The Silent Way versus Cooperative Language Learning - an Argumentative Comparison of two Teaching Methods
This paper first of all compares the teaching method “The Silent Way” to the approach “Cooperative Language Learning”, both mentioned in the book “Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching”, written by Jack C. Richards and Theodore S. Rodgers. Some points of critique of both, the “Silent Way” as well as “Cooperative Language Learning” in a second part will lead to a conclusion in the end.
The Silent Way is a method of language learning created by Caleb Gattegno, in which the student is regarded as creative and independent learner of the target language. During the lessons, the teacher should be as quiet as possible in the classroom. This idea of learning a target language is based on the assumption that learning L2 is to some extend similar to learning L1. Because of their mother tongue, students already have an idea about how a language system works. According to Gattegno, students use this knowledge in order to draw connections between L1 and L2. Therefore, classroom activities, in which objects and pictures are used, are typical. The teacher often uses a pointer and points at things, the students have to label. So called Fidel charts (pronunciation charts) are important components, since the goal of this method is nearly native like mastery of the target language. A Fidel chart consists of symbols for all the vowels and consonants that are part of the target language. The teacher points at a symbol once and produces the accordant sound, and then he asks a student to repeat the sound. If a student’s production of a certain sound is incorrect, another student has to produce the same sound again. Due to this, independent learning is supported because students learn how to correct others, as well as being corrected by their classmates. After simplex structures are taught successfully, the teacher goes on by pointing out more complex ones, such as short sentences and phrases, in order to teach prosody, stress and intonation. Grammar is taught inductively and the aim is to use grammatical structures correctly but not to be able to explain those structures. For all this, the teacher’s role could be described as monitoring. Although he has to remain as silent as possible, his task is to design and control classroom activities. (cf. Richards and Rodgers, p. 81- 89)
A similar teacher role can be found in Cooperative Language Learning, a method which is more an approach, also known as Collaborative Learning. In this approach, great emphasis is put on group work activities, which shall lead to a better collaboration between students.
Students shall also learn how to correct each other, as well as being corrected by their classmates. Further, it is the communication between students, which is important but not the communication between the teacher and the students. The teacher merely organizes the group work. His task is to choose a suitable group work activity (Jigsaw method, Three-step interview, etc.), to decide about the group formation (how many group members should form one group? Which students should join the same group? Is it reasonable to give every student a certain task he/she has to fulfil in his group, such as note taker or noise monitor?) During those activities, he functions as monitor, answers questions and gives little hints. Because it is the communication between students, or rather a naturalistic way of second language acquisition which is essential, also in Cooperative Language Learning, grammar is taught inductively.
In contrast to the Silent Way, which is a method of language teaching, Cooperative Language learning is more an approach of language learning.
The goal in this approach is not a native like mastery of the target language. Instead, the student’s social skills, such as successful collaboration, and a raising achievement of all students (those who are more advanced shall help their less advanced classmates) are fostered as well. Moreover, this approach shall replace the competitive character of some classrooms and turn it into a more team-based and comfortable atmosphere. Due to this, the student’s motivation shall be enhanced, while the student’s stress and anxiety shall be decreased. (cf. Richards and Rodgers, p. 192- 203)
To my mind, both, the “Silent Way” as well as “Cooperative Language learning”, consist of some good concepts. The assumption that the teacher shall remain as silent as possible in the classroom first of all sounds rational, since there are the students who shall learn the language. In order to learn a certain language they have to use it and not the teacher who is already proficient in that language. A second view however, offers some limitations this method contains. Classroom activities mainly consist of pronunciation charts and different objects the teacher points at. Structures are learned from simplex to complex, which sounds reasonable and probably works this way. Anyway, the question occurs, how successful this kind of learning really is, because it will take a long time to work on different sounds first and then to move on to more complex structures, such as sentences and phrases. To my mind it would be better to start with learning by chunks already in the very beginning of the learning process.
 “[…] Method is an overall plan for the orderly presentation of language material, no part of which contradicts, and all of which is based upon, the selected approach.” (Richards and Rodgers, p. 19)
 “[…] An approach is a set of correlative assumptions dealing with the nature of language teaching and learning. An approach is axiomatic. It describes the nature of the subject matter to be taught […].” (Richards and Rodgers, p. 19)