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Humanistic approaches

Another perspective that has gained increasing prominence in language teaching is that of the student as a ‘whole person’. In other words, language teaching is not just about teaching language, it is also about helping students to develop themselves as people.

These beliefs have led to a number of teaching methodologies and techniques that have stressed the humanistic aspects of learning. In such methodologies the experience of the student is what counts and the development of the personality and the encouragement of positive feelings are seen to be as important as their learning of a language. David Atkinsonfeels that attention to humanistic techniques sometimes takes place at the expense of teaching languages.

In a book aptly titled ‘Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Classroom’ Gertrude Moscowitz(1978) provides a number of interactive activities designed to make students feel good and often remember happy times and events while, at the same time, practising language.

M. Rinvolucri(1985) and J. Morgan(1986) have used similar student-centred activities to practise grammar and vocabulary where the topic is frequently the students themselves, their lives and their relationships.

M. Celce-Murcia(1981) and E. Stevick(1976) go further, providing whole methodologies. Community Language Learning(C. Curran, 1976), based on the educational movement of counselling learning, attempts to give students only the language they need. Ideally, students sit in a circle outside of which is a ‘knower’ who will help them with the language they want to use. When they have decided what they want to say they do it in their language and the knower translates it for them so that they can then use the target language instead. In this way students acquire the language they want to acquire. In a variation of the procedure, suggested by R. Bolitho(1983), students say what they want to into a tape recorder, only speaking when they feel the urge. The teacher who can then offer personal feedback transcribes the tape.

Suggestopaediais a methodology developed by G. Lozanovin which students must be comfortably relaxed. This frequently means comfortable furniture and baroque music. In this setting students are given new names and listen to extended dialogues, called polilogues. The contention is that the general ease of listening to the dialogues will help the students to acquire the language. Suggestopaedia has given birth to a number of further developments such as relaxopaedia, rhythmopaedia, emotional-notional method and person’s reserve resources activation methodology.

The Silent Way(1976) developed by Caleb Gattegnois marked by the fact that the teacher gives a very limited amount of input, modelling the language to be learnt once only and then indicating what the students should do through pointing and other silent means. The teacher will not criticise or praise but simply keeps indicating that the student should try again until success is achieved. Teachers can deploy Cuisenaire rods (little rods of different lengths and colours) which can be used to signify grammatical units, stressed and non-stressed parts of words, and even whole stories.

Total Physical Response(TPR, 1969), developed by James Asher(1986), is a method which finds favour with Krashen’s view of roughly-tuned or comprehensible input. In TPR the teacher gives students instructions. The students don’t have to speak, they simply have to carry out the teacher’s commands. The students thus learn language through actions, through a physical response rather than through drills.

Despite the controlling role of the teacher in many of these methodologies, they have all been called humanistic in some circles. Certainly Community Language Learning and Suggestopaedia concentrate heavily on the students and their state of mind, seeing in their wants and their relaxation the key to successful learning. TPR allows a pre-speaking phase where students are not forced to speak until they feel confident to do so. The Silent Way forces students to rely heavily on their own resources even when under the teacher’s direction.