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Automatic English For The People

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

An Invitation to Suggestopedia
by Kazuhiko Hagiwara Griffith University

If you are a language teacher interested in Suggestopedia, you may wish to try this approach but at the same time you may be wondering whether and how you can use it. What are the essential elements of Suggestopedia? What do suggestopedic teachers really do? What are the requirements to become a suggestopedic teacher? Drawing on my experiences as a teacher trainee in Bulgaria and my work in applying this approach to my Japanese course in Australia. I will give you some ideas on how to get started with Suggestopedia. Before discussing some of the important theoretical concepts of Suggestopedia. I invite you to observe four scenes from an ideal intensive Japanese course taught with Suggestopedia.

Scene 1: First Day Introduction

In the morning, twelve students were waiting in the classroom for their teacher. They had never studied Japanese before and this first lesson was also the first time for them to meet each other. They felt a little excited and tense as they waited for the lesson to begin. They had some expectations about what would happen because they had already received information on how the method would work. The best possible environment that the teacher could prepare had been created in the classroom --a quiet room of an appropriate size full of light and fresh air with Japanese art and tourism posters on the wall, plants in the corners, and chairs arranged in a semi-circle.

"Ohayo gozaimasu !" The teacher came in with a big bag. He started saying something in Japanese as if he naturally believed that the students would understand him. As he talked, he started to show the students the things he had in his big bag. First, he pulled out a puppet which he introduced as "Kintaro," one of his good friends. The teacher kept talking as one thing after another came out of his big travel bag, things he called, kamera, pen, pasupooto, booru, wain, biiru, and so on. The students began to relax as they found they could understand what the teacher was saying. Besides, he looked so cheerful and happy that the students began to feel the same way. He seemed to be saying "What's this? This is a camera. Oh, it's an Olympus. It's a nice one'. I'll take your picture. Smile! Um...excuse me, sir, would you take a picture of my friend and me, please? Thank you." "Hey, look, this is my passport. Who is this? It's me. Oh, how strange I look in this picture. It's embarrassing!" "What's this? Oh. it's a bottle of wine. It's a nice wine. I like it but I don't drink too much. It's awful having a hangover."

The students could clearly guess what the teacher was trying to say from the gestures and facial expressions he was making and from the real things with familiar names he was showing them. Some unusual things also came out of his bag -- a real telephone receiver set with which he called home and reported that he had finally arrived in Australia; a real stone and a rubber sponge that looked like a real stone, but he said. "lie, chigaimasu," (No, it isn't); a miniature dinosaur which he introduced as another one of his friends; and so on. The students were getting an initial idea of Japanese grammatical structures as well as of the names of things. The teacher sometimes asked the students what the things were but he didn't seem to expect that they would reply. When he asked questions, he looked vaguely around the classroom, never pointing to a particular student. However, some students spontaneously began to guess the names of things, saying "Telephone desu." Then the teacher took that word and said in Japanese. "Close! You've just missed. DENWA desu. Yes, kore wa denwa desu. But wait. Oh, you speak Japanese! How nice! That's excellent Ii desu ne! By the way, everyone, do you know what ii desu ne is? Guess, guess. What is it? 'Good' in English? Yes, that's right! Iidesune. Let me hear you say iidesune, OK? Now, all together, one, two, three, IIDESUNE!"

While talking to his students, the teacher frequently encouraged them with short phrases such as Daijobu desu yo (that's all right, don't worry). Wakarimasu ne (now you understand), Dekimasu yo (yes, you can). Hora, dekimashita, ne (see, you did it). and Kantan desho (easy, isn't it?). Phrases with a negative meeting were carefully omitted from his speech. For example, he seemed to avoid adjectives such as muzukashii (difficult) or taihen (fatiguing) to describe his course or its content. English was not strictly prohibited in the classroom, and students could ask the teacher or their classmates questions in English. The teacher, on the other hand, tried to answer in Japanese or with gestures as much as possible, although he, too, did not seem to prohibit himself from using English when it was necessary. He used English to correct misunderstandings or to briefly explain important grammar points. However, when he explained in English, he spoke softly to imply that it was a special service to the students. Although the students were free to use English, they began to try to speak Japanese because the world of Japanese language that the teacher was involving them in seemed very interesting and enjoyable.

Finally, the teacher took a set of cards out of his big bag and said in Japanese, "I have some important documents here. Look. What are these? They are hiragana." The Japanese phonetic characters were written separately on each card. The teacher turned his back to the students and started reading the cards one after another as if he were reading a secret report. However, the students could see the cards over his shoulders. After he read the five cards of a, i, u, e, o three times, he silently showed them to the students. When the students started reading them, he turned to them with a look of surprise and said in Japanese. "What? You can read hiragana already! What a surprise! You can do everything. OK, let's read them together." He showed ka and then ki. Some students guessed that the next one was ku and that it was followed by ke and ko. The teacher joined them and invited the others to read together. After the teacher finished introducing all the hiragana, the telephone suddenly rang. Someone in Japan was calling him. "Moshi, moshi." (hello); the teacher started to talk to someone on the phone. He seemed to be talking about making a film and he sounded very happy to report that he had found a group of good actors who could speak and read Japanese.

After the teacher hung up, he had his students choose Japanese namae (names) and shigoto (jobs). He showed them a large poster on which were written Japanese names and occupations both in hiragana and the alphabet with their English translations. He read all of the names and jobs, inviting the students to follow him. Students could choose any name and occupation they liked from the poster or select others by asking their teacher in English. Some students used Japanese interrogative structures, asking "Fire fighter wa nan desu ka?" (what is fire fighter?). The teacher cheerfully replied, "Shoboshi desu." and added it to the list. During the class, the teacher always seemed to be very careful not to scare anyone or to insult anyone. Without expecting anyone to speak or read Japanese correctly at this stage, he just tried to wait for the right answer to come out somewhere in the class as if he considered the whole class as one brain. When the answer appeared, the teacher's face was full of happiness, and he praised all the students. Because students were free to take what they were given, some sort of specialities emerged in the class, which meant that each student could work from his or her strong points. Indeed, each student seemed to have a different vocabulary, depending on his or her interest. One student would surprise the others with a vocabulary item, and then another would do the same the next moment, and this process seemed to be a good stimulation for the group. The teacher used a great deal of energy to create good human relations in the class so that students would help and praise one another.

Scene 2: The Concert Sessions

After a short break, the students returned to their seats and then, the teacher entered the classroom calmly and quietly. This time, his manner seemed quite different than when he had come in to do the introduction. It was somehow more prestigious and solemn. He gave each student a copy of the textbook, a long play consisting of several acts. He told the students in Japanese that he was going to read the first act in the textbook twice with classical music in the background. During the first reading; students would hear and follow the text in Japanese while referring to the English translation on the right side of the page. The first chapter was written both in Japanese and romanized characters so that beginners could read it.

The first reading started with the cheerful sounds of the Mozart's Fifth Violin Concerto. Before beginning to read, the teacher stood quietly, allowing the students to listen to the music until the opening musical passage ended. The teacher read slower than normal speed, but the reading itself was dynamic. His voice was very different from the one he used in normal speech. It sounded more like the voice of a poet at his recital or that of an Italian opera singer. He mobilized all the variations his voice could produce, although his voice could be clearly heard even when he spoke in a whisper. He seemed to use his voice in harmony with the music rather than with the intonation and meaning of the language. However, he emphasized certain underlined words or phrases with pauses and stress to mark their importance. Reading 15 pages of the text took approximately 20 minutes.

Before beginning the second reading, the teacher suggested that the students not look at the text but try to imagine what was happening in the story. He told them to feel free to listen either to the music or his voice or both. The music began. This time it was an organ piece from J. S. Bach's Fantasia for Organ in G Minor BMV 572. The teacher, with his eyes closed, was sitting calmly on the chair. When the introduction to the piece finished, he started the second reading. His voice was a clear as during the first reading, but this time he read with natural intonation and speed. This reading lasted approximately 12 minutes. When he finished the reading. the teacher quietly left the room. While some students slowly opened their eyes to prepare to go home, others continued to listen to the music.

Scene 3: The Elaboration

Most of the lessons in the intensive course were spent on elaboration. Every elaboration class was full of a variety of teaching techniques and activities, and these were used in an integrated fashion rather than separately. In other words, the teacher seemed to try to maintain and review all the things that had been learned in previous activities, often by placing reminders somewhere in the classroom. For example, the day after the teacher had given students a drawing task to symbolize some abstract words or phrases, the students found their "masterpieces" on the wall with the real art posters. That day, the teacher used those expressions many times, but the students could easily comprehend or even use them just by glancing at their own pictures. These pictures were removed a few days later, but some students could recall the expressions just by looking at that section of the room.

Many different types of reminders of class activities occupied various spaces in the classroom. A verb conjugation list on an easel was next to a large plant. A colorful noun list was on the back wall between two art posters. A 3D map of a town with miniature shops and their goods lay on the right back corner table. Items from the teacher's big bag were placed on the rug in the center of the floor. A Japanese restaurant menu with some plastic replicas of Japanese food were on the left side table. Portraits of a Japanese family with their names were hung on the left side wall. Every item reminded students of something important they had done or learned in the previous class activities.

Students' roles were naturally decided in the class. One student was always respectfully invited to conduct the other students in singing as he had chosen conductor as his occupation. Another student was asked for advice when anyone felt sick or tired because he had chosen to be a doctor. In the group, there were a haiku poet, a sushi master, a bank clerk, a sumo wrestler, a judoka, a retired merchant, and so on. Some had clear roles to play in class activities and others did not. However, the teacher provided all of the students with tasks in which they were respected or praised by others in some way.

As part of the elaboration, the students read the textbook play together with the teacher. The students would volunteer for the various roles, and the teacher encouraged them to read dramatically. Each role in the text had its own props such as black eye glass frames for the "father" and a pink scarf for the "mother." The teacher made sure that all students had an opportunity to read part of the story. When the students mispronounced words, the teacher corrected them in a soft whisper, allowing them to correct themselves or not as they wished. Sometimes the textbook reading was followed by a role play in which students were provided with costumes and wigs to make the drama more realistic.

Scene 4: Summary

At the end of each chapter, the students read and translated a story which reviewed all the major grammar and vocabulary items in the lesson. Before having the students read this story, the teacher would introduce it with illustrations and props. Then students would be invited to create their own stories around a theme or a prop, and class the next day would begin with these stories.

The Role of the Teacher in Suggestopedia

As can be seen from the scenes above, the role of the teacher, the "motor of the suggestopedic machine," is crucial (Gateva, 1990b. p. 91) because a large part of a suggestopedic course depends on the suggestive effect of the teacher's behavior, both verbal and non-verbal. A teacher in a suggestopedic course not only radiates effective suggestive stimuli, but also coordinates environmental suggestive stimuli in a positive way for students to learn.

One of Suggestopedia's unique goals is to release learners' minds from the existing framework of the "social-suggestive norms" (Lozanov, 1978. p. 252). Learners have commonly set a limit on their abilities by following the guidelines of the suggestive norms which are often considered common sense in a given society. For instance, students may say, "Oh, it's too late for me, I am too old," or "How can I remember that amount? Nobody can!" Suggestopedia sees these negative suggestions from the social-suggestive norms as inhibiting human potential and believes you can free your students' natural potential by replacing existing negative suggestions with positive suggestions. This is called the "desuggestive-suggestive process" (Lozanov, 1978, pp. 252-258). Teachers have quite a few "common sense" beliefs to remove such negative beliefs as "Study is hard," "You can only remember little by little," "Grammar is boring," and so on. Then, 'Yes, you can," "Everything is possible," and "Study is fun" will be the new common sense in your classes.

Creating a State of Concentrative Psychorelaxation

One important task for a suggestopedic teacher is to put students in the state of mind called "concentrative psychorelaxation" (Lozanov, 1978, p. 2S8). Lozanov describes concentrative psychorelaxation as the optimal state of brain activity for learning in which the level of relaxation is neither too deep nor too shallow. The teacher needs to create and arrange different styles of activities to stimulate the students' minds in various ways so that each student has a chance to achieve this state of concentrative psychorelaxation.

Teachers can use all the interactive communicative activities in Suggestopedia, especially in the elaboration part of the lesson. Techniques such as role plays, games, and quizzes are all effective. Work on grammar such as verb conjugations is introduced with some physical movement and change of voice and through colorful posters of conjugation tables which are placed around the classroom so that you can use learners' subconscious area of memory called "peripheral perceptions" (Lozanov, 1982, pp.149-150). All these activities are connected and harmonized in the course structure just as music that has several movements and motifs is performed with many different instruments orchestrated into one large symphony.

The Suggestopedic Lesson

The suggestopedic lesson is divided into four parts: introduction, concert sessions (active and passive), elaboration (development of the syllabus introduced in the concert sessions), and summary (Gateva, 1990b, pp. 94-95). Each part requires different skills on the part of the teacher, but, throughout the course, you as a suggestopedic teacher appear to be the director of a group of actors rather than a lecturer (Fujiwara, 1992, p. 283). Students choose new names and personal backgrounds in the course so that they can be released from their real life problems or status that, Lozanov believes, often work as factors against learning (Hagiwara, 1989). After your learners have chosen their new personalities, you will need to pay attention to group dynamics to create and retain good human relationships, as demonstrated in the above description of the Japanese course.

Art in Suggestopedia

Suggestopedia introduces rich artistic elements into its teaching methodology and materials to stimulate learners' creativity (Gateva 1990a, pp. 54-55). Almost all the categories of art are included such as music, visual arts, and stage art. You use music as songs in the elaborations and as classical background music in the concert sessions. You hang colorfully made grammar posters among other art posters in your classroom, and sometimes you give the group drawing tasks. You move like an actor in the theater, use puppets like a show person, and read the textbook like a poet at his recital.

Concert Sessions

Another unique and essential feature of Suggestopedia is the concert sessions which helps students absorb the large amounts of information. You read the textbook solemnly and dramatically with specially selected classical background music. The list of specially selected classical music for suggestopedic concert readings is in Lozanov and Gateva (1987, pp, 73-77). In the concert sessions, the learners (listeners) are in a "pseudopassive state" (Lozanov, 1978, pp. 197-200); that is, they are physically relaxed and mentally activated. Listening to your voice in this state, as they follow the text and translation, learners absorb both the linguistic rhythm and meaning of vocabulary at once to create an accumulation of information in their minds.

Theory of Suggestopedia

When you apply your own ideas to your classroom, you must base them on the theory of Suggestology, which studies how the stimuli around us work as means of suggestion. Since there is no Suggestopedia without Suggestology, you should read at least the fundamental works of Lozanov and Gateva. I suggest you start with Lozanov (1982), a good summary of Suggestology and Suggestopedia, and Lozanov & Gateva (1988), a suggestopedic teachers' manual. If you have further interest, introductory books (Springer & Deutsch, 1985; Genesee, 1988) about brain physiology and cognitive science will give a better understanding of the utilization of whole brain learning in Suggestopedia.

Learning More about Suggestopedia

Finally, if you have time (and money), I recommend that you try to learn a language in a suggestopedic course, not only to observe a class session or two, but to take a whole course. In Japan. Sanno Junior College offers language and art courses taught suggestopedically and short teacher training seminars given in Japanese. Those who want to study Suggestopedia in depth can take training courses with Dr. Lozanov and Dr. Gateva at their center in Austria.