Everything You Need to Know About Using the Suggestopedia Method of Teaching
Welcome to another day at the Language Teaching Method Buffet!
We sure hope you’re hungry, because there’s a lot to choose from.
Maybe you want a little grammar-translation.
Or perhaps your appetite craves some total physical response, with a side of direct method.
Most of these dishes are things you’ve tried many times before! But there are a few, tucked away on the sidebar, which may be unfamiliar—like the Suggestopedia method.
Creating an Outside-the-box Learning Experience with the Suggestopedia Method of Teaching
What is the Suggestopedia method and how does it work?
Let’s take a closer look at this little-known teaching method and see how you can use it in the classroom.
But first, a quick history lesson.
The Background of Suggestopedia
Suggestopedia is an unconventional teaching method developed in the 1970s by Bulgarian teacher and psychiatrist, Dr. Georgi Lozanov.
As the name implies, Suggestopedia relies on the power of suggestion for acquiring language knowledge. According to the theory, if students feel relaxed and comfortable, they’ll be more receptive to learning new information. This helps make language acquisition easier and more effective.
How Does It Work?
Instead of sitting at tables and desks, students relax in comfortable armchairs or sit on the floor while the teacher reads to them in the target language.
During the readings, the lights or often dimmed and soft music is played in the background—usually classical music or the sounds of nature. The purpose of the background noise is to create a peaceful mood throughout the lesson.
The teacher reads the text as if it were a concert, using dramatic voices and gestures to capture the students’ attention. Even if much of the vocabulary is unfamiliar, learners will be drawn into the performance and should be able to absorb the new words using contextual clues. Because Suggestopedia is about creating a positive and pleasant experience, students are freed from many of the negative associations they usually have with learning.
This all sounds wonderful. But is there any real value to adding the Suggestopedia method to your repertoire?
Possible Benefits of Using Suggestopedia
Though we don’t have much data to support the overall effectiveness of Suggestopedia, we do know that some aspects of it can be great for teaching language.
Music can facilitate learning
Numerous studies have found that using music in the classroom, either as background noise or as part of memorization exercises, improves learning outcomes.
Music can reduce stress, assist in managing behavior and inspire creativity. It also enhances concentration, making it easier for students to focus on challenging activities.
The right classroom environment helps students relax
It’s easy to downplay or forget the importance of a comfortable and secure classroom space.
The Suggestopedia method emphasizes a safe, comfortable space in which students feel at ease and in which they enjoy learning. In the right environment, students feel safe and cared about, which creates a positive learning experience.
Physically, they have easy access to materials and resources that they need. Emotionally, they feel comfortable to take risks without fear of judgment or ridicule. The seating arrangement, decorations, sounds and the lighting all contribute to motivating students without distracting them.
Reading out loud helps students learn
Reading a text or a dialogue to your students, as prescribed by the Suggestopedia method, is a wonderful way to pre-teach new vocabulary and review important material at the end of a lesson.
Reading with dramatic flair, as if you were part of a theatrical performance, can make the experience more engaging and enjoyable. As a result, students are more likely to pay attention.
The Disadvantages of Suggestopedia
So if this method has so many benefits, why aren’t more people using Suggestopedia?
Despite its obvious advantages, Suggestopedia does have a few drawbacks. Here are some things to consider before diving head-first into a Suggestopedia-driven lesson.
The wrong music can be a distraction
Studies show that music can actually hinder certain tasks, including memorization.
For the most part, it’s music with lyrics that cause distractions. But some students also get distracted by music that they don’t particularly like. In situations like this, Suggestopedia can do more harm than good.
It’s important to keep this in mind when considering Suggestopedia as a teaching style. After all, it’s unlikely that every student in your classroom will like the same kind of music.
Suggestopedia relies on infantilization
In other words, Suggestopedia requires the student-teacher relationship to resemble that of a parent and child for this method to work. The reason is that Suggestopedia relies on the absolute authority of the teacher for the power of suggestion.
If you’ve spent any time in the classroom, you know that not every student is docile enough to regard the teacher as a figure with absolute authority. Some students are more open to suggestion than others, especially as they get older, and others want to challenge or interrogate conflicting views.
Suggestopedia lacks a clear structure
Education experts now know that setting clear, linear goals is a necessary component to successful learning.
Teachers and students need a roadmap showing where they’ve been and where they’re going next. However, the Suggestopedia method lacks the structure to make this goal-setting process happen. For some students who need a more structured learning environment, this teaching style can be confusing or downright overwhelming.
It’s not always feasible to use Suggestopedia
Depending on where you teach, it simply might not be practical to furnish your room with armchairs, special lighting and decorations. Moreover, schools that stick to a more traditional educational model may not be receptive to adopting an unorthodox teaching method like Suggestopedia.
Practical Ways to Incorporate Suggestopedia in Your Classroom
Despite these drawbacks, there are a lot of benefits to using Suggestopedia. Here are some practical workarounds to help you reap the benefits of this unusual method.
Experiment with different kinds of music
Before turning your classroom into a full-blown concert, try playing music in the background during various learning activities and take note of how students respond.
Do students perform better if a classical piece is played, or does a pop song get them more motivated?
One of my favorites is this three-hour playlist of Mozart piano pieces. Another good choice is to play simple noises in the background, like this 12-hour track of water and bird sounds.
Also, notice which types of activities lend themselves well to background music. Your students may find it helps them focus during paired dialogues, but background music could become a distraction as they read silently.
Pay attention to physical elements of your classroom
If you’ve never given the setup and decor of your classroom much thought, now’s a great time to do it.
Remember that every detail matters: the seating, lighting, decorations and even the location of objects like bookcases and pencil sharpeners.
Everything needs to be arranged in a way that’s comfortable and welcoming—try to avoid clutter.
While it may not be practical to give every student an armchair to sit in, you might consider creating a comfy corner with a bookcase and a few beanbag chairs.
Check out these reviews of affordable and classroom-friendly furniture to get some ideas.
Read expressive dialogues in the target language
Bring out your inner thespian and give your language life by using theatrical voices, gestures and exaggerated emotions. This will make the vocabulary vivid and memorable, as well as create a fun learning environment for you and your students.
If you have a textbook that you already use, you may find some good dialogues there. Or you can expose your students to classic plays in the target language written by renowned playwrights like Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes and Molière.
Encourage your students to reach bigger goals
One of the core principles of Suggestopedia is that students will be able to learn large amounts of vocabulary in little time.
In fact, Dr. Lozanov insisted that this method would result in students learning the language three to five times faster than they would through other methods. While his claim was never backed up by evidence, the method has helped a lot of students improve their language-learning capabilities.
When using Suggestopedia, always be realistic about your classroom objectives and mindful of your students’ capabilities, maintaining and communicating high expectations shows that you believe in your students. By encouraging learners to set more challenging goals, you promote a positive learning environment that can motivate the class to work harder.
No language teaching method is perfect, but some are better in certain situations. Suggestopedia is best used with students that don’t respond well to a traditional, teacher-centered education. When used in combination with other methods, Suggestopedia contributed to a more balanced learning experience that appeals to various types of learners.
Remember, the best teaching method depends on your objectives and, most of all, your students’ learning styles.