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Superlearning Techniques in Language Teaching
by Marjorie Rosenberg
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This article originally appeared in ELT News, Issue 33, October, 1997, published by Teachers of English in Austria/The British Council, Vienna


Is there a method which motivates learners to become more independent? What possibilities are there to help learners trust their instincts and discover resources within themselves? How do these factors help them to learn a foreign language?

These questions are becoming increasingly important as global communication takes on a major role in our lives causing the demand for language courses to grow at a steady rate. In addition, learners at the adult level want courses to be enjoyable as well as efficient and in schools teachers find themselves competing with outside distractions which didn't even exist when they themselves were pupils.

In my opinion, superlearning is a method which takes all of the above-mentioned points into account. Superlearning, as it is used today, is a method which incorporates input from people from all over the globe. Its origin can be traced to Suggestopedia, which is a holistic model of learning and teaching developed by the Bulgarian psychiatrist and educator, Dr. Georgi Lozanov (Suggestology and Outlines of Suggestopedy, 1978). His original work dealt primarily with improving memory, breaking down barriers to learning by reawakening the childlike curiosity of the learner, and teaching on both conscious and subconscious levels. Also important to the development of Superlearning, was the Nobel Prize-winning work of Dr. Roger Sperry from California Institute of Technology dealing with the differing functions of the right and left hemispheres of the brain. In the field of education, Donald Schuster and Charles Gritton (Suggestive Accelerative Learning Techniques, 1986) set out practical uses of suggestopedia for schools and universities. They adapted many of the Lozanov's original ideas to language learning and their book can be partially regarded as a practical handbook for the classroom. Many other ideas have been added to Lozanov's original contribution including Second Language Acquisition from Stephen Krashen, Total Physical Response from James Asher, and the NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) Sensory Acuity and Processing models from Richard Bandler and John Grinder. Contrary to popular belief, a superlearning class does not mean that the students lie on the floor, listen to slow Baroque music and let themselves be "sprinkled" with vocabulary words in a state of total relaxation. A superlearning class consists of specific phases which make up a learning cycle.

Preparation phase
Lessons generally begin with some sort of preparation which serves as a bridge from the world outside the classroom to the learning atmosphere within. This preparation can be in the form of a warm-up or activation activity or a song or game. Preparation, in this case, refers more to the preparation of the attitude, learning ability, and mental state of the student than to preparation of material which is going to be presented. At the first meeting of the class the preparation phase is especially important because the students need to feel comfortable in the atmosphere which the teacher wants to create. Some teachers begin the first evening with a fantasy trip or various warm-up games in which the students can all participate and experience their first contact with the language as well as the method. In my classes we begin with a game dealing with the right and left halves of the brain and an explanation of what is coming so that my students know that even if an activity might seem strange to them, there is a reason for it. It is important for adult learners to cognitively understand reasons for doing things, especially when methods are totally different from those they have previously experienced. Michael Grinder (Righting the Educational Conveyor Belt, 1991) talks about "permission" of a group which is necessary if we want to communicate successfully and establish rapport with our students. By explaining the method to the left half of the brain (the logical, analytical side) we teachers make it "OK" for the students to enjoy themselves because we connect the enjoyment with learning. Another important activity is the choosing of new identities. These consist of new (English) names, new countries and new jobs. We then practice the greetings' forms using these new identities. Students keep these identities throughout the entire course which encourages them to take chances and be creative. Psychologically the learners feel safer with a new name because if they make a mistake they have a certain feeling of dissociation and don't have the feeling that they actually made the mistake. This simple "change in identity" increases the sense of learner independence because they aren't afraid to try things out. In addition, they simply have more fun and have the feeling that they can say whatever comes into their heads. More vocabulary is used and curiosity regarding other students' statements promotes active listening.

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