INTERVIEW WITH GLORIA ALGUACIL, LOZANOV-GATEVA SUGGESTOPEDAGOGUE AND TEACHER TRAINER, BY ELENA STOYCHEVA, SUGGESTOPEDAGOGUE AND DIRECTOR OF CENTER ZAEDNO IN PLOVDIV
1. Ms Alguacil, you have more than 160 suggestopedic courses experience, can you tell us, what is suggestopedia for you?
Suggestopedia is for me a life philosophy. It is a way of life. It is much more than a science, a teaching/learning method or a bunch of techniques to learn faster and easier. If you think that every human being is born with unlimited capacities, with lots of talents just to be stimulated and developed; if you know that art and science shouldn ́t be separated because they represent the complete brain; if you believe that education both parental and scholar should be exquisitely attentive not to harm; if you understand how important communication is and try to be aware of the messages you are constantly sending and how they could affect others… you are already in the mood of suggestopedia. These beliefs should be part of your believing system when you want to go in for suggestopedia, you can learn the technique about how to apply the method, but beliefs are difficult to learn. Beliefs like these made Dr Lozanov start investigating about the brain and psyche.
2. You say that suggestopedia is a self-regulating system, what do you mean?
These are Dr Lozanov ́s words! I am just repeating… He meant with this that if suggestopedia is not being used properly or if the goals are more commercial and egotistical than humanistic, sooner or later it will disappear.
Many suggestopedia teachers or schools have disappeared as they couldn’t resist the kind of high voltage energy that suggestopedia is emitting, you have to be aligned with this frequency, otherwise you will get burnt out. I ran a big suggestopedic school myself in Madrid some 23 or 24 years ago. Dr Lozanov and Dr Gateva visited us and held some conferences. My business partner was an economist and everything became too commercially oriented… after 3 years we went bankrupt, my school disappearing, and I had to start on my own again. Big life lesson!
I have a Canadian friend and colleague, suggestopedagogue like me trained directly by Dr Lozanov and Dr Gateva, now retired from the Canadian Federal Government, who wrote to me some days ago: “From my side of the ocean it seems that suggestopedia is dead… I ́m glad you are still training teachers…” He meant that there is no more interest for suggestopedia in North America. A pity, isn ́t it? Once there appeared so many schools in the States claiming to be working with the most original suggestopedia, the version called “superlearning” and other “personal versions”, but nothing to do with Lozanov-Gateva real suggestopedia. All these people teaching all possible variants of suggestopedia finally extinguished like the dinosaurs.
That is what Dr Lozanov meant with self regulating system.
3. Can you tell more about the last years of suggestopedia, can you give a brief overview of the stages of suggestopedia throughout the years? What is different in the last version of the dessugestive pedagogy created by Dr Lozanov and Dr Gateva?
It is a long story, but I will try to tell you in the briefest way possible about the different stages of suggestopedia throughout the years.
Dr Lozanov, according to his research, developed Suggestology, the science of suggestion, which was based on the systematized activation of the reserve capacities of the brain/psyche in order to free the person from the frequent social norms that can condition both personality and behaviour and the learning capacity.
The application of this theory to pedagogy was called Suggestopedia. In its beginnings suggestopedia was very close to suggestive psychotherapy (clinical variant): in teaching languages to adults there were hardly any artistic or playful elements and music was only used during the passive concerts with the result of memorizing lots of single words or small sentences and expressions but limiting the global view of the linguistic structure.
In 1971 with Dr Gateva they started experimenting in the new artistic variant introducing little by little different sorts of music, songs, poetry, dancing, toys, games, diverse didactic materials and many different activities to reinforce positive emotions. The textbook told a complete story instead of single words or sentences. This variant went on developing and consolidated in 1978. The teacher led the group and was a kind of protective mother, very artistic and powerful at the same time. The students followed the teacher ́s invitations. The whole teaching was mainly based on a process of positive suggestions and emotions. The results of this variant were much better than the previous ones in terms of memorization and communication capacity and of satisfaction, motivation and wellbeing of the students.
However suggestopedia continued to develop over the following years basing more and more on a process of desuggestion than on the process of suggestion. The teacher, though conducting the group with an inviting attitude, became now a friendly mother, or better, a reliable friend rather than a protective mother and was one more in the group participating in the different activities, the students interacting in the introductions to the lessons or co-reading with the teacher some pieces of the text during the active concerts. The teacher no longer read during the active concerts in that histrionic exaggerated manner raising high the emotions, his/her attitude and voice became more moderate although solemn and keeping the ritual. The voice was now an additional instrument to the music. The position of the teacher became also more “democratic” than in the artistic approach of suggestopedia, where the teacher played an outstanding role. With their constant participation students were now invited to be co-creators of the process. This last variant was called Desuggestive Pedagogy.
Separated they live in Bookmarksgrove right at the coast of the Semantics, a large language ocean. A small river named Duden flows by their place and supplies it with the necessary regelialia. It is a paradisematic country, in which roasted parts of sentences fly into your mouth. Even the all-powerful Pointing has no control about the blind texts it is an almost unorthographic life.
4. What results do your students achieve after both levels of foreign language courses?
In general, speaking about adults, people starting with a low level can achieve an upper intermediate or in some cases even an advanced level. The important thing is that they will get it after 2 immersion courses of 80 full hours, so a total of 160 hours learning, and without homework! Scientific studies say that by using traditional methodologies people need between 700 and 1000 hours plus homework to achieve a good intermediate level.
5. Can you tell more about the whole cycle, the 2 levels of suggestopedic courses for adults?
Suggestopedia is inspired by life itself… Most of the philosophical currents and sciences related with the human being defend that there are two main periods in the life of an individual: childhood and adulthood. Adolescence is in general included in the period of childhood. These periods are very well differentiated in both physiological and psychological aspects. In the acquisition of the language, the mother tongue, these two periods are very clearly differentiated too.
Suggestopedia offers only two levels in teaching languages to adults, these reproducing the two periods in life. First level: acquiring the basic language (pronunciation, intonation, linguistic and grammatical structure and lots of standard everyday vocabulary) through a process of infantilization. The textbook tells a complete story with different characters and is written in dialogues to stimulate basic communication in the student.
Second level: developing the basic language with a more complicated linguistic and grammatical structure and lots of new vocabulary related with different interesting subjects (travelling, art, science, human behaviour, literature, philosophy, economy, politics, professions…) told in some separated stories written by different authors to stimulate debate and discussion for a more cultivated way of communicating. This level could represent adulthood in life.
Both levels, as you know, keep the suggestopedic structure (80 full hours, 4 hours a day, the suggestopedic cycle introduction-concerts-elaboration-production) but textbooks, materials, games, props, concerts, songs, classroom setting, group dynamics and teaching process in both psychological an educational aspects are absolutely different.
6. Why is suggestopedia universal and common to all?
It is absolutely natural, nothing in suggestopedia is artificial. It is a natural pedagogy, a natural way of teaching, it follows the natural rules of the brain, the natural emotions and feelings, the natural concept of harmony, together with the natural behaviour of the teacher… When things are natural and credible (not double-sided) people trust and lower their barriers.
7. Can you tell a little about your book which is already ready in Spanish?
I finished writing my book in Spanish last year but for different reasons didn’t find the time to review it. I hope to be ready with it along this coming winter. At the same time I would like to start working on the English version… The book talks about Suggestopedia – Desuggestive Pedagogy and my experiences over 25 years with the method and its creators.