Suggestopedia - The Inner Dimension of Change
Lonny Gold has been at the core of Suggestopedia since 1978. He offers language courses, communications seminars and Teacher Education programmes throughout the world and does workshops and keynotes at international conferences. He is a top-level accredited trainer with the DGSL in Germany and with IAL in the US. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or www.lonnygold.com
Some Theory Behind Suggestopedia
An Overview of the SEAL Liverpool Workshop
The Origins of Words and their Impact on the Unconscious
The Unconscious Mind
The Philosophic Assumptions Behind Suggestopedia
Suggestopedia and You
Many years ago, I was told in Geometry class that the shortest distance between two points was a straight line. My immediate gut reaction was one of complete scepticism: somehow I just felt that this was all wrong. Years later, I felt vindicated when I discovered that this axiom was only valid if we were operating on a flat surface; in fact, any airline pilot flying from London to Vancouver knew that the fastest way of doing that trip was to fly on a curve over the Arctic Circle.
By the time I was in my teens, I had grasped that I did better in exams when I didn't focus on the results so much that I became too nervous to perform properly; I also realised that I was much more successful with girls whom I didn't care too much about. And all this made perfect sense to me, since my life was not a flat surface and, consequently, no linear, rational strategy was ever going to get me what I most wanted. For example, walking up to a teenage girl and saying to her, "I like you; do you like me?" was a sure fire recipe for disaster.
Ever since the Enlightenment at the end of the 18th century, the general assumption has been that the brain works like a logical, rational and predictable machine that progresses towards set objectives in a methodical, step-by-step fashion. This model then goes on to assume that as long as emotions and other messy, uncontrollable things are kept at bay and prevented from clouding issues, the brain will always deliver - provided enough will power is deployed.
The development of this mechanistic vision of the brain, from the late 1700's on, was a great step forward: it helped free humanity from centuries of superstition and passive acceptance of its fate. Getting a handle on life and having some control over the future must have been a supremely empowering experience - for toiling intellectuals, at least - in the year 1800.
Somewhat puzzling, however, is that 200 years down the road, our universities, schools and - more worryingly - our teacher training colleges are still operating on the basis of this model and ignoring scientific research on the psychological dimensions of learning that has shown conclusively that
- in unsafe environments, fear of any kind inhibits a person's capacity to learn, since that fear triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol in the brain and this maintains people in "survival mode" by preventing blood from reaching the cortex
- ong-term memory retains what was experienced through indirect perception while what was perceived directly usually starts disappearing from conscious memory after 4 days
- knowledge which contains positive emotional meaning is remembered more easily than strictly neutral information that does not engage a person's affect
Suggestopedia is a teaching approach built on the above - and other related - principles. It begins by creating as safe an emotional environment as possible, where learners are unconditionally supported and are, therefore, unafraid of taking chances. It presents learners with quick successions of highly stimulating and artistic activities that appeal to all the senses, thus teaching in a multi-modal, matrix-like way. The same knowledge, coming to learners through a variety of different channels, "mutually" reinforces itself.
In this sense, Suggestopedia is the pedagogical application of the latest discoveries in brain research. All knowledge is woven into unforgettable chains of association and courses are designed so that students are constantly surprising themselves with their own newly discovered capacities.
Profound change rarely comes through blind effort or mere willpower: it can result from failure, but it is most happily embraced when it stems from success. The Suggestopedic teacher's first task, then, is to devise entertaining and informative activities that lie within a learner's capacities and yet are beyond what learners believe they are capable of. In this way, a teacher can prompt students to raise their expectations of themselves and reassess who they really are.
In Suggestopedia, learning activities are managed in a very special way. Much key information is sneaked in through "the back door" of students' consciousness by an extremely simple ploy: the teacher specifically designs activities that force learners to focus their conscious attention on less important, extraneous input at the same time as they are obliged to unconsciously make use of essential knowledge. This "sidetracking" process ensures that key information is directed to the long-term memory, which soaks up peripheral perceptions, stocks them as vaporous intuitive impressions for four days and lets them seep into consciousness like a drip feed. This process tries to replicate real life and allow the brain to do what it does best: decode complex patterns in order to ensure survival.
In the workshop I offered at the 2005 SEAL Conference in Liverpool, I attempted to cram into 90 minutes an overview of the Suggestopedic model for teaching and learning and present a totally new form of communication in which learners would always know they were safe.
Demonstrating the Suggestopedic model was easy enough: a multi-modal game appealing to sight, hearing and touch (through rhythmic movement) got over 40 participants to learn each others' names in a very short time. A text on the theoretical tenets of Suggestopedia was read to Mozart, with the teacher's voice following the emotional development of the music rather than commonly accepted everyday intonation. Non-threatening games were played where no answer given could possibly be wrong and where every contribution made would enrich the learning process. Everything was highly theatrical, energetic and fast moving.
The second part of the workshop showed the psychological skills and sensitivity a Suggestopedic teacher was expected to develop and consisted of two separate, but parallel, journeys. The first was an expansion of perception, which would enable teachers to see beyond blocks, resistances, and behaviour peculiarities and sense needs, quests and developmental pathways in learners. The shift hoped for in teachers was much more than just reframing; it involved actually seeing into deeper realities. To this end, a number of games were presented.
The second vital component (of this second part of the workshop) was an initial taste of what is now known as "languaging". In this phase of training, teachers are forced to hear - often for the first time - what they are actually saying when they express themselves "normally". For example when a teacher says, "What we are going to do is…", that teacher is disempowering the learners, since all that the subconscious mind of the learners can really hear is that they have no control whatsoever over the course of events and so they might as well just "lie back and think of England". This formulation induces passiveness, resistance, boredom and resentment. By far preferable is the alternative proposal, "What some of you might find particularly interesting is…" because it invites and challenges each individual to pay close attention, if only to see whether he or she will belong to the group that finds something particularly interesting or not.
Only a few examples were given in this workshop, although the workshop leader had a plethora of other gems - and highly recommended reformulations! - at his disposal.
One quick comment on the languaging process itself: what we are looking at here involves no less than a major shift in culture, the invention of new ways of interpreting reality and a mode of communication that helps others recognise in themselves attributes they have not yet taken cognisance of. Much everyday interaction in the competitive world we live in is based on maintaining power over others by keeping them in their places and making sure they do not get "too big for their boots". Tragically, our culture has incorporated these negative utterances so successfully that users of everyday turns of phrase can think they are being "neutral" and fair - and even polite - while, in fact, they are really transmitting well-packaged abuse and lethal venom.
How many of us English speakers are aware that every time we use the word "work", we are using the anglicised version of the Germanic "werk" whose origin is pain? Or, for that matter, how many French speakers know that "travailler" has come to us through the particularly unpalatable Roman practice of torturing prisoners by putting their heads in a square vice and… well, never mind.)
It might be judicious, at this juncture, to point out that the term "Suggestopedia" stems from the word "suggestion", and that suggestion is information that comes to us at a subliminal level of consciousness. Suggestion attempts to affect our attitudes and behaviour without our fully realising it. Its Latin origin indicates that it is knowledge carried to us at a lower level of intensity than normal transmissions. More simply, suggestion is data sent to the unconscious mind.
The unconscious mind is very much the "foundation of the entire building". A skyscraper's ability to withstand an earthquake will not depend on how tastefully the 98th floor has been decorated: it relies on very solid construction under the ground, an intricate web of support that cannot be seen. From a Suggestopedic point of view - which, of course, focuses on making the environment safe for the unconscious mind to discover itself and allow its reserve capacities to be activated - most traditional teaching never gets much deeper down than the 98th floor.
The third and final segment of the workshop dealt with telepathy. In any open and nurturing environment, the telepathic connections between people are countless and to pretend they do not exist is silly and even irresponsible. In the case of teachers, a belief that what happens in class is not largely determined by the telepathic links within the group is either a dereliction of duty or - far worse - an admission that all form of human life has been successfully extinguished.
Quantum physics established long ago that people are inter-dependent and that, at every moment in time, we are - at least partially - the ones who create the other people around in the form that they exist. Once that disconcerting idea has been internalised, it follows quite simply that we are responsible for whether there is receptiveness or resistance to our message, sympathy or antagonism to our person and intelligence or stupidity in our presence. Teachers who bulldoze their way through programmes in a climate of passive apathy are like farmers who flood their lands with herbicides and pesticides, killing a great deal of organic life in exchange for short-term yields.
The philosophic assumptions (and like it or not there are assumptions behind everything we do, from the military formations of rows of chairs in a classroom to the colours of the clothes worn by teachers to the presence or absence of arts, music and other emotional stimuli in a teaching environment!) behind Suggestopedia are straight-forward:
- it is a person-centred approach that tries to enable people to realise their potential and develop high self-esteem and a justified feeling of satisfaction
- it believes that the teachers' responsibility includes motivating and stimulating learners, inside a safe environment they have provided for everyone's well-being
- it believes that extraordinary learning is a side effect of a nurturing and stimulating psychological environment where people are recognised by others, often before they recognise themselves; in that sense, the teacher and other students are catalysts in this vital process of self-discovery through learning
- it believes that if students aren't learning, then teachers aren't teaching
- it believes that if the teacher looks after the learners, the learning will look after itself
Suggestopedia, the creation of the great Bulgarian doctor, psychiatrist and researcher, Dr. Georgi Lozanov, has been around for 35 - 40 years and yet remains a relatively well-guarded secret. In Europe, it has been chiefly used in language teaching, with average results ranging from 2.5 to 3 times as fast as any other method (details on request) while in other countries, including the States, it has been very successfully applied to a wide variety of subjects.
The most exciting thing about Suggestopedia - which perversely may be the very reason it has not spread faster - is that it requires teachers to stop thinking of their work as a job, and to see it as an amazing journey towards a more vibrant and meaningful existence, where they have a vital role and real responsibility in designing what humanity can aspire to in the future.
Well, that's a pretty tall order! …. But what an amazing journey! And what delightful travelling companions! - and I'm not only talking about the other Suggestopedic teachers: I'm thinking, more than anything else, of the people lucky enough to be your learners…
For much more information on Suggestopedia and courses on offer, visit www.lonnygold.com, or write to email@example.com
Please check the Creative Methodology for the Classroom course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Humanising Large Classes course at Pilgrims website.