Review of Memory Meaning and Method: Some Psychological Perspectives on Language Learning by Earl W. Stevick. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House Publishers, 1978.
Notes and Queries, Vol. 27 No. 1, Febraury 1980, pp. 88-89
Professor Stevick prefaces his book by stating his personal creed, that language study is a 'total human experience', and not just an oral‑aural or a cognitive one. Applied systematically to the task of teaching a foreign language, its consequences are revolutionary. The teacher gives his attention first to student attitudes and only secondarily to the linguistic material. The teacher's function is not to teach but to induce the student to learn.
The inability of the student to produce foreign sounds is not physiological but psychological. The inhibitions are many; the defences may be aggression or withdrawal. The alteration of language behaviour excites the fear of losing one's identity. 'At least during one period of English history, no gentleman who was learning French would stoop to adopt the effeminate and obviously degenerate way of speaking that is used by the French people. To do so would be "integrative" toward a dangerous out‑group and ipso facto dis‑"integrative" toward the in‑group.' The effort to understand what is going on in the mind (or ego) of the student takes us back (naturally) to considerations of infantile libidinal relationships along lines deriving from Freud. We read of some very fanciful model‑building. A fundamental assertion of 'Transactional Analysis', for instance, is that the number of ego‑states within any individual is precisely three. They are not mere theoretical constructs but psychological realities, built upon infantile memories, ingrained and unalterable, and producing different behaviours depending on which of them is in control at a given moment. These egostates are called the Parent, the Child, and the Adult, each with its own psychological characteristics. In Transactional Analysis the basic unit is a 'stroke'; an exchange of strokes is a 'transaction'. Trouble arises in a 'crossed transaction', e.g. where an Adult‑Adult stroke is met by a Parent‑Child riposte. The teacher's aim is to understand not only the single student, but all the interactions between the members of the class. The more communication there is between class members, the greater the 'data‑flow', the more rapid will be the advance in learning. 'Productivity' is the goal, not 'reflectivity' (merely giving back what has been received). Productivity goes on at a deeper level than reflectivity; and the more of his deeper self that the student tries to express in the target language, the more will be his grasp and understanding. Further, the more they reveal of themselves to one another, the easier it is for the class members to come together into a community.
One system, the Silent Way, was developed by Gattegno for teaching generally, including mathematics, and the reading and writing of the mother tongue. Primary attention is given to the social forces at work in the class. The teacher's activity is subordinated to the learner's. The teacher must stop interfering with and side‑tracking that activity. It is found that new material is absorbed and retained best in a silence that follows its presentation. Re‑iteration and mimicry are avoided. In twenty minutes the teacher may open his mouth only seven times, on each occasion to provide the class with a single word. The students do ninety percent of the talking. They depend for stimulus very much on one another. The spirit of competition is replaced by cooperation, and productivity is enhanced. In Suggestopaedia (Lozanov) particular attention is given to ways of helping students to bypass their inhibitions. At the outset each student is given a foreign language name and a fictitious prestigious occupation. Behind this mask the student can make mistakes without self‑injury, and can develop flights of fancy, including his own imaginary life history.
There are many fascinating pages in Professor Stevick's book, and many tedious or even confusing passages in which we are belaboured with all too many reports on experiments. The whole beginning section on memory could perhaps have been spared, or at least greatly shortened. But the sections on meaning and method must be found stimulating by language teachers, and by educationists more generally. Professor Stevick leaves us with a riddle. The premises of many of these methods are in flat contradiction to one another. If those of method A are correct and A works, then method B should not. and vice versa. But, in different hands, both do. In fact, in the right hands, they all do. Like the nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays.