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The Natural Approach


In 1977, Tracy Terrell, a teacher of Spanish in California, outlined "a proposal for a 'new' philosophy of language teaching which [he] called the Natural Approach" (Terrell 1977; 1982: 121). This was an attempt to develop a language teaching proposal that incorporated the "natur­alistic" principles researchers had identified in studies of second language acquisition. The Natural Approach grew out of Terrell's experiences teaching Spanish classes. Since that time Terrell and others have exper­imented with implementing the Natural Approach in elementary- to advanced-level classes and with several other languages. At the same time he has joined forces with Stephen Krashen, an applied linguist at the University of Southern California, in elaborating a theoretical ra­tionale for the Natural Approach, drawing on Krashen's influential the­ory of second language acquisition. Krashen and Terrell's combined statement of the principles and practices of the Natural Approach ap­peared in their book, The Natural Approach, published in 1983. The Natural Approach has attracted a wider interest than some of the other innovative language teaching proposals discussed in this book, largely because of its support by Krashen. Krashen and Terrell's book contains theoretical sections prepared by Krashen that outline his views on second language acquisition (Krashen 1981; 1982), and sections on implemen­tation and classroom procedures, prepared largely by Terrell.

Krashen and Terrell have identified the Natural Approach with what they call "traditional" approaches to language teaching. Traditional ap­proaches are defined as "based on the use of language in communicative situations without recourse to the native language" - and, perhaps, needless to say, without reference to grammatical analysis, grammatical drilling, or to a particular theory of grammar. Krashen and Terrell note that such "approaches have been called natural, psychological, phonetic, new, reform, direct, analytic, imitative and so forth" (Krashen and Ter­rell 1983: 9). The fact that the authors of the Natural Approach relate their approach to the Natural Method (see Chapter 1) has led some to assume that Natural Approach and Natural Method are synonymous terms. Although the tradition is a common one, there are important.

differences between the Natural Approach and the older Natural Method, which it will be useful to consider at the outset.

The Natural Method is another term for what by the turn of the century had become known as the Direct Method (see Chapter 1). It is described in a report on the state of the art in language teaching com­missioned by the Modern Language Association in 1901 (the report of the "Committee of 12"):

In its extreme form the method consisted of a series of monologues by the teacher interspersed with exchanges of question and answer between the in­structor and the pupil - all in the foreign language... A great deal of pan­tomime accompanied the talk. With the aid of this gesticulation, by attentive listening and by dint of much repetition the learner came to associate certain acts and objects with certain combinations of the sounds and finally reached the point of reproducing the foreign words or phrases ... Not until a consid­erable familiarity with the spoken word was attained was the scholar allowed to see the foreign language in print. The study of grammar was reserved for a still later period. (Cole 1931: 58)

The term natural, used in reference to the Direct Method, merely em­phasized that the principles underlying the method were believed to conform to the principles of naturalistic language learning in young children. Similarly, the Natural Approach, as defined by Krashen and Terrell, is believed to conform to the naturalistic principles found in successful second language acquisition. Unlike the Direct Method, how­ever, it places less emphasis on teacher monologues, direct repetition, and formal questions and answers, and less focus on accurate production of target language sentences. In the Natural Approach there is an em­phasis on exposure, or input, rather than practice; optimizing emotional preparedness for learning; a prolonged period of attention to what the language learners hear before they try to produce language; and a will­ingness to use written and other materials as a source of comprehensible input. The emphasis on the central role of comprehension in the Natural Approach links it to other comprehension-based approaches in language teaching (see Chapter 6).


Theory of language

Krashen and Terrell see communication as the primary function of lan­guage, and since their approach focuses on teaching communicative abilities, they refer to the Natural Approach as an example of a com­municative approach. The Natural Approach "is similar to other communicative approaches being developed today" (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 17). They reject earlier methods of language teaching, such as the Audiolingual Method, which viewed grammar as the central component of language. According to Krashen and Terrell, the major problem with these methods was that they were built not around "actual theories of language acquisition, but theories of something else; for example, the structure of language" (1983: 1). Unlike proponents of Communicative Language Teaching (Chapter 5), however, Krashen and Terrell give little attention to a theory of language. Indeed, a recent critic of Krashen suggests he has no theory of language at all (Gregg 1984). What Krashen and Terrell do describe about the nature of language emphasizes the primacy of meaning. The importance of the vocabulary is stressed, for example, suggesting the view that a language is essentially its lexicon and only inconsequently the grammar that determines how the lexicon is exploited to produce messages. Terrell quotes Dwight Bolinger to support this view:

The quantity of information in the lexicon far outweighs that in any other part of the language, and if there is anything to the notion of redundancy it should be easier to reconstruct a message containing just words than one containing just the syntactic relations. The significant fact is the subordinate role of grammar. The most important thing is to get the words in. (Bolinger, in Terrell 1977: 333).

Language is viewed as a vehicle for communicating meanings and mes­sages. Hence Krashen and Terrell state that "acquisition can take place only when people understand messages in the target language (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 19). Yet despite their avowed communicative ap­proach to language, they view language learning, as do audiolingualists, as mastery of structures by stages. "The input hypothesis states that in order for acquirers to progress to the next stage in the acquisition of the target language, they need to understand input language that includes a structure that is part of the next stage" (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 32). Krashen refers to this with the formula "I -f 1" (i.e., input that contains structures slightly above the learner's present level). We assume that Krashen means by structures something at least in the tradition of what such linguists as Leonard Bloomfield and Charles Fries meant by structures. The Natural Approach thus assumes a linguistic hierarchy of structural complexity that one masters through encounters with "input" containing structures at the "1 + 1" level.

We are left then with a view of language that consists of lexical items, structures, and messages. Obviously, there is no particular novelty in this view as such, except that messages are considered of primary im­portance in the Natural Approach. The lexicon for both perception and production is considered critical in the construction and interpretation of messages. Lexical items in messages are necessarily grammatically structured, and more complex messages involve more complex gram­matical structure. Although they acknowledge such grammatical struc­turing, Krashen and Terrell feel that grammatical structure does not require explicit analysis or attention by the language teacher, by the language learner, or in language teaching materials.

Theory of learning

Krashen and Terrell make continuing reference to the theoretical and research base claimed to underlie the Natural Approach and to the fact that the method is unique in having such a base, 'it is based on an empirically grounded theory of second language acquisition, which has been supported by a large number of scientific studies in a wide variety of language acquisition and learning contexts" (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 1). The theory and research are grounded on Krashen'sviews of language acquisition, which we will collectively refer to as Krashen's language acquisition theory. Krashen's views have been presented and discussed extensively elsewhere (e.g., Krashen 1982), so we will not try to present or critique Krashen's arguments here. (For a detailed critical review, see Gregg 1984 and McLaughlin 1978). It is necessary, however, to present in outline form the principal tenets of the theory, since it is on these that the design and procedures in the Natural Approach are based.

the acquisition/learning hypothesis

The Acquisition/Learning Hypothesis claims that there are twTo distinc­tive ways of developing competence in a second or foreign language. Acquisition is the "natural" way, paralleling first language development in children. Acquisition refers to an unconscious process that involves the naturalistic development of language proficiency through under­standing language and through using language for meaningful com­munication. Learning, by contrast, refers to a process in which conscious rules about alanguage are developed. It results in explicit knowledge about the forms of a language and the ability to verbalize this knowledge. Formal teaching is necessary for "learning" to occur, and correction of errors helps with the development of learned rules. Learning, according to the theory, cannot lead to acquisition.


The acquired linguistic system is said to initiate utterances whenwe communicate in a second or foreign language. Conscious learning can function only as a monitor or editor that checks and repairs the output of the acquired system. The Monitor Hypothesis claims that we may call upon learned knowledge to correct ourselves when we communicate, but that conscious learning (i.e., the learned system) has only this func­tion. Three conditions limit the successful use of the monitor:

1. Time. There must be sufficient time for a learner to choose and apply a
learned rule.

2. Focus on form. The language user must be focused on correctness or on
the form of the output.

3. Knowledge of rules. The performer must know the rules. The monitor
does best with rules that are simple in two ways. They must be simple to
describe and they must not require complex movements and


According to the Natural Order Hypothesis, the acquisition of gram­matical structures proceeds in a predictable order. Research is said to have shown that certain grammatical structures or morphemes are ac­quired before others in first language acquisition of English, and a similar natural order is found in second language acquisition. Errors are signs of naturalistic developmental processes, and during acquisition (but not during learning), similar developmental errors occur in learners no mat­ter what their mother tongue is.


The Input Hypothesis claims to explain the relationship between what the learner is exposed to of a language (the input) and language acqui­sition. It involves four main issues.

First, the hypothesis relates to acquisition, and not to learning.

Second, people acquire language best by understanding input that is slightly beyond their current level of competence:

An acquirer can "move" from a stage I (where I is the acquirer's level of competence) to a stage 1+1 (where I + 1 is the stage immediately following I along some natural order) by understanding language containing I + 1. (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 32)

Clues based on the situation and the context, extralinguistic information, and knowledge of the world make comprehension possible.

Third, the ability to speak fluently cannot be taught directly; rather, it "emerges" independently in time, after the acquirer has built up lin­guistic competence by understanding input.

Fourth, if there is a sufficient quantity of comprehensible input, I + 1 will usually be provided automatically. Comprehensible input refers to utterances that the learner understands based on the context in whichthey are used as well as the language in which they are phrased. When a speaker uses language so that the acquirer understands the message, the speaker "casts a net" of structure around the acquirer's current level of competence, and this will include many instances of I + 1. Thus, input need not be finely tuned to a learner's current level of linguistic competence, and in fact cannot be so finely tuned in a language class, where learners will be at many different levels of competence.

Just as child acquirers of a first language are provided with samples of "caretaker speech," rough-tuned to their present level of understand­ing, so adult acquirers of a second language are provided with simple codes that facilitate second language comprehension. One such code is "foreigner talk," which refers to the sp'eech native speakers use to sim­plify communication with foreigners. Foreigner talk is characterized by a slower rate of speech, repetition, restating, use of Yes/No instead of Wh- questions, and other changes that make messages more compre­hensible to persons of limited language proficiency.


Krashen sees the learner's emotional state or attitudes as an adjustable filter that freely passes, impedes, or blocks input necessary to acquisition. A low affective filter is desirable, since it impedes or blocks less of this necessary input. The hypothesis is built on research in second language acquisition, which has identified three kinds of affective or attitudinal variables related to second language acquisition.

1. Motivation. Learners with high motivation generally do better.

2. Self-confidence. Learners with self-confidence and a good self-image tend
to be more successful.

3. Anxiety. Low personal anxiety and low classroom anxiety are more con­
ducive to second language acquisition.

The Affective Filter Hypothesis states that acquirers with a low affective filter seek and receive more input, interact with confidence, and are more receptive to the input they receive. Anxious acquirers have a high af­fective filter, which prevents acquisition from taking place. It is believed that the affective filter (e.g., fear or embarrassment) rises in early ado­lescence, and this may account for children's apparent superiority to older acquirers of a second language.

These five hypotheses have obvious implications for language teaching. In sum, these are:

1. As much comprehensible input as possible must be presented.

2. Whatever helps comprehension is important. Visual aids are useful, as is
exposure to a wide range of vocabulary rather than study of syntactic
structure. The focus in the classroom should be on listening and reading; speaking
should be allowed to "emerge."

3. In order to lower the affective filter, student work should center on àè
ingfui communication rather than on form; input should be interesting
and so contribute to a relaxed classroom atmosphere.



The Natural Approach "is for beginners and is designed to help to become intermediates." It has the expectation that students will be able to function adequately in the target situation. They will under­stand the speaker of the target language (perhaps with requests for clarification), and will be able to convey (in a non-insulting manner) their requests and ideas. They need not know every word in a particular semantic domain, nor is it necessary that the syntax and vocabulary be flawless-but their production does need to be understood. They should be able to make the meaning clear but not necessarily be accurate in all details of grammar. (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 71)

However, since the Natural Approach is offered as a general set of principles applicable to a wide variety of situations, as in Communicative Language Teaching, specific objectives depend upon learner needs and the skill (reading, writing, listening, or speaking) and level being taught Krashen and Terrell feel it is important to communicate to learners what they can expect of a course as well as what they should not expect. They offer as an example a possible goal and nongoal statement for a beginning Natural Approach Spanish class.

After 100-150 hours of Natural Approach Spanish, you will be able to: "get around" in Spanish; you will be able to communicate with a monolingual native speaker of .Spanish without difficulty; read most ordinary texts m Spanish with some use of a dictionary; know enough Spanish to continue to improve on your own.

After 100—150 hours of Natural Approach Spanish you will not he able ò pass for a native speaker, use Spanish as easily as you use English, under stand native speakers when they talk to each other (you will probably not be able to eavesdrop successfully); use Spanish on the telephone with great p fort; participate easily in a conversation with several other native speakers on unfamiliar topics. (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 74).

The syllabus

Krashen and Terrell (1983) approach course organization from twopoints of view. First, they list some typical goals forlanguage courses d suggest which of these goals are the ones at which the Natural approach aims. They list such goals under four areas:

1. Basic personal communication skills: oral (e.g., listening to announcements in public places)

2. Basic personal communication skills: written (e.g., reading and writing personal letters)

3. Academic learning skills: oral (e.g., listening to a lecture)

4. Academic learning skills: written (e.g., taking notes in class)

Of these, they note that the Natural Approach is primarily "designed develop basic communication skills - both oral and written (1983: . They then observe that communication goals "may be expressed in terms of situations, functions and topics" and proceed to order four pages of topics and situations "which are likely to be most useful to beginning students" (1983: 67). The functions are not specified or suggested but are felt to derive naturally from the topics and situations. This approach to syllabus design would appear to derive to some extent from threshold level specifications (see Chapter 5). 1 he second point of view holds that "the purpose of a language course will vary according to the needs of the students and their particular interests" (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 65),

The goals of a Natural Approach class are based on an assessment of student needs. We determine the situations in which they will use the target language and the sorts of topics they will have to communicate information about. In setting communication goals, we do not expect the students at the end of a particular course to have acquired a certain group of structures or forms. Instead we expect them to deal with a particular set of topics in a given situation. We do not organize the activities of the class about a grammatical syllabus. (Krashen and Terrell 1983:71)

From this point of view it is difficult to specify communicative goals it necessarily fit the needs of all students. Thus any list of topics and situations must be understood as syllabus suggestions rather than as specifications.

As well as fitting the needs and interests of students, content selection should aim to create a low affective filter by being interesting and fos­tering a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, should provide a wide exposure to vocabulary that may be useful to basic personal communication, and should resist any focus on grammatical structures, since if input is pro­ved "over a wider variety of topics while pursuing communicative goals, the necessary grammatical structures are automatically provided in the input" (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 71)

Types of learning and teaching activities

From the beginning of a class taught according to the Natural Approach, emphasis is on presenting comprehensible input in the target language. Teacher talk focuses on objects in the classroom and on the content of pictures, as with the Direct Method. To minimize stress, learners are not required to say anything until they feel ready, but they are expected to respond to teacher commands and questions in other ways.

When learners are ready to begin talking in the new language, the teacher provides comprehensible language and simple response oppor­tunities. The teacher talks slowly and distinctly, asking questions and eliciting one-word answers. There is a gradual progression from Yes/ No questions, through either-or questions, to questions that students can answer using words they have heard used by the teacher. Students are not expected to use a word actively until they have heard it many times. Charts, pictures, advertisements, and other realia serve as the focal point for questions, and when the students' competence permits, talk moves to class members. "Acquisition activities^ - those that focus on meaningful communication rather than language form — are empha­sized. Pair or group work may be employed, followed by whole-class discussion led by the teacher.

Techniques recommended by Krashen and Terrell are often borrowed from other methods and adapted to meet the requirements of Natural Approach theory. These include command-based activities from Total Physical Response; Direct Method activities in which mime, gesture, and context are used to elicit questions and answers; and even situation-based practice of structures and patterns. Group-work activities are often identical to those used in Communicative Language Teaching, where sharing information in order to complete a task is emphasized. There is nothing novel about the procedures and techniques advocated for use with the Natural Approach. A casual observer might not be aware of the philosophy underlying the classroom techniques he or she observes. What characterizes the Natural Approach is the use of familiar tech­niques within the framework of a method that focuses on providing comprehensible input and a classroom environment that cues compre­hension of input, minimizes learner anxiety, and maximizes learner self-confidence.

Learner roles

There is a basic assumption in the Natural Approach that learners should not try to learn a language in the usual sense. The extent to which they can lose themselves in activities involving meaningful communication will determine the amount and kind of acquisition they will experience and the fluency they will ultimately demonstrate. The language acquirer is seen as a processor of comprehensible input. The acquirer is challenged by input that is slightly beyond his or her current level of competence and is able to assign meaning to this input through active use of context and extralinguistic information.

Learners' roles are seen to change according to their stage of linguistic development. Central to these changing roles are learner decisions on when to speak, what to speak about, and what linguistic expressions to use in speaking.

In the pre-production stage students "participate in the language ac­tivity without having to respond in the target language" (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 76). For example, students can act out physical commands, identify student colleagues from teacher description, point to pictures, and so forth.

In the early-production stage, students respond to either-or questions, use single words and short phrases, fill in charts, and use fixed conver­sational patterns (e.g., How are you? What's your name?).

In the speech-emergent phase, students involve themselves in role play and games, contribute personal information and opinions, and partici­pate in group problem solving.

Learners have four kinds of responsibilities in the Natural Approach classroom:

1. Provide information about their specific goals so that acquisition activities
can focus on the topics and situations most relevant to their needs.

2. Take an active role in ensuring comprehensible input. They should learn
and use conversational management techniques to regulate input.

3. Decide when to start producing speech and when to upgrade it.

4. Where learning exercises (i.e., grammar study) are to be a part of the pro­
gram, decide with the teacher the relative amount of time to be devoted to
them and perhaps even complete and correct them independently.

Learners are expected to participate in communication activities with other learners. Although communication activities are seen to provide naturalistic practice and to create a sense of camaraderie, which lowers the affective filter, they may fail to provide learners with well-formed and comprehensible input at the I + 1 level. Krashen and Terrell warn of these shortcomings but do not suggest means for their amelioration. Teacher roles

The Natural Approach teacher has three central roles. First, the teacher is the primary source of comprehensible input in the target language. "Class time is devoted primarily to providing input for acquisition," and the teacher is the primary generator of that input. In this role the teacher is required to generate a constant flow of language input while providing a multiplicity of nonlinguistic clues to assist students in in­terpreting the input. The Natural Approach demands a much more center-stage role for the teacher than do many contemporary commu­nicative methods.

Second, the Natural Approach teacher creates a classroom atmosphere that is interesting, friendly, and in which there is a low affective filter for learning. This is achieved in part through such Natural Approach techniques as not demanding speech from the students before they are ready for it, not correcting student errors, and providing subject matter of high interest to students.

Finally, the teacher must choose and orchestrate a rich mix of class­room activities, involving a variety of group sizes, content, and contexts. The teacher is seen as responsible for collecting materials and designing their use. These materials, according to Krashen and Terrell, are based not just on teacher perceptions but on elicited student needs and interests.

As with other nonorthodox teaching systems, the Natural Approach teacher has a particular responsibility to communicate clearly and compellingly to students the assumptions, organization, and expectations of the method, since in many cases these will violate student views of what language learning and teaching are supposed to be.

The role of instructional materials

The primary goal of materials in the Natural Approach is to make classroom activities as meaningful as possible by supplying "the extra-linguistic context that helps the acquirer to understand and thereby to acquire" (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 55), by relating classroom activities to the real world, and by fostering real communication among the learn­ers. Materials come from the world of realia rather than from textbooks. The primary aim of materials is to promote comprehension and com­munication. Pictures and other visual aids are essential, because they supply the content for communication. They facilitate the acquisition of a large vocabulary within the classroom. Other recommended materials include schedules, brochures, advertisements, maps, and books at levels appropriate to the students, if a reading component is included in the course. Games, in general, are seen as useful classroom materials, since "games by their very nature, focus the student on what it is they are doing and use the language as a tool for reaching the goal rather than as a goal in itself" (Terrell 1982: 121). The selection, reproduction, and collection of materials places a considerable burden on the Natural Approach teacher. Since Krashen and Terrell suggest a syllabus of topics and situations, it is likely that at some point collections of materials to supplement teacher presentations will be published, built around the "syllabus" of topics and situations recommended by the Natural Approach.


We have seen that the Natural Approach adopts techniques and activities freely from various method sources and can be regarded as innovative only with respect to the purposes for which they are recommended and the ways they are used. Krashen and Terrell (1983) provide suggestions for the use of a wide range of activities, all of which are familiar com­ponents of Situational Language Teaching, Communicative Language Teaching, and other methods discussed in this book. To illustrate pro­cedural aspects of the Natural Approach, we will cite examples of how such activities are to be used in the Natural Approach classroom to provide comprehensible input, without requiring production of re­sponses or minimal responses in the target language.

1. Start with TPR [Total Physical Response] commands. At first the com­mands are quite simple: "Stand up. Turn around. Raise your right hand."

2. Use TPR to teach names of body parts and to introduce numbers and sequence. "Lay your right hand on your head, put both hands on your shoulder, first touch your nose, then stand up and turn to the right three times" and so forth.

3. Introduce classroom terms and props into commands. "Pick up a pencil and put it under the book, touch a wall, go to the door and knock three times." Any item which can be brought to the class can be incorporated.
"Pick up the record and place it in the tray. Take the green blanket to Larry. Pick up the soap and take it to the woman wearing the green blouse."

4. Use names of physical characteristics and clothing to identify members of the class by name. The instructor uses context and the items themselves to make the meanings of the key words clear: hair, long, short, etc. Then a
student is described. "What is your name?" (selecting a student). "Class. Look at Barbara. She has long brown hair. Her hair is long and brown. Her hair is not short. It is long." (Using mime, pointing and context to
ensure comprehension). "What's the name of the student with long brown hair?" (Barbara). Questions such as "What is the name of the woman with the short blond hair?" or "What is the name of the student sitting next to the man with short brown hair and glasses?" are very simple to understand by attending to key words, gestures and context. And they re­quire the students only to remember and produce the name of a fellow
student. The same can be done with articles of clothing and colors. "Who is wearing a yellow shirt? Who is wearing a brown dress?"

5. Use visuals, typically magazine pictures, to introduce new vocabulary and to continue with activities requiring only student names as response. The instructor introduces the pictures to the entire class one at a time focusing usually on one single item or activity in the picture. He may introduce one to uve new words while talking about the picture. He then passes the pic­ture to a particular student in the class. The students' task is to remember the name of the student with a particular picture. For example, "Tom has the picture of the sailboat. Joan has the picture of the family watching television" and so forth. The instructor will ask questions like "Who has the picture with the sailboat? Does Susan or Tom have the picture of the people on the beach?" Again the students need only produce a name in response.

6. Combine use of pictures with TPR. "Jim, find the picture of the little girl with her dog and give it to the woman with the pink blouse."

7. Combine observations about the pictures with commands and condition­als. "If there is a woman in your picture, stand up. If there is something blue in your picture, touch your right shoulder."

8. Using several pictures, ask students to point to the picture being described. Picture 1. "There are several people in this picture. One appears to be a father, the other a daughter. What are they doing? Cooking. They are cooking a hamburger." Picture 2. "There are two men in this picture. They are young. They are boxing." Picture 3 ...

(Krashen and Terrell 1983: 75-7)

In all these activities, the instructor maintains a constant flow of "com­prehensible input," using key vocabulary items, appropriate gestures, context, repetition, and paraphrase to ensure the comprehensibility of the input.


The Natural Approach belongs to a tradition of language teaching meth­ods based on observation and interpretation of how learners acquire both first and second languages in nonformal settings. Such methods reject the formal (grammatical) organization of language as a prereq­uisite to teaching. They hold with Newmark and Reibel that "an adult can effectively be taught by grammatically unordered materials" and that such an approach is, indeed, "the only learning process which we know for certain will produce mastery of the language at a native level" (1968: 153). In the Natural Approach, a focus on comprehension and meaningful communication as well as the provision of the right kinds of comprehensible input provide the necessary and sufficient conditions for successful classroom second and foreign language acquisition. This has led to a new rationale for the integration and adaptation of tech­niques drawn from a wide variety of existing sources. Like Communi­cative Language Teaching, the Natural Approach is hence evolutionary rather than revolutionary in its procedures. Its greatest claim to origi­nality lies not in the techniques it employs but in their use in a method that emphasizes comprehensible and meaningful practice activities, rather than production of grammatically perfect utterances and sentences.


Cole, R. 1931. Modern Foreign Languages and Their Teaching. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Gregg, K. 1984. Krashen's monitor and Occam's razor. Applied Linguistics 5(2): 79-100.

Krashen, S. 1981. Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Oxford: Pergamon.

Krashen, S. 1982. Principles and Practices in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon.

Krashen, S. D., and T. D. Terrell. 1983. The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom. Oxford: Pergamon.

McLaughlin, B. 1978. The Monitor Model: some methodological considera­tions. Language Learning 28(2): 309-32.

Newmark, L., and Reibel, D. A. 1968. Necessity and sufficiency in language learning. International Review of Applied Linguistics 6(2): 145-64.

Rivers, W. 1981. Teaching Foreign-language Skills. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Stevick, E. W. 1976. Memory, Meaning and Method: Some Psychological Per­spectives on Language Learning. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House.

Terrell, T. D. 1977. A natural approach to second language acquisition and learning. Modern Language Journal 61: 325-36.

Terrell, T. D. 1981. The natural approach in bilingual education. Ms. California Office of Bilingual Education.

Terrell, T. D. 1982. The natural approach to language teaching: an update. Modern Language Journal 66: 121—32.



Suggestopedia is a method developed by the Bulgarian psychiatrist-educator Georgi Lozanov. Suggestopedia is a specific set of learning recommendations derived from Suggestology, which Lozanov describes as a "science... concerned with the systematic study of the nonrational and/or nonconscious influences" that human beings are constantly re­sponding to (Stevick 1976: 42). Suggestopedia tries to harness these influences and redirect them so as to optimize learning. The most con­spicuous characteristics of Suggestopedia are the decoration, furniture, and arrangement of the classroom, the use of music, and the authoritative behavior of the teacher. The method has a somewhat mystical air about it, partially because it has few direct links with established learning or educational theory in the West, and partially because of its arcane ter­minology and neologisms, which one critic has unkindly called a "pack­age of pseudo-scientific gobbledygook" (Scovel 1979: 258).

The claims for suggestopedic learning are dramatic. "There is no sector of public life where Suggestology would not be useful" (Lozanov 1978: 2). "Memorization in learning by the suggestopedic method seems to be accelerated 25 times over that in learning by conventional methods" (Lozanov 1978: 27). Precise descriptions of the conditions under which Suggestopedia experiments were run are as hard to come by as are precise descriptions of "successful" classroom procedures. For example, Earl Stevick, a generally enthusiastic supporter of Suggestopedia, notes that Suggestopedia teachers are trained to read dialogues in a special way. "The precise ways of using voice quality, intonation, and timing are apparently both important and intricate. I have found no one who could give a first-hand account of them" (Stevick 1976: 157).

Lozanov acknowledges ties in tradition to yoga and Soviet psychology. From raja-yoga, Lozanov has borrowed and modified techniques for altering states of consciousness and concentration, and the use of rhythmic breathing. From Soviet psychology Lozanov has taken the notion that all students can be taught a given subject matter at the same level of skill. Lozanov claims that his method works equally well whether or not students spend time on outside study. He promises success through Suggestopedia to the academically gifted and ungifted alike. Soviet psychology also stresses the learning environment, and Lozanov similarly specifies the requirements of an optimal learning environment in great detail. (For an overview of the tenets of Soviet psychology and how these differ from those of Western psychology, see Bancroft 1978).

Suggestopedia can perhaps be best understood as one of a range of theories that purport to describe how attentiveness is manipulated to optimize learning and recall. A number of researchers have attempted to identify the optimal mental states for facilitating memorization and facilitating recall. The continuum in Figure 10.1 displays labels for var­ious states of attention that have been examined for their facilitation of inhibition of memorization. The point at the far left represents studies of sleep learning. The point at the far right represents studies on the efficiency of cramming. Lozanov believes most learning takes place in a relaxed but focused state. We thus locate Lozanov's proposals in the aware—alert area.

A most conspicuous feature of Suggestopedia is the centrality of music and musical rhythm to learning. Suggestopedia thus has a kinship with other functional uses of music, particularly therapy. One of the earliest attested uses of music therapy is recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible: "When the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, David took up his harp and played with, his hand; so Saul found relief; and it was well with him, and the evil spirit departed from him" (1 Samuel 12:23). Lozanov might have described this incident as the use of music to assist in the "liberation from discrete micro psychotraumata, for destruction of incompatible ideas about the limits of human capabilities" (Lozanov 1978: 252).

Gaston (1968) defines three functions of music in therapy: to facilitate the establishment and maintenance of personal relations; to bring about increased self-esteem through increased self-satisfaction in musical per­formance; and to use the unique potential of rhythm to energize and bring order. This last function seems to be the one that Lozanov calls upon in his use of music to relax learners as well as to structure, pace, and punctuate the presentation of linguistic material.


Theory of language

Lozanov does not articulate a theory of language, nor does it seem he is much concerned with any particular assumptions regarding language elements and their organization. The emphasis on memorization of vo­cabulary pairs — a target language item and its native language translation — suggests a view of language in which lexis is central and in which lexical translation rather than contextualization is stressed. However, Lozanov does occasionally refer to the importance of experiencing lan­guage material in "whole meaningful texts" (Lozanov 1978: 268) and notes that the suggestopedic course directs "the student not to vocab­ulary memorization and acquiring habits of speech, but to acts of com­munication" (1978: 109).

Lozanov recommends home study of recordings of "whole meaningful texts (not of a fragmentary nature)" that are, "above all, interesting." These are listened to "for the sake of the music of the foreign speech" (Lozanov 1978: 277). The texts should be lighthearted stories with emotional content. Lozanov's recommendations of such stories seems to be entirely motivational, however, and does not represent a com­mitment to the view that language is preeminently learned for and used in its emotive function.

In describing course work and text organization Lozanov refers most often to the language to be learned as "the material" (e.g., "The new material that is to be learned is read or recited by a well-trained teacher") (Lozanov 1978: 270). One feels that the linguistic nature of the material is largely irrelevant and that if the focus of a language course were, say, memorization of grammar rules, Lozanov would feel a suggestopedic approach to be the optimal one. The sample protocol given for an Italian lesson (Lozanov 1978) does not suggest a theory of language markedly different from that which holds a language to be its vocabulary and the grammar rules for organizing vocabulary.

Theory of learning

Suggestion is at the heart of Suggestopedia. To many, suggestion conjures up visions of the penetrating stare, swinging cat's eye, and monotonically repeated injunctions of the hypnotist. Lozanov acknowledges the like­lihood of this association to Suggestopedia but claims that his own views separate Suggestopedia from the "narrow clinical concept of hypnosis as a kind of static, sleep like, altered state of consciousness" (1978: 3). Lozanov further claims that what distinguishes his method from hypnosis and other forms of mind control is that these other forms lack "a desuggestive-suggestive sense" and "fail to create a constant set up to reserves through concentrative psycho-relaxation" (1978: 267). (We in-trepret reserves as being something like human memory banks. De-suggestion seems to involve unloading the memory banks, or reserves, of unwanted or blocking memories. Suggestion, then, involves loading the memory banks with desired and facilitating memories.) There are six principal theoretical components through which desuggestion and suggestion operate and that set up access to reserves. We will describe these briefly following Bancroft (1972).


People remember best and are most influenced by information coming from an authoritative source. Lozanov dictates a variety of prescriptions and proscriptions aimed at having Suggestopedia students experience the educational establishment and the teacher as sources having great authority. Lozanov talks of choosing a ''ritual placebo system" that is most likely to be perceived of by students as having high authority (Lozanov 1978: 267). Lozanov appears to believe that scientific-sound­ing language, highly positive experimental data, and true-believer teach­ers constitute a ritual placebo system that is authoritatively appealing to most learners. Well-publicized accounts of learning success lend the method and the institution authority, and commitment to the method, self-confidence, personal distance, acting ability, and a highly positive attitude give an authoritative air to the teacher.


Authority is also used to suggest a teacher-student relation like that of parent to child. In the child's role the learner takes part in role playing, games, songs, and gymnastic exercises that help "the older student regain the self-confidence, spontaneity and receptivity of the child" (Bancroft 1972: 19).


The learner learns not only from the effect of direct instruction but from the environment in which the instruction takes place. The bright decor of the classroom, the musical background, the shape of the chairs, and the personality of the teacher are considered as important in instruction as the form of the instructional material itself.


Varying the tone and rhythm of presented material helps both to avoid boredom through monotony of repetition and to dramatize, emotionalize, and give meaning to linguistic material. In the first presentation of linguistic material three phrases are read together, each with a dif­ferent voice level and rhythm. In the second presentation the linguistic material is given a proper dramatic reading, which helps learners vis­ualize a context for the material and aids in memorization (Bancroft 1972: 19).

Both intonation and rhythm are coordinated with a musical back­ground. The musical background helps to induce a relaxed attitude, which Lozanov refers to as concert pseudo-passiveness. This state is felt to be optimal for learning, in that anxieties and tension are relieved and power of concentration for new material is raised. Because the role of music is central in suggestopedic learning, it needs to be considered in somewhat more detail.

The type of music is critical to learning success. "The idea that music

can affect your body and mind certainly isn't new_______ The key was to

find the right kind of music for just the right kind of effect.... The music you use in superlearning [the American term for Suggestopedia] is ex­tremely important. If it does not have the required pattern, the desired altered states of consciousness will not be induced and results will be

poor It is specific music - sonic patterns - for a specific purpose

(Ostrander, Schroeder, and Ostrander 1979: 73-4). At the institute Loz­anov recommends a series of slow movements (sixty beats a minute) in 4/4 time for Baroque concertos strung together into about a half-hour concert. He notes that in such concerts "the body relaxed, the mind became alert" (Ostrander et al. 1979: 74). As a further refinement, "East German researchers of Suggestopedia at Karl Marx University in Leipzig observed that slow movements from Baroque instrumental music fea­turing string instruments gave the very best results" (Ostrander et al. 1979: 115).

The rate of presentation of material to be learned within the rhythmic pattern is keyed to the rhythm. Superlearning uses an eight-second cycle for pacing out data at slow intervals. During the first four beats of the cycle there is silence. During the second four beats the teacher presents the material. Ostrander et al. present a variety of evidence on why this pacing to Baroque largo music is so potent. They note that musical rhythms affect body rhythms, such as heartbeat, and that researchers have noted that "with a slow heartbeat, mind efficiency takes a great leap forward" (1979: 63). They cite experimental data such as those which show disastrous learning results when the music of Wagner was substituted for slow Baroque. They reflect that "the minute is divided into sixty seconds and that perhaps there's more to this than just an arbitrary division of time." They further report that "the Indian vilam-bita, for instance, has the required rhythms of sixty beats a minute" and suggest that Indian yogis may have built the sixty-beat rhythm into yogic techniques. Finally, they observe that not only human but vegetable subjects thrive under sixty-beat stimulation. "Plants grown in the cham­bers given Baroque music by Bach and Indian music by Ravi Shankar rapidly grew lush and abundant... the plants in the chamber getting rock music shriveled and died" (1979: 82). Suggestopedic learning is consequently built on a particular type of music and a particular rate of presentation.



Suggestopedia aims to deliver advanced conversational proficiency quickly. It apparently bases its learning claims on student mastery of prodigious lists of vocabulary pairs and, indeed, suggests to the students that it is appropriate that they set such goals for themselves. Lozanov emphasizes, however, that increased memory power is not an isolated skill but is a result of "positive, comprehensive stimulation of person­ality" (Lozanov 1978: 253). Lozanov states categorically, "The main aim of teaching is not memorization, but the understanding and creative solution of problems" (1978: 251). As learner goals he cites increased access to understanding and creative solutions of problems. However, because students and teachers place a high value on vocabulary recall, memorization of vocabulary pairs continues to be seen as an important goal of the suggestopedic method.

The syllabus

A Suggestopedia course lasts thirty days and consists of ten units of study. Classes are held four hours a day, six days a week. The central focus of each unit is a dialogue consisting of 1,200 words or so, with an accompanying vocabulary list and grammatical commentary. The dialogues are graded by lexis and grammar.

There is a pattern of work within each unit and a pattern of work for the whole course. Unit study is organized around three days: day 1 — half a day, day 2 — full day, day 3 — half a day. On the first day of work on a new unit the teacher discusses the general content (not struc­ture) of the unit dialogue. The learners then receive the printed dialogue with a native language translation in a parallel column. The teacher answers any questions of interest or concern about the dialogue. The dialogue then is read a second and third time in ways to be discussed subsequently. This is the work for day 1. Days 2 and 3 are spent in primary and secondary elaboration of the text. Primary elaboration consists of imitation, question and answer, reading, and so on, of the dialogue and of working with the 150 new vocabulary items presented in the unit. The secondary elaboration involves encouraging students to make new combinations and productions based on the dialogues. A story or essay paralleling the dialogue is also read. The students engage in conversation and take small roles in response to the text read.

The whole course also has a pattern of presentation and performance. On the first day a test is given to check the level of student knowledge and to provide a basis for dividing students into two groups - one of new beginners and one of modified (false) beginners. The teacher then briefs the students on the course and explains the attitude they should take toward it. This briefing is designed to put them in a positive, relaxed and confident mood for learning. Students are given a new name in the second language and a new biography in the second culture with which they are to operate for the duration of the course.

During the course there are two opportunities for generalization of material. In the middle of the course students are encouraged to practice the target language in a setting where it might be used, such as hotels or restaurants. The last day of the course is devoted to a performance in which every student participates. The students construct a play built on the material of the course. Rules and parts are planned, but students are expected to speak ex tempore rather than from memorized lines. Written tests are also given throughout the course, and these and the performance are reviewed on the final day of the course.

Types of learning and teaching activities

We have mentioned a variety of activities in passing in the discussion of the syllabus. These include imitation, question and answer, and role play — which are not activities "that other language teachers would consider to be out of the ordinary" (Stevick 1976: 157). The type of activities that are more original to Suggestopedia are the listening ac­tivities, which concern the text and text vocabulary of each unit. These activities are typically part of the "pre-session phase," which takes place on the first day of a new unit. The students first look at and discuss a new text with the teacher. In the second reading, students relax com­fortably in reclining chairs and listen to the teacher read the text in a certain way. The quote from Stevick at the beginning of this chapter suggests that the exact nature of the "special way" is not clear. Bancroft notes that the material is "presented with varying intonations and a coordination of sound and printed word or illustration" (Bancroft 1972: 17). During the third reading the material is acted out by the instructor in a dramatic manner over a background of the special musical form described previously. During this phase students lean back in their chairs and breathe deeply and regularly as instructed by the teacher. This is the point at which Lozanov believes the unconscious learning system takes over.

Learner roles

Students volunteer for a suggestopedic course, but having volunteered, they are expected to be committed to the class and its activities. Smoking and drinking are prohibited or discouraged in class and around the school during the course.

The mental state of the learners is critical to success, which is why learners must forgo mind-altering substances and other distractions and immerse themselves in the procedures of the method. Learners must not try to figure out, manipulate, or study the material presented but must maintain a pseudo-passive state, in which the material rolls over and through them.

Students are expected to tolerate and in fact encourage their own "infantilization." In part this is accomplished by acknowledging the absolute authority of the teacher and in part by giving themselves over to activities and techniques designed to help them regain the self-con­fidence, spontaneity, and receptivity of the child. Such activities include role playing, games, songs, and gymnastic exercises (Bancroft 1972: 19). To assist them in the role plays and to help them detach themselves from their past learning experiences, students are given a new name and personal history within the target culture. The new names also contain phonemes from the target culture that learners find difficult to pro­nounce. For example, a student of English might be "the actress Anne Mickey from Kansas."

Groups of learners are ideally socially homogeneous, twelve in num­ber, and divided equally between men and women. Learners sit in a circle, which encourages face-to-face exchange and activity participation.

Teacher roles

The primary role of the teacher is to create situations in which the learner is most suggestible and then to present linguisitic material in a way most likely to encourage positive reception and retention by the learner.

Lozanov lists several expected teacher behaviors that contribute to these presentations.

1. Show absolute confidence in the method.

2. Display fastidious conduct in manners and dress.

3. Organize properly and strictly observe the initial stages of the teaching
process — this includes choice and play of music, as well as punctuality.

4. Maintain a solemn attitude towards the session.

5. Give tests and respond tactfully to poor papers (if any).

6. Stress global rather than analytical attitudes towards material.

7. Maintain a modest enthusiasm.

(Lozanov 1978: 275-6)

As Stevick (1976) points out, there are certain styles of presentation of material that are important, intricate, and inaccessible. It appears that teachers have to be prepared to be initiated into the method by stages and that certain techniques are withheld until such times as the master teacher feels the initiate is ready. In addition, Bancroft (1972) suggests that teachers are expected to be skilled in acting, singing, and psycho-therapeutic techniques and that a Lozanov-taught teacher will spend three to six months training in these fields.

The role of instructional materials

Materials consist of direct support materials, primarily text and tape, and indirect support materials, including classroom fixtures and music. The text is organized around the ten units described earlier. The textbook should have emotional force, literary quality, and interesting characters. Language problems should be introduced in a way that does not worry or distract students from the content. "Traumatic themes and distasteful lexical material should be avoided" (Lozanov 1978: 278).Each unit should be governed by a single idea featuring a variety of subthemes, "the way it is in life" (p. 278). Although not language materials per se, the learning environment plays such a central role in Suggestopedia that the important elements of the environment need to be briefly enumerated. The environment (the indirect support materials) comprises the appearance of the classroom (bright and cheery), the furniture (reclining chairs arranged in a circle), and the music (Baroque largo, selected for reasons discussed previously).


As with other methods we have examined, there are variants both historical and individual in the actual conduct of Suggestopedia classes. Adaptations such as those we witnessed in Toronto by Jane Bancroft and her colleagues at Scarborough College, University of Toronto, showed a wide and diversified range of techniques unattested to in Lozanov's writings. We have tried here to characterize a class as described in the Suggestopedia literature while pointing out where the actual classes we have observed varied considerably from the description. Bancroft (1972) notes that the four-hour language class has three distinct parts. The first part we might call an oral review section. Pre­viously learned material is used as the basis for discussion by the teacher and twelve students in the class. All participants sit in a circle in their specially designed chairs, and the discussion proceeds like a seminar. This session may involve what are called micro-studies and macro-stud­ies. In micro-studies specific attention is given to grammar, vocabulary, and precise questions and answers. A question from a micro-study might be, "What should one do in a hotel room if the bathroom taps are not working?" In the macro-studies, emphasis is on role playing and wider-ranging, innovative language constructions. "Describe to someone the Boyana church" (one of Bulgaria's most well-known medieval churches) would be an example of a request for information from the macro-studies.

In the second part of the class new material is presented and discussed. This consists of looking over a new dialogue and its native language translation and discussing any issues of grammar, vocabulary, or content that the teacher feels important or that students are curious about. Bancroft notes that this section is typically conducted in the target lan­guage, although student questions or comments will be in whatever language the student feels he or she can handle. Students are led to view the experience of dealing with the new material as interesting and un­demanding of any special effort or anxiety. The teacher's attitude and authority is considered critical to preparing students for success in the learning to come. The pattern of learning and use is noted (i.e., fixation, reproduction, and new creative production), so that students will know what is expected.

The third part — the seance or concert session — is the one by which Suggestopedia is best known. Since this constitutes the heart of the method, we will quote Lozanov as to how this session proceeds.

At the beginning of the session, all conversation stops for a minute or two, and the teacher listens to the music coming from a tape-recorder. He waits and listens to several passages in order to enter into the mood of the music and then begins to read or recite the new text, his voice modulated in har­mony with the musical phrases. The students follow the text in their text­books where each lesson is translated into the mother tongue. Between the first and second part of the concert, there are several minutes of solemn si­lence. In some cases, even longer pauses can be given to permit the students to stir a little. Before the beginning of the second part of the concert, there are again several minutes of silence and some phrases of the music are heard again before the teacher begins to read the text. Now the students close their textbooks and listen to the teacher's reading. At the end, the students silently leave the room. They are not told to do any homework on the lesson they have just had except for reading it cursorily once before going to bed and again before getting up in the morning. (Lozanov 1978: 272)


Suggestopedia has probably received both the most enthusiastic and the most critical response of any of the so-called new methods. A rave review appeared in Parade magazine of March 12, 1978. Since Parade has a weekly circulation of some 30 million Americans, the story on Sugges­topedia probably constituted the single largest promotion of foreign language teaching ever. Suggestopedia also received a scathing review in the TESOL Quarterly, a journal of somewhat more restricted cir­culation than Parade (Scovel 1979). Having acknowledged that "there are techniques and procedures in Suggestopedy that may prove useful in a foreign language classroom," Scovel notes that Lozanov is unequiv­ocally opposed to any eclectic use of the techniques outside of the full panoply of suggestopedic science. Of suggestopedic science Scovel com­ments, "If we have learnt anything at all in the seventies, it is that the art

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