I am sorry. I couldn’t keep silent.
I would like to share with you, dear friends and neighbors, something that is a bit of a “blast from the past” for me. It is “The Silent Way”…. an innovative and incredibly quiet way to learn language.
No. Not really. It is a goofy hippy fantasy of how people learn language, which utilizes learning tools like colored blocks (also called “Cuisenaire rods”) which have been often used to teach mathematics, specifically fractions.
Ok, so the “Silent Way” is a method of supposedly teaching English by being silent. It is through being silent with the student that they will become self-actualized learners of language, and will be self-sufficient as well. There is some emphasis on pronunciation through color-coded wall charts, but the whole premise, as well as the grueling process to get students to work through the method of how the teacher wants them to interact with him is simply spectacularly stupid. I have seen the Silent Way “in action”, and it was deeply disturbing to see students being psychologically punished by a teacher refusing to interact normally with him. I saw a teacher take 20 minutes to get the student to say their name, and to answer the question, “How are you?”
In englishbiz, we usually wrap up that part of our lesson in 10 seconds. I say, “Hi. My name is Mark. How are you?” The student usually says, “I’m good. My name is Takeshi. Nice to meet you.”
Then we just get on with our lesson.
Like you, I enjoy a healthy fun game of charades, or Pictionary. That can be good fun, but a language lesson needs to do more than to just engage a paper-writing impulse of a pseudo-intellectual who is more keen on seeing how far he can push and manipulate an entirely artificial teaching environment, rather than serve the needs of the students who are sitting right in front of him.
The “professor” for such theoretical type lessons is usually the type of person who has all the time in the world to goof around with these weird and ungainly theoretical constructs. The Silent Way is the phrenology of language learning. Faddish. Silly. And in the end, it is the student who suffers.
The Silent Way is like a skiing lesson in a lake, swimming lessons in the desert, piano lessons while snorkeling, cooking lessons while shoveling out a horse’s stable. Each thing has its place and time, and opportunity to learn, but it does not maximize the opportunity to learn specific things.
If you want to learn to sing, you sing. If you want to learn how to paint, pick up some colors. If you want to draw, get a pencil. If you want to speak English, you better…. well, you know… SPEAK.
If you want to have a nap, try the Silent Way.
Our schools do not, and will never, engage in these kinds of useless activities to teach our students. We are completely committed to serving what the STUDENT needs in their education. They do not need to be discouraged (The Silent Way also discourages the act of encouraging students….unbelievable, yet true). We will teach speaking and listening (while speaking). We will teach reading and writing (also with some speaking and reading out loud). We believe that an active role by the student is critical in their own education, not just trying to puzzle out the silent hieroglyphics of what their mime-like ESL teacher is trying to convey through Twister-like gesticulations. That is just weird.
Thanks for letting me have a little space here to get this off my chest. The Silent Way might be a cool and groovy thing for people to discuss and explore at the illuminating conferences of ESL big-brains at the various conferences around the world, but for us, we need a practical, workable, transferable, and provenly effective way to get kids further down the path of bilingualism.
The Silent Way just does not cut it.
For those of you who may be Silent Way zealots and feel a need to respond to this blog, feel free to utilize your Cuisenaire blocks and diagram out exactly how you feel about that. Otherwise, I will just have to accept your silence as consent to the objections we have about your goofy theories.