The Silent Way as A Method in TEFL


“Teachers teach that students learn” is the teachers’ philosophy in Indonesia in teaching English as a foreign language. Most of Indonesian teachers are still using teacher-centered approaches in their classroom. As the writer has experienced in learning English for many years, she felt uncomfortable with this approach. The students do not have any opportunities to share their ideas, opinions, etc. during the learning process. Consequently, the students are not able to transfer what they have mastered in the classroom to the real-life situation. There is an approach that can create a more student-centered classroom called The Silent Way (SW). This approach allows the students to have opportunities in practicing the target language by discovering or creating, not remembering and repeating. The method in SW is the teacher keeps silent to allow the students have opportunities in practicing English. He keeps silent to make the students speak more in English. Although the teacher keeps silent, he keeps monitoring the students and corrects them when they do mistakes in applying English. One of the advantages of using this approach is the students do not have to memorize the materials.

Key Word: The Silent Way, student-centered classroom


As a student who has learned English for many years, the writer has experienced that most of the Indonesian teachers are still using teacher-centered approaches in their classroom. The teacher dominates the class by explaining the materials too much and the students are quiet to listen to the teacher’s explanation. “Teachers teach that students learn” is the teachers’ philosophy in describing how they manage the class. The way they implement the philosophy makes most Indonesian students use these three habits in learning English as their foreign language: formation, memorization and repetition. The teachers often forget to give the students opportunities to practice in their class. Consequently, the students are not able to transfer what they have already learned in the class to communicative use outside it or in the real-life situations. It means that this learning process has not achieved the goal yet in making the students able to communicate in the target language. Benjamin Franklin’s words “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn” represents the Silent Way approach to make the class more effective.

This article will explore how the Silent Way creates a more student-centered classroom and allow them to have opportunities in practicing the target language by discovering or creating, not remembering and repeating. The learning hypotheses underlying Gattegno’s work could be stated as follows:

  1. Learning is facilitated if the learner discovers or creates rather than remembers and repeats what is to be learned.
  2. Learning is facilitated by accompanying (mediating) physical objects.
  3. Learning is facilitated by problem solving involving the material to be learned.

(Richard and Rodgers, 2001: 81)

An overview which includes the Silent Way’s history, theory and principles will be given first. Then, this article will discuss the Silent Way in practice. Finally, there will be a reflection on how the Silent Way improves the students’ ability in using target language in communication.


As stated in the introduction, the teachers in Indonesia are still using the teacher-centered approaches in teaching English in their classroom. It is supported by the writer’s experiences in learning English for about 10 years. Many students who learn English as their foreign language feel uncomfortable with teacher-centered approaches used by their teachers since they cannot share their ideas, opinions, expressions, etc. during the learning process. The teachers are talking too much in the classroom and the students are usually taking some notes in their books to remember and repeat what they have learned. That’s why most of the students are not able to use English since they are only taking notes without practicing English in their class.


In the 1950s, Caleb Gattegno, an educational designer of reading and mathematics programs, developed a method of language teaching called the Silent Way. It is based on the premise that the teacher should be silent as much as possible in the classroom but the learner should be encouraged to produce as much language as possible (Richard and Rodgers, 2001: 81). When the teacher is silent, it means that he is giving the students opportunities to practice the target language in the class as stated by Gattegno (1976: 80), silence is considered the best vehicle for learning, because in silence students concentrate on the task to be accomplished and the potential means to its accomplishment. Repetition (as opposed to silence) “consumes times and encourages the scattered mind to remain scattered”.

The approach provides the students to discover or create what is to be learned, not remember and repeat it. The Silent Way uses color charts and the colored Cuisenaire rods, small pieces of wood which vary in length and color. By using the wall charts coloring the different letters, each sound of the functional vocabulary is always represented by the same color. When the teacher uses a pointer to indicate the words on the charts, the students can work out their pronunciation by looking at the colors. Some principles of the Silent Way are as follows:

  1. The teacher should start with something the students already know and build from that to the unknown.
  2. Language learners are intelligent and bring with them the experience of already learning a language.
  3. Language is not learned by repeating after a model.
  4. Students’ actions can tell the teacher whether or not they have learned.
  5. Students should learn to rely on each other and themselves.
  6. The teacher works with the students while the students work on the language.
  7. The teacher makes use of what students already know.
  8. Learning involves transferring what one knows to new contexts.
  9. Reading is worked on from the beginning but from what students have learned to say.
  10. Silence is a tool.
  11. Meaning is made clear by focusing students’ perception, not through translation.
  12. Students can learn from one another.
  13. If the teacher praises (or criticizes) students, they will be less self-reliant.
  14. Errors are important and necessary to learning.
  15. If students are simply given answers, rather than being allowed to self-correct, they will not retain them.
  16. Students need to learn to listen to themselves.
  17. At the beginning, the teacher needs to look for progress, not perfection.
  18. A teacher’s silence frees the teacher to closely observe the students’ behavior.
  19. Students learn they must give the teacher their attention in order not to miss what he/she says.
  20. Students should engage in a great deal of meaningful practice without repetition.
  21. The elements of the language are introduced logically, expanding upon what students already know.
  22. Students gain autonomy in the language by exploring it and by making choices.
  23. Language is for self-expression.
  24. The teacher can gain valuable information from student feedback.
  25. Some learning takes place naturally as we sleep.
  26. The syllabus is composed of linguistic structures.
  27. The structures of the syllabus are not arranged in a linear fashion, but rather are constantly being recycled.
  28. The skills of speaking, reading, and writing reinforce one another.

(Larsen-Freeman, 2000: )

The advantages of this way are:

  1. The Silent Way belongs to a tradition that views learning as a problem-solving, creative, discovering activity, in which the learner is a principal actor rather than a bench-bound listener.
  2. The rods and the color-coded pronunciation charts (called Fidel charts) provide physical foci for student learning and also create memorable images to facilitate student recall. In psychological terms, these visual devices serve as associative mediators for student learning and recall.
  3. The Silent Way is also related to a set of premises that we have called “problem-solving approaches to learning.”

(Richard and Rodgers, 2001: 81)


In conclusion, the Silent Way is a great approach to make a more student-centered classroom. The activity in the Silent Way allows students to find many ways in expressing the situation in the target language. The goals of the teacher’s silence are the students’ progress in learning English, such as the students can practice the language, they are curious about it and they begin to explore it actively.


Gattegno, C. 1976. The Common Sense of Teaching Foreign Languages. New York: Educational Solutions.

Larsen-Freeman, Diane. 2000. Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Richard, Jack C. and Rodgers, Theodore S. 2001. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching Second Edition. USA: Cambridge University Press.


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