Suggestopedia, also called Desuggestopedia, is a teaching method developed in the 1960's by the Bulgarian psychiatrist Georgi Lozanov. This method includes elements such as the use of relaxing music, art and the additional importance that is given to the learning environment as well as the authoritative behaviour of the teacher (Richards & Rodgers 2001, p. 100). The most distinguishing feature of Suggestopedia, however, is the aim to “help the students achieve [...] childlike openness, plasticity and creativity” by putting them into a state called “infantalization” (Stevick, 1976, p. 156).
1. Lozanov holds the opinion that individuals are capable of learning “at rates many times greater than what we commonly assume to be the limits of human performance” (ibid., p. 42). He claims that most people do not make use of their brain capacity and therefore do not reach the learning ability they would be able to develop otherwise. According to Lozanov, it is out of fear that learners "do not use [their] full mental powers" but set up "psychological barriers" because they are afraid that that they will not be able to perform, that they will be limited in their ability to perform or that they will fail (Larsen-Freeman, 1986, p.72). Lozanov believes therefore, that the negative thoughts the learners have about themselves and their learning have to be "de-suggested" (ibid.).
2. Lozanov sees learning as a “global event” involving the whole person (Stevick, 1976, p. 42).
3. Lozanov believes that an individual is “constantly responding to innumerable influences, a few of which are conscious and rational, but most of which are either nonconscious or nonrational or both” (ibid.).
Targets and Claims
One target of Suggestopedia is to quickly enable students to have conversations on an advanced proficiency level (Knight, 2001, p. 15). According to Lozanov, Suggestopedia can help a student to accelerate his memory skills in such a way that he/she will be able to memorize 25 times as quickly as with conventional methods (Lozanov, 1978, p. 27). Students are said to develop “super-memories” and “to learn without any conscious effort or physical fatigue, large amounts of language material in a very short time” (Bancroft, 1978, p. 168).
Richards and Rodgers (2001, pp. 101-102) outline the following characteristic principles for Suggestopedia:
According to Richards and Rodgers, the method itself is supposed to gain authority by the use of “scientific-sounding language, highly positive experimental data and true-believer teachers”(2001, p. 101). The teacher becomes a figure of authority by displaying self-confidence, acting ability and a highly positive attitude (ibid.). He is also backed up by the 'success stories' told about Suggestopedia.
Suggestopedia aims to establish a “teacher-student relation like that of parent to child” (ibid., p. 102). The student is supposed to engage in role-plays, games, songs, and gymnastic exercises (ibid.). Part of the infantilization process is also that the student chooses a new name for himself/herself (Bancroft, 1978, p. 170).
Suggestopedia regards the learners' environment as an important factor for learning. Classrooms are therefore supposed to have certain characteristics. A classroom's decoration is to be "pleasant and cheerful" while the lighting should be "soft and unobtrusive" (ibid., p. 169). The chairs are cushioned and specially constructed for this kind of classroom. The seats are placed in an open circle with the teacher's chair being placed at the head of the class (ibid., p. 170).
Intonation, Rhythm, and Concert Pseudo-Passiveness
The teacher varies the intonation and the rhythm of his/her voice when reading to the students. This is done in order to “avoid boredom” and “dramatize, emotionalize, and give meaning to linguistic material” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p. 102). Music is used in the background while the students listen to dialogues being read out to them. The music is supposed to evoke in the students a “concert pseudo-passiveness” as Lozanov calls it (ibid.). Special breathing techniques, taken from yoga and supporting the effect of the music, are also employed.
Learner and teacher roles
One of the teacher's main roles is to see that she/he creates the right environment for the students in which they find it easy to learn (Knight, 2001, p. 154). He/she is meant to correct the students very carefully, if at all, in order not to discourage them. He/she is expected to be “positive, yet authoritarian” (Bancroft, 1978, 170) and to have "complete faith" in the method (Knight, 2001, p. 154). Teachers should even be "specially trained in such disciplines as acting and psychology" so they can "suggest" the meaning of new words to their students by acting them out and using their voice to convey meaning (Bancroft, 1978, p. 169). The learners should also have “faith in the system and accept that they are in a childlike situation where they follow the teacher/parent" (Knight, 2001, p. 154). The students should not be critical but simply "absorb what is presented to them" (Knight, 2001, p. 154).
Suggestopedia has been called a "pseudo-science" (Scovel, 1979, cited in Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.106). It strongly depends on the trust that students develop towards the method by simply believing that it works. Lozanov himself admits that Suggestopedia can be compared to a placebo. He argues, however, that placebos are indeed effective. Another point of criticism is brought forward by Baur who claims that the students only receive input by listening, reading and musical-emotional backing, while other important factors of language acquisition are being neglected (1984:294). Furthermore, several other features of the method, like the 'nonconscious' acquisition of language, or bringing the learner into a child-like state are questioned by critics.
On the other hand, in Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition, Stephen Krashen refers to the excellent results achieved by the method, mentioning that its students tend to score higher on vocabulary tests and are "vastly superior" in communicative terms (while at the same time showing no difference between control groups regarding pronunciation and grammar - two areas almost totally ignored by Suggestopedia).
He goes on to point out, however, that while the results are indeed excellent, they "are not superhuman", since the month-long course is quite intensive - four hours per day, six days a week.
Bancroft, J. (1978). The Lozanov Method and its American Adaptations. The Modern Language Journal, 62, 167-175.
Baur, R.S. (1984). Die Psychopädische Variante der Suggestopädie (Psychopädie). In Bauer, H.L. (Ed.), Unterrichtspraxis und theoretische Fundierung in Deutsch als Fremdsprache. (pp. 291-326 ). München: Goethe-Institut.
Knight, P. (2001) The Development of EFL Methodology. In Candlin, C. N. and Mercer, N. (Ed.), English Language Teaching in its Social Context. A Reader (pp. 160-173). London / New York: Routledge.
Larsen-Freeman, D. (1986). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lozanov, G. (1978). Suggestology and Outlines of Suggestopedy. New York: Gordon and Breach.
Richards, J.C. and Rodgers, T.S. (2001). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Stevick, E.W. (1976). Memory, Meaning and Method. Rowley: Newbury House Publishers.