Why is Superlearning® Effective?


Suggestopedia® or Superlearning® is a teaching method that has found a way to deal with the relationship between mental potential and learning effectiveness. There was much controversy about it, perhaps understandable as its claims were so big from the very start.


Introduction

Suggestopedia was developed in the 1970s by the Bulgarian psychiatrist Georgi Lozanov (1926-2012). It was from the start influenced by Carl Roger’s revolutionary approach to ‘whole person’ counseling and other humanistic approaches in dealing with the human potential. Put simply, language teaching is not considered just as a way of learning a foreign language, but holistically as helping students to develop themselves, increase their self-knowledge and become better persons.

This new approach to leading people, to counseling, and to teaching has led to a number of methodologies and techniques which stressed the humanistic aspects of learning. In such methodologies the experience of the student is what counts and the development of their personality and the growth of positive feelings are seen to be as important as their learning of a language.

Principles

Dr. Lozanov considered suggestopedia as a science. However, Wikipedia writes that it is rather a pseudo-science. I leave the controversy aside for it is not conducive in better understanding the principles of suggestopedia.

In Lozanov’s view, the reason why we are ineffective learners is is because of psychological barriers to learning such as performance anxiety. This is why we do not use the full amount of mental power, and our hidden mental reserves remain untapped. In this sense, suggestopedia lowers the affective filter to help learners obtain a maximized input, and accordingly, the best achievable output.

Suggestopedia is scientific in that it’s based upon neuroscience and brain research. From the start, Dr. Lozanov believed that the ‘alpha state’ best suits the learning process. It’s a focused state with longer brain waves than the mentally active state of the rational mind. Lozanov’s early insight has been corroborated over and over in recent years through the insights about mental processes in lucid dreaming, during hypnosis, and the learning process. Today, we can say that his early research is fully backed up by modern science.

It has been suggested that there are some theoretical components through which desuggestion and suggestion operate. They are:

  1. Authority
    People remember best and are influenced when information comes from an authority figure or institution
  2. Infantilization
    Learners may build self-confidence in a relation of teacher-student that is modeled after the parent-child relation
  3. Prestige
    The learning environment is considered as of equal importance as the learning method. This means that in the best possible setting, the institution is located in a prestigious building such as an old mansion, villa or castle, and furnished with high-quality equipment, comfortable seating, a high-class sound system, and perfectly up-to-date learning and teaching tools
  4. Professionalism
    Teachers must be trained and certified, irradiate self-confidence and charm, able to change the tone, intonation, and rhythm of their diction, just like actors do: varying tone and rhythm of presentation frees the instruction from boredom, and presenting linguistic material with music brings about the cooperation of the subconscious mind.

Suggestion vs. Desuggestion

Superlearning can be said to consist of both suggestion and desuggestion techniques. Suggestion is the core; the most important objective of the method is to mobilize the maximum of the learners’ mental potential. This is effectively obtained through suggestion.

On the other hand, desuggestion is used for unloading the memory banks, or reserves, of unwanted or blocking memories. Suggestion then means loading the memory banks with desired and facilitating memories. The combination of both suggestion and desuggestion intends to lower the ‘affective filter’ and optimize the students’ mental potential to learn, aiming at accelerating the process by which they learn to understand and use the target language for communication in a rather spontaneous manner.

Now, let us ask more in detail, what is actually suggestion? Dr. Lozanov believed that in every communication, in every thought, in every feeling, in every perception and in every mental activity there exists one central, clear complex of experiences and many peripheral, background experiences.

In the perception of speech, for example, the content, bearing the specificity, the basic thought, falls in the center of consciousness where it is subjected to critical analysis and logical processing.

But we react not only to the sense specific for speech, but to a whole complex of accompanying and, in some cases, preceding or succeeding stimuli non-specific for this speech. The number of these non-specific stimuli is inconceivably large; they are gestures, gait, facial expressions, expressions of the eyes, diction, intonation, a number of ideomotor movements which are unnoticeable for the mind, environment, the person who speaks with his level of prestige, the physiological state of expectation or biological needs of the recipient and, in general, everything which for the moment is linked with the words that are spoken.

These non-specific stimuli if synchronized can play some suggestive role by a change of the power of the words. The conclusion can be drawn that the suggestive element is a constant and indivisible part of every communicative process. In some cases, it may increase the power of the words; in others, it may decrease; but it always participates in man’s mental and emotional life.

Eight Key Features

Suggestopedia can be characterized, and distinguished by eight key features:

  1. Comfortable Learning
    The learning environment is optimized in every possible way to facilitate a comfortable and pleasant learning experience that is relaxed and fun to experience. Besides a spacious classroom where activities can be held, dim lights, soft music, comfortable chairs, and various posters relating to the target language are necessary.
  2. Peripheral Learning
    The idea is that people perceive much more from the environment than that to which they consciously attend. Students may absorb the foreign language with posters, pictures and decorations containing grammatical patterns, rather than learning vocabulary and grammar.
  3. Authoritative Teacher
    The teacher takes a role of complete authority and control in the classroom during the teaching. That’s why it’s required that the teacher must be well-trained and certified. To some extent, the teacher is not only a teacher but also a psychologist.
  4. Suggestible Students
    The students are encouraged to follow the teacher’s suggestions without doubts and assume new roles and names, called ‘new identities.’ That’s a smart way to decrease learning anxiety due to mistakes and accidented performances. This leads to students being more suggestible and open to the learning input. Furthermore, students are asked to close their eyes and to concentrate on their breathing for relaxation, while listening to Baroque string music while listening to the lessons.
  5. Dialogue
    A Suggestopedia course lasts 30 days and consists of ten units of study. The central focus of each unit is a dialogue consisting of 1,200 words or so, with an accompanying vocabulary list and grammatical commentary.
  6. Positive Suggestions
    Direct suggestion might be used for the students’ encouragement may consist of a simple affirmation that ‘all learning is joyful and pleasurable.’
  7. No Corrections
    Errors are tolerated while the focus remains on the content. The teacher does corrections subtly, by repeating the patterns in variations but he or she is not supposed to directly correct the student, for the simple reason that the latter procedure is counter-productive to high learning input. Thus grammar and vocabulary are only taught by implication, not directly.
  8. Activities
    Various activities such as music, drama, role play or methods known from Gestalt therapy sessions may be integrated into the learning process as frequently as possible.

In all the features of Suggestopedia, the most conspicuous one is the central place of music and musical rhythm to learning. Suggestopedia has some relationship with other functional uses of music, particularly sound therapy.

The most important is to find the right kind of music for achieving a maximized relaxation response. According to not only Lozanov, but many sound therapists around the world, Baroque music, with its 60 beats per minute and its specific rhythm creates this kind of ‘focused relaxation’ that leads to highly effective learning.

Students are then enabled to take in tremendous quantities of study material due to an increase in alpha brain waves and a decrease in blood pressure and pulse rate. Former East German researchers of Suggestopedia at Karl Marx University in Leipzig observed that slow movements from Baroque instrumental music featuring string instruments gave the very best results.

The Suggestopedia Class

In order to conduct a Suggestopedia class successfully, four main stages are required:

  1. Presentation
    Presentation is the basis of conducting a class successfully. In this stage, a discussion of previously learned material could be conducted first, involving micro-studies or macro-studies in the real practice to make an integrated teaching procedure. However, the main aim at this point is to help students relax and move into a positive frame of mind, with the feeling that the learning is going to be easy and fun. Desuggestion and suggestion happen at this stage at the same time.
  2. First Wave
    The ‘first wave’ involves the active presentation of the material to be learnt. Extended dialogues are read aloud to the students to the accompaniment of music. The most formal of these readings, known as the ‘concert reading’ would typically employ a memorable piece of classical music such as a symphony. This would not be in the form of background music but would be the main focus of the reading, with the teacher’s voice acting as a counterpoint to the music. Thus the ‘concert reading’ could be seen as a kind of pleasurable event, with the learners free to focus on the music, the text or a combination of the two. The rhythm and intonation of the reading would be exaggerated in order to fit the rhythm of the music.
  3. Second Wave
    Students are now guided to relax and listen to Baroque music. During both types of reading, the learners sit in comfortable seats, armchairs rather than classroom chairs, in a comfortable environment. After the readings of these long dialogues to the accompaniment of music, the teacher then makes use of the dialogues for more conventional language work. The music brings the students into the optimum mental state for the effortless acquisition of the material.
  4. Practice
    During the practice stage, ample use is made of a range of role play, games, puzzles, and alike in order to review and consolidate the learning. Homework is given to students consisting in again reading the dialogue they are studying—namely once before going to bed and again before getting up in the morning.

Reserve Capacities

Suggestopedia is founded about a key concept called ‘reserve capacities’ by its fonder, Dr. Georgi Lozanov. What are reserve capacities?

Dr. Lozanov believed that the more the brain is used, the more it develops. If this is a well-known fact in relation to muscles, the same applies for the brain, and especially, our memory interface.

There are enough scientific data in the meantime that was collected on the matter. We could inquire into evidence about the mysterious achievements of ancient civilizations, or discuss the information coming from various religions, occults, and yoga schools. But here we are only talking about research done using the modern scientific method. It could then be demonstrated that:

  1. the human personality possesses potential capabilities far exceeding those recognized by generally accepted social norms;
  2. various individual achievements can be reasonably expected if not from all, but certainly from most members of society;

Dr. Lozanov’s medical and psychotherapeutic practice showed him that we have fits of super recollection of a number of details from life, which have connection with a disease. Most often this hypermnesia shows a tendency to complete healing. The better, the more systematically and the more emotionally the patient recollects, the more stabilized is their recovery. There are two Bulgarian psychotherapeutic methods, those of Krastnikov (1929) and Cholakov (1933), with which the healing effect is based on hypermnesia.

That is something Lozanov later noticed with suggestopedia. The students have a considerably enhanced memory as a byproduct of suggestopedic learning.


References

Unesco Report on Suggestology and Suggestopedia, 1978 (English)

Unesco Report on Suggestology and Suggestopedia, 1978 (French)


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