Cosmo Touche-Arends

My teaching approach


Callan vs. Silent Way: A Right Way of Teaching?


            Is there a right way to teach a language? For example how would you teach the sentence “Can I sit here?” Would you use flash cards or demonstration? Would you drill it or break down and explain it? There are many methods of teaching a language and they all argue that they are the best, the most efficient, the easiest method. The question is, who is right?

The Callan Method was invented by Robin Callan after teaching in a Berlitz school in Italy. He greatly improved the direct teaching method and introduced many of his own ideas and innovations. The fundamentals of the Callan method are a) the student acquires ‘auto responses to given situations, and b) they are rapidly and progressively introduced to basic English vocabulary and grammar. The rate at which new language is introduced is one of the trademarks the Callan Method prides it self on and is one of the main points of training teachers must perfect to be able to teach the method properly. The three basic techniques they must learn and perfect are 1) speaking 240 words a minute, 2) prompt and pull answers from students at a constant and consistent rate and 3) correct, correct, correct at every single mistake as soon as it is made. The rapid introduction to new vocabulary, grammar and phrases is a sure fire way for students to learn quickly, the only problem being is that it is out of context. Students do not get the opportunity to use the material taught in a conversational manner with the teacher. It teaches the basics, gets the students speaking the lingo and getting used to the sounds but conversing is another matter all together. Another downside to the Callan method is that it isn’t adaptable and teachers are limited in what they can do, they learn how to teach it and that’s it, they peak very early on.

The Silent Way Method was started by the late Caleb Gattegno who based the method on three factors: learning is facilitated by discovery rather than remember and/or repeat, learning is aided by physical objects and problem-solving is the central to learning. The Silent Way is based on the notion that the teacher should be as silent as possible in the classroom in order to encourage the learner to produce as much language as possible. Language is taught through sentences in a structured sequence based on grammatical complexity, known as the “building-block” approach. The teacher introduces the structural patterns of the target language and the “rules” of the language are learnt through practice and trial and error. The use of physical objects and mime are used in abundance, coloured blocks of different sizes being the most used. The teacher introduces a new topic modelling it very clearly just once, the students are then left to use the newly introduced language and to incorporate it into their existing store of language. The minimal use of “Teacher Talk Time” has led critics to describe Silent Way teachers as “detached”, “unfriendly” and “casual”. The lack of communication between teacher and learners has been criticised, some saying that it is too difficult to take the method past the very basics of a language and that only the most highly motivated students are able to create real communication from the structures generated using the coloured blocks and miming.

I agree with the Callan method in a number of ways. First being the use of repetition, which essentially engrains the information in the students mind and the speed at which it is done means the student doesn’t have time to think about it and becomes nervous about messing it up. The speed means they are forced to respond with what they think immediately, and if it is correct they are rewarded with a feeling of satisfaction, where as if they are wrong the correction comes so quickly and is moved on from so quickly that they do not have time to dwell on the fact they were wrong. The second thing I agree with in the Callan method is the way that basics are all introduced in a block of information. Having studied a number of different languages, I’ve realised that if I’d know all the basics rather than basics bit by bit, I would have been much more comfortable practicing outside of class because I would have had a better understanding of the language and therefore would have been able to try to work things out. I also disagree with a number of characteristics of the Callan method. The number one factor being the lack of contextual conversation, students do not experience semi-controlled conversation where they have to choose from a number of appropriate responses. They are expected to practice outside of the classroom, and from my experience as a teacher, this does not happen as often as we would like. Students from the same country seem to be magnetically drawn to each other and therefore speak their mother tongue rather than practicing English. Secondly I disagree with the amount that teachers are able to improve their own teaching skills. The Callan method follows very strict guidelines and so as I said earlier, a teacher peaks very early on, with no room for improvement or experimentation. Thirdly, I don’t agree with the fact the students don’t get the chance to work things out for themselves, if they take too long to think about an answer it is given to them and then drilled. This is a good method for someone who needs basic English quickly and for a cheap cost.

Like the Callan method, there are a number of things about the Silent Way method that I agree with, but also a number of things I don’t agree with. To start, I agree with the fact that the students need to think and work things out for themselves. There is a famous Benjamin Franklin quote that I like to think of as my teaching motto which says; “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” This is exactly what the Silent Way does, it makes the students think for themselves, explore, discover and experiment and therefore learn from their own mistakes rather than just be corrected by the teacher. Another thing I like about this method is that, apart from the lack of speaking, the teacher has space to adapt the class to his/hers own style of teaching, which as I said before is very important to me. The lack of speaking however is a problem for me, like the Callan method, there is very little if any conversational speaking between the teacher and students that I think is important. However, there is a lot of speaking between students that is always a plus. The other thing I dislike about the Silent Way is that it is very limited in that you can’t take it much farther than a basic level. There is only so much you can teach through coloured blocks and mime, but as a basic level method you could find worse.

Not surprisingly the things the Callan method doesn’t have are the things the Silent Way method does have, and vice versa. In the Callan method we have an abundance of TTT (teacher talk time) and on the other hand we have the Silent Way with its apparent lack of TTT. In both cases there is very little teacher/student conversation and also not much explanation in the structures of the language items being taught, yet both are used in very successful businesses and are popular teaching methods in language schools around the world. So which one is the right way? In my opinion these are the two extremes of existing teaching methods and so logically the right way of teaching would be to combine the two. However this is not the case, as there is no such thing as “the right teaching method”. It is all down to specifics, for example what do the students need the English for? How long do they have to learn what they need to learn? What level of English do they require? Is it only one student or is it a large class? What is their budget? All of these questions come in to play when choosing the method that’s right for you. The problem with having a method as set as the Callan method or the Silent Way method is that it’s not as adaptable as one that, yes follows a certain style of teaching, but can be slowed down for slower learners, sped up for faster learners and most importantly can be molded by the teachers own style of teaching. In my opinion this is very important because I strongly believe that if a teacher can teach the material in their own way they will teach it better, they will understand it better and therefore the student will have a better learning experience. If the student has a better learning experience, they will learn faster.





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