Suggestopedia and accelerated learning

Suggestopedia is a special method of teaching/learning where the students learn, play and sing in an absolutely friendly environment.

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Basic Tenets of Suggestopedia

 

“A whole mind is better than a half.”
Right and Left Brain
The human brain consists of two hemispheres that are responsible for different learning activities. We generally refer to dreaming, imagination, creativity, music, color, rhythm, visualization, and the like, as right-brain activities, while the left-brain is sequential, analytical, rational, objective, and mathematical. To illustrate, when language teachers emphasize the orderly rudiments of grammar (the logistics of language), the left brain is called to work. People’s inherent appreciation for art, music, and culture rests in the right brain. This area is responsible for an individual’s writing and speaking style, creativity, and expression. The teacher who successfully gives students a thoughtful, deeply integrated program that taps the strengths of both the left and right brains, accelerates learning.
Full awareness is obviously important for learning, but humans also learn through the para-consciousness, or semi-awareness. These levels of semi-awareness are always operational, that is, our subconscious minds never “sleep,” and so all levels might as well be used to improve learning.

“A reservoir of genius lies within us all.”
Tapping Reserves
It would seem that one’s reserves (memories, past experiences, dreams, etc.) are also related to the left-right separation of the mind. Tapping one’s reserves, however, is not maximizing the mind’s capacity to add information. Tapping reserves is drawing information from a deeper consciousness to supplement new information. In this way, new information, like new vocabulary or a new phrase, is not an isolated piece of information. It is related to prior experience and receives assistance in being internalized; it becomes an integrated part of the student’s linguistic ability. By matching the meanings of new language units to a vast storehouse of conscious and unconscious associations, the ability to learn, seemingly, increases.
Every person has this extensive, valuable storehouse of information and experience that can contribute to their ability to learn. The Accelerated-Learning teacher encourages students to use their reserves and discover the method of learning that works best for them. Instead of placing the emphasis on teaching students how to learn, Accelerated-Learning teachers help remove the barriers to learning. Lozanov noted that there are three major barriers: logical-critical, affective-emotional, and ethical. Logical-critical responses might be: “It’s impossible,” “I can’t do it,” “Others can but I can’t,” and “I’m not smart enough.” Affective-emotional responses are like: “It doesn’t feel right,” “I can’t explain, but…,” and ” I don’t really want to try.” Students with ethical barriers might respond: “It doesn’t seem right,” “Isn’t it a little dishonest,” and “Are you sure it’s fair?” Once the teacher has freed the student of these inhibiting barriers through de-suggestion, they can concentrate on giving positive, liberating suggestion. (A more detailed explanation of de-suggestion will follow.)

People have a natural ability to learn and excel at learning in a way that suits them best. One of the most rewarding accomplishments for an Accelerated-Learning teacher, is helping students to discover their own style of learning and giving them confidence in their style even though it may differ from their classmates or from prior learning situations. If the barriers to learning are not removed, however, students will continue to use only a fraction of their capacity to learn.

Elements for Creating Positive Emotions

 

Joy
Learning is quicker, easier, and less stressful in an environment filled with pleasant, positive emotions. The ability to learn diminishes if a student feels stress related to fear of making an error or failure. There are students who learn out of fear, or even from the thrill of competition, but these students are able to learn faster in a stress-free environment. The Suggestopedic classroom reduces competition and emphasizes cooperation. Students do not become disillusioned with difficult tasks, and confidence is constantly reinforced by the teacher and awareness of their own progress. Once this comfortable environment is created, even apathetic students who would rather be anywhere but in the classroom, tend to find themselves participating and enjoying themselves.

The Suggestopedic Classroom
The classroom is designed with a specific purpose in mind — to allow students and teacher alike to interact on a level that is comfortable and relaxing. The pious, lofty teacher does not exist in the suggestopedic setting. Everyone in the classroom sits at the same level, and nothing should ever come between the students and the teacher, not even as much as a small table. Putting a desk between the teacher and students creates a negative physical barrier. Instead of desks, work is done on clipboards. Lozanov uses large, comfortable easy chairs, but too much comfort can cause drowsiness. Thus, the suggestopedic room has chairs that allow comfort without putting the students to sleep. The walls are covered with posters of travel scenes directly related to the text. Large pictures from photo dictionaries also reinforce the text and subsequent elaborations — suggestopedia’s multi-level integrity. Along the wall next to the window there are plants that help make the room more pleasant. Students often seem much more relaxed in the suggestopedic rooms than in traditionally-styled classrooms. Without question, the rooms are more like home.

Authority
People seem to learn better when they believe information is coming from an authoritative source. For this situation to exist, students and teachers need to believe completely in their program. A teacher bearing an air of confidence in speech, gesture, dress, and manner, instills a similar confidence in the students.
Lozanov also thought that there should be some kind of ritual or ceremony at the beginning of each class that helps raise the students’ confidence in the teacher and the program. The Accelerated-Learning course uses Autogenics (relaxation exercises) before each class. While instilling confidence in the authority of the teacher, Autogenics give students an opportunity to relax before moving on to the day’s lesson. They sit quietly and concentrate, escaping from everyday pressures and focusing on learning. Students are asked to sit with good posture, increasing attentiveness, and with their eyes closed, they listen to the teacher repeat lines that focus on relaxation.
Accelerated-Learning teachers are personal, imperfect, and overly human. From the first day they make mistakes, often purposefully, and laugh them off as nothing serious. Using their sense of humor, teachers show that everyone, even the teachers themselves, makes mistakes and students quickly realize that they do not need to be afraid of their own imperfections. In fact, they see quickly that people learn by showing imperfections and making mistakes. In the course, therefore, emphasis is much less on absolute authority and more on the teacher as an amiable facilitator.

Double-planeness
The ability to learn simultaneously from two distinct levels of stimuli, the conscious and paraconscious. This means that information is being processed not only at the immediate, conscious level, but also at the periphery in the minds of students. The classroom layout, decoration, teacher’s manner, music, etc., all contribute. Lozanov thought that these should be in harmony, that students should not receive conflicting information from the two. A poster of a violent bull-fight would not be harmonious in a classroom with numerous plants attempting to achieve a peaceful, relaxing atmosphere.
Double-planeness exists in the Suggestopedic classroom in its multi-level integrity. Conscious and paraconscious input reinforce language information in a manner that is consistent and not conflicting. Posters in the classroom are related to the text. Students are not mocked for making mistakes. Teachers radiate positive emotions and encourage students to do the same. Students find comfort knowing what to expect and what is expected of them. In short, any language input, and the resulting expectations placed upon students, receives reinforcement at the conscious and paraconscious levels.

Infantilization
Here is another term that can be misleading. It does not mean acting like a child in the derogatory sense. Accelerated Learning does not attempt to create childish students. Infantilization is a state where students become as susceptible to learning as children. Children take in information effortlessly and naturally. They learn with their whole beings. Their world is filled with wonder and fabulous, deep emotions. They learn the names of food and kitchen items as they eat, verbs of action as they play, and so on. Given the right environment, even older adults can regain some of that infant-like openness.
The Accelerated Learning course tries to instill a childlike openness. The excitement that students develop is not only a desire to learn a new language, but a desire to interact with the teacher and classmates in an environment without criticism or reprimand. The idea that learning is difficult, which most students have, is removed replaced by the feeling that learning is enjoyable.

Rhythm and Music
There is no question that music and rhythm affect us emotionally, physically, and mentally. The pounding of a hammer early in the morning generally causes annoyance, while a sonata by Mozart generally instills well-being. Accelerated Learning teachers carefully select music that tend to open certain areas of the mind. Baroque music, especially that by Bach, Vivaldi, and Corelli, seems to work the best. The constant, flowing rhythm of Baroque music stimulates the students. Also, Baroque music helps the teacher to read more smoothly as the music seems to pause at the same time the teacher does. In fact, the music seems to be written especially for the Accelerated Learning texts!
Popular, modern music is also used for elaborations of the text. Students listen to and then sing the songs and do cloze exercises. Then questions about the meanings of words and phrases, or about the song itself, are asked.

Desuggestion
Suggestion is putting into the learner’s memory information which in most useful. Desuggestion is removing those experiences and memories that block learning. A person who is taught to read by looking carefully at each word has a difficult time believing it is possible to read a thousand words per minute. This ingrained belief must be negated before that person can become a quick reader. In the Accelerated Learning course, teachers are not only aware of the suggestions they make, but desuggestions as well. A teacher would never show shock if a student who normally does poorly on an exercise, suddenly does well. The student would be praised and encouraged to continue such fine efforts. Students coming from a conservative, traditional teaching method find the seeming free-wheeling style of the Accelerated Learning course shocking. Adjustment, however, is quick and students soon gain confidence in their teacher, fellow classmates, and themselves. Barrier-breaking, therefore, is as important as the suggestion itself.

Fictitious Identities
Accelerated Learning students receive carefully selected names and identities allowing them to be immersed in the new language and its culture. The classroom becomes a movie set; the teacher is the director, the students are players. This relieves the student of any embarrassment as they are not making the mistakes; their character is. Cultural aspects of the language are learned if students’ new identities are from a wide variety of countries and backgrounds. The variety of conversational possibilities is increased as many of the students chose a character of the opposite sex, different age, occupation, and so on.
New identities and true identities are kept clearly separate to avoid confusion. In the classrooms, students answer questions and behave as if they really are their characters.

The Text
Students begin the learning process by receiving some text of the target language accompanied by a translation in their native language.
The texts use places and images that will be familiar to the students. These are places of prominence, for example London, San Francisco, or Australia.
Field trips to museums, parks, and the like that are part of the students’ environment that relate to the text, immensely increase understanding of the text as a whole and specific vocabulary as well.

The Concerts
The concert has two stages. First, the text is read by the teacher while carefully selected classical music is played (the active concert). The words of the teacher become part of the concert. Students listen as if at an actual concert and do not feel as if the text is forced upon them. There is ample time for students to glance back and forth between English and the native language. For the second concert (passive concert), all text is put away, and students listen to the teacher read the text again in a natural yet well enunciated voice. Emphasis for the students is on relaxation and visualization. As the students already know the story well, they are able to imagine the situation. As they recognize English words, pictures form in their minds, making the chapter come alive. For many students, photographic memory will be activated. Complete retention is obviously not perfect, but students have often been amazed when words or phrases will suddenly pop into their minds weeks or even months later. At the end of the concert, students leave quietly without talking to the teacher allowing the text to echo in their minds.

Though overwhelming to those new to Accelerated Learning, students adapt to the method. The barriers placed by years of traditional schooling are gradually diminished. The regimented, restricted, and product-oriented methods used on student for fourteen or fifteen years, result in a student who often has a tremendous fear of failure, and is hyper-sensitive to how others perceive their intelligence and, ultimately, their English ability.

Adapted from the article Suggestive-Accelerative Learning at Trident
School of Languages, 1992, originally drafted by Duane Kindt & Christel Yoshizumi.


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