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Integration of the Self and Awareness (ISA) in Learning and Teaching

A case study of French adult students learning English the Silent Way

Patricia Benstein

The successful acquisition of a second or foreign language requires focus, motivation, and positive feedback. This case study of French adult students of English illustrates that Gattegno’s Silent Way is more than a teaching methodology. It is a science of education that integrates the self and awareness in the learning and teaching processes. This integration facilitates the personal evolution of Gattegno’s ‘pre-human’ to the ‘universal human’ who is permanently aware of his/her awareness. The resulting experience of ‘flow’ leads to a positive feedback loop that in turn contributes to the student’s enjoyment of acquiring a second language.

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4. Theories of Second Language Acquisition


The Silent Way is a holistic pedagogy with inherent assumptions about human learning as well as assumptions about the nature of language (Thompson, 1990: 25). These assumptions entail consequences for the understanding of the second language learning (SLL) and teaching processes. The Silent Way thus occupies a unique place in the area of second language acquisition (SLA) research, because it is based on Gattegno’s understanding of evolution and human nature, which were described in detail in the previous chapter. Gattegno’s theory of second language (L2) acquisition is based on his understanding of the processes involved in learning the first language (L1). He considers babies to be fully aware and fully responsible for their development. According to Gattegno, the self is present from the moment of conception, and the baby accepts challenges and integrates the resulting learning into his/her consciousness. The attributes of the self are always at the baby’s disposal to do the necessary learning of the particular absolute the baby is going through.

The fact that the Silent Way is embedded in a model of the human being and an even larger model of evolution makes it distinct from other theories of SLA. In fact, other researchers have pointed out that “analysing or comparing Gattegno’s model with any other” is a futile exercise, because Gattegno provides a paradigm that “cannot be judged by the tools of what it proposes to replace” (Weiler, 1989: 17). Young even goes so far as to say that being based...

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