What I liked the most about John Beary’s course was the following two points:
- what we uttered was always true;
- we were given only what we needed.
These two points in particular kept me feeling throughout the course that we were being treated with due respect for what we were.
We were constantly encouraged to produce utterances which were true to the language and in accordance to our sense of truth. For this, clear and unambiguous situations were always set in front of our eyes so that we could devote all our powers, energy, and time to producing the language that matched our perception. Whenever we said something untrue, it was made known to us, at times by being given time to compare what we said with what we saw, and, at another, being shown the part we had to change.
If we said is instead of are, for instance, John gestured that we would have to get rid of the is, but what to choose to replace it was again our job. This we were able to do on our own most of the time.
If we demonstrated that we had no access to what we needed, John might point it on one of the charts or have one of our peers do it. In such a case, even if his pointer was almost reaching the word when the student finally came up with it, he may quickly withdraw his pointer pressing it hard to shorten it to be hidden in his hand, or motioned the helper to stop at that point.
We had to be observant to talk truthfully about a situation created by rods or a scene in a picture. John’s consistency in demanding the truth at any time eliminated confusion preventing us from wasting time and energy.
For instance, when a student sitting in front of the table said, “The red rod is behind the blue one,” those who sat on the left side of the table from him said, “The red rod is to the left of the blue one,” while those who sat on the right reversed the words blue and red in their sentences. If we tried to transfer a piece of language to describe another situation, John would either encourage us to create the new situation in front of us or quickly do it himself. Sometimes, we would create a matching situation after we listened to the utterance.
Describing a man in a picture, we were led to say, “We can see only one button on his shirt,” instead of “His shirt has a button.”; or “The other one is either hidden or missing,” instead of, “The other one is lost.” On another occasion, when a student said, “I’m going to take the red rods one by one with my right hand,” she was asked to wait until the class learned to say, “All right, go ahead.” And if another student said, “I’m taking the green rods two by two with my left hand,” he was not allowed to stop saying the sentence until all the green rods were taken. If either his hand or mouth stopped, he was immediately reminded of it and was encouraged to continue the utterance. Thus, without any explanation, we learned that, in this particular case, unless our hands continued the activity, what our mouths were uttering could not have been true.
John didn’t take anything for granted. Even words such as come and go, which we all knew, or thought we knew, were carefully presented. And the usual outcome was that those who considered themselves as advanced speakers of English still had to struggle in order to correctly use such words as come, come back, go, go back, take, take back, bring and bring back in various combinations.
To always utter something which harmonized with our sense of truth demanded such a degree of presence that all of us were being challenged each moment in one way or another. The language that we worked on was to such a point of accuracy that the participants who were quite advanced in English, including native speakers who participated as observers, worked just as hard as those who were near-beginners. We were given enough freedom so that each one of us could set his/her own challenge. Each one of us, therefore, worked on different skills and discipline even when the class as a whole were working on the same subject matter.
The challenge kept us to be highly motivated. And yet what we were asked moment to moment was nothing extraordinary: just our presence – just to be there. In other words, everything was fine if we looked at and listened to what was with us at each moment. Only, this was not as easy a discipline as most of us thought.
There were 15 students who were all native speakers of Japanese. Among those 15, there was an English teacher, a flight attendant, a French teacher, a high school student, four Japanese teachers, five office workers, and two free-lancers. All of the five observers were native English speakers who taught English. At the end of the 30 hours of work, all were struggling with sentences such as, “Mary’s shoes are the same as Kazuko’s except that where Mary’s have buttons Kazuko’s have buckles.”
The few words John uttered during those four days, besides a few directions for activities, were “Point it on the chart,” (only at the beginning when the students didn’t know the significance of being given a pointer), and occasionally “… of what?” or “… to what?” and “It’s better,” which were most effectively said sometimes in English and sometimes in Japanese.
© Fusako Allard
The Science of Education in Questions – N° 7, Une Education Pour Demain, France. June 1992
Fusako Allard directed The Center for Learning which she created in Osaka, Japan, in 1979 and closed in 2005 . The Center was a small organization devoted to the promotion of effective language learning and to the heightening of people’s awareness in language education. To this end, it had offered language courses of various kinds, as well as seminars and workshops on learning and learners, using the Gattegno approach.
Being deeply touched by Dr Caleb Gattegno‘s work in 1977, Fusako has been studying it since then. She has also been teaching Japanese and English in the spirit of the Silent Way as well as working in various Gattegno workshops, many of which were organized in Japan, inviting Dr. Gattegno during his last five years, and his successors from all around the world after that.
These days, she conducts language classes at home and for a local junior high school as a voluteer aid for those students who need an extra help. She also works with instructors who are interested in Silent Way and the Gattegno Approach in general, and at times works with her colleagues translating Gattegno’s books . Her dream is to illuminate the students who ‘hate English’ in all the high schools in Japan
“ESL (English as a Second Language) the Silent Way” by Fusako Allardis licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.