Talking teaching (Spotlight, February 2010)

This month, we talk to an international Suggestopedic master trainer who is a founder-president of France's National Council of Suggestology, a founding member of Sweden's Suggestopedic Academy and an accredited DGSL (Germany) and IAL (US) Level III trainer.

What is Suggestopedia?

Suggestopedia is a revolutionary teaching approach that speeds up learning by activating and harnessing reserve capacities in the unconscious mind. Students are put in a highly stimulating, multi-sensory - but psychologically safe! - environment with lots of music (classical and baroque), artwork and movement. In an atmosphere that is both theatrical and playful, students are challenged with tasks that are pitched at about 120 per cent of their usual maximum ability. This tends to induce "flow state" - a very favourable form of concentration that shuts out distracting thoughts. They are given unconditional support by teachers, who create the conditions for "miracles" to happen and then get out of the way to let students take ownership of these. All negative suggestions (boring routine, shame in making mistakes, etc.) are eliminated, and positive suggestions (an excitement in discovering new things, an anticipation of upcoming surprises, and so on) replace these. The basic principle is that nothing succeeds as well as success, and so it is the teacher's role to devise ingenious (and even devious!) ways of getting learners to surprise themselves at how successful they are. Activities are quick-moving and energizing and typically change every seven or eight minutes.

Can you give us an example of an activity?

To teach students that they must add an "s" to the "he/she/it" forms in the present simple, I have the class stand in a circle, and I announce: I like the sun." I throw an inflatable ball to a student and prompt him to say, "Lonny likes the sun and I like..." That student might say "sports"; he then throws the ball to a third student who says: "Lonny likes the sun, Hans likes sports, and I like long dresses." This chain game goes on with everyone focused on the names of the students, their favoured objects, and the order in which the ball has been thrown. They are using the correct grammar while they're focused on other constraints of the activity - and thus the important information is reaching them peripherally.

How did your interest in Suggestopedia start?

I was feeling very discouraged one autumn day in 1976, when it struck me that my next holidays were still another nine months off. Somehow, I knew that sheer willpower just wasn't going to get me through the school year: the choice for me was either to get out of teaching or to find some way to make my work truly meaningful. Someone talked to me about Suggestopedia; I went to Ottawa to see a Canadian government French programme using this method, and I was blown away. I came back to France and started working with the only trained person in western Europe, Fanny Saféris.

Any future plans or dreams?

To create an entirely new culture of communication that instils confidence in others, sparks curiosity and fosters an insatiable craving to know more and live more fully. I'd like for people to leave my courses and be "on fire" for the rest of their lives.