Suggestopedia: The wacky method from the 70’s

What is suggestopedia?

Imagine if language class went something like this:

Your teacher opens the classroom door and you enter the dimly lit room. As you walk toward the plush lounge chair in the middle of the room, you hear Mozart playing softly in the background. You lower yourself onto the chair and get comfortable- close your eyes if you need to. After a moment, your teacher begins to read a dialogue in your target language to the rhythm of the music. When they’ve finished the reading, they begin again, this time going at a more natural pace.

Later in the lesson, you adopt another identity for your target language. Perhaps you are learning Spanish and your new name is Juan Carlos. Maybe your career is different in this role-playing scenario and you’re an engineer working in Madrid. Who knows? The only rule is that you must stay relaxed. Learning your target language must be enjoyable, because those positive feelings will expedite your learning.

Sounds great right? Or maybe it sounds weird.

Well that’s the teaching method called Suggestopedia. Suggestopedia was invented by a Bulgarian psychotherapist named Dr. Georgi Lozanov in the 1970’s. It is centered around a belief in the power of suggestion, wherein the teacher would guide the thoughts and feelings of the student to help them achieve fluency.

What can we learn from Suggestopedia?

Unfortunately (or not, if you hate Mozart), Suggestopedia failed to advance language learning like Lozanov hoped it would. People didn’t learn faster or better in mood lighting and plush armchairs, as it turns out. Suggestopedia died out, remembered only as an awkward chapter in the history of language learning. At Immerse, we like to think of it as the middle school era of SLA: painfully awkward but pretty funny upon retrospect.

Although Suggestopedia failed to revolutionize language learning, Lozanov was onto something when he prioritized the comfort of the student. The thought that negative emotions can hinder language learning is actually spot on. Linguists call this the “Affective Filter”, where an affective emotion such as frustration or anxiety raises the filter and inhibits learning. Research has shown that we learn language best when we are calm and our Affective Filter is low.

The takeaway from all this (besides some obscure linguistics trivia you can use to impress someone) is that emotions matter in language learning. As you learn your target language, stay calm and positive! Ditch the exercises that are boring or stressful.

PS- If you really want to learn language quickly, you should try learning in Virtual Reality, which research suggests is best at lowering your Affective Filter1. Check back next week for a whole blog dedicated to the affective filter, and how virtual reality provides the best learning environment for a low affective filter.

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Posted on

January 9, 2019