The Silent Way

The Chomskyan criticism of the theories upon which the audiolingual method was founded led to an interest in  not only the affective factors but also in the cognitive factors.  While Community Language Learning, drawing from Carl Roger’s philosophy, focused on the importance of the affect, new methods were developed in the 70s to highlight the cognitive domain in language learning. The Silent Way is one of these innovative methods. In Fact, Caleb Gattegno, the founder of the Silent Way,devoted his thinking to the importance of problem solving approach in education. He contends that the method is constructivist and leads the learners to develop their own conceptual models of all the aspects of the language. The best way of achieving this is to help students to be experimental learners.


The Silent Way is characterized by its focus on discovery, creativity, problem solving and the use of accompanying materials. Richards and Rodgers (1986:99)  summarized the method into three major features.

  1. Learning is facilitated if the learner discovers or creates. The Silent way belongs to the tradition of teaching that favors hypothetical mode of teaching (as opposed to expository mode of teaching) in which the teacher and the learner work cooperatively to reach the educational desired goals. (cf Bruner 1966.) The learner is not  a bench bound listener but an active contributor to the learning  process.
  2. Learning is facilitated by accompanying (mediating) physical objects. The Silent Way uses colorful charts and  rods (cuisenaire rods) which are of varying length. They are used to introduce vocabulary ( colors, numbers, adjectives, verbs) and syntax (tense, comparatives, plurals, word order …)
  3. Learning is facilitated by problem solving involving the material to be learned. This can be summarized by Benjamin Franklin’s words:
    “Tell me and I forget
    Teach me and I remember
    Involve me and I learn”
    A good silent way learner is a good problem solver. The teacher’s role resides only  in giving minimum repetitions and correction, remaining silent most of the times,  leaving the learner struggling to solve problems about the language and get a grasp of its mechanism.


  • The Silent Way is often criticized of being a harsh method. The learner works in isolation and  communication is lacking badly in a Silent Way classroom.
  • With minimum help on the part of the teacher, the Silent Way method may put the learning itself at stake.
  • The material ( the rods and the charts)  used in this method will certainly fail to introduce all aspects of language. Other materials will have to be introduced.


  • Learning through problem solving looks attractive especially because it fosters:
    • creativity,
    • discovery,
    • increase in intelligent potency and
    • long term memory.
  • The indirect role of the teacher highlights the importance and the centrality of the learner who is responsible in figuring out and testing the hypotheses about how language works. In other words teaching is subordinated to learning

Bruner, J. (1966). Toward a Theory of Instruction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

H. Douglas Brown (1987). Principles of language learning and teaching. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Prentice Hall

Richards, Jack C. and Theodore S. Rodgers (1986). Approaches and methods in language teaching: A description and analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press