The Silent Way is a language-teaching method created by Caleb Gattegno that is striking for its extensive use of silence on the part of the teacher as a technique. It is not considered a mainstream method in language education. It was first introduced in Gattegno’s book Teaching Foreign Languages in Schools: The Silent Way in 1963. Gattegno was critical of the mainstream language education of the time, and conceived of the method as a special case of his general theories of education.
The method emphasises the autonomy of the learner; the teacher’s role is to monitor the students’ efforts, and the students are encouraged to have an active role in learning the language. Pronunciation is seen as fundamental; beginner courses start with pronunciation, and time is spent practising it in most lessons, even with advanced students. The Silent Way uses a structural syllabus, and structures are constantly reviewed and recycled. The treatment of vocabulary is different from the conventional approach: time is spent using functional and versatile words but wider vocabulary is only introduced as needed. Acquiring a wide vocabulary is seen as something that students can do outside the class. Translation and rote repetition are avoided and the language is usually practiced in meaningful contexts. Evaluation is carried out by observation, and the teacher may never set a formal test.
The teacher uses silence for multiple purposes in the Silent Way. It is used to focus students’ attention, to elicit student responses, and to encourage them to correct their own errors. Even though teachers are often silent, they are still active; for example, they use using hand gestures to help the students with their pronunciation and finger correction to help them with grammar. Teachers also encourage students to help their peers.
Silent Way teachers use specialized teaching materials. One of the hallmarks of the method is the use of Cuisenaire rods, which can be used for anything from introducing simple commands (“Take two red rods and give them to her.”) to representing objects such as clocks and floor plans. The method also makes use of color association to help teach pronunciation; there is a sound-color chart which is used to teach the language sounds, colored word charts which are used for work on sentences, and colored Fidel charts which are used to teach spelling.