provides information, materials, books etc about the Silent Way
Riverside Language Program, New York City, US
Te Ataarangi This school trains native speakers of te reo (Maori language) to be tutors in their communities in New Zealand.
Une Education Pour Demain Language Classes, Interactive On line lessons, information and much more, in France
Glenys Hanson’s, site has also a host of exercises and information.
Donald Cherry in Japan is a skilled exponent and has put on YouTube many examples of teaching English.
If you are interested to find out a little more about this way of teaching languages, a great introductory book by Dr Caleb Gattegno is What We Owe Children