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Philosophies - the Callan Method


From time to time we've looked at a couple different English teaching methods. Such as language acquisition from Stephen Krashen or the ideas behind Total Physical Response. But let's begin a new series on different English teaching philosophies.

The first under the microscope is the ever controversial Callan Method... You need only watch a  sample lesson on YouTube to be scratching your head with the unnatural flow of the lesson. But, sit around and watch too many of these videos and that flow will get stuck in your head. There certainly is a very hypnotic method to their madness, allowing the Callan Method website to boast big about being fast and effective, especially for beginners.

Developed by Robin Callan from his own teaching experience, he discovered a unique style which speed drills important English patterns into students' subconscious. Conditioning  language reflexes by focusing on the 2000 or so most commonly used words of the English language. The method gets results by thrusting students into speaking right away, with fast paced dialogue between the teacher and... the teacher. At the early stages it's not the focus for the student to understand, much like in the Karate Kid, the student doesn't understand why they have to do the "wax on, wax off" techniques, but the focus is to build conditioning which pays dividends later on. So, the teacher asks questions, and then tells the students what to say. Feeding them complete sentences to build good speaking habits, and reveal patterns in the language. Eventually the teacher starts taking cues from what the student might want to say. But the lessons are not about self-expression, but building an English foundation. The effort of entry for students is very low in the beginning, as they need only repeat mechanically, while keeping on the lookout to remember patterns.

The teacher is the only person standing, a lectern before them with the scripted plan guiding the lesson. Repeating everything they say at least twice (for maximum hypnotic effect?) and telling the students exactly what to say in bite-size fragments.

The pro's and con's for such a domineering method are stark and glaring. One has to respect the sheer grit  and ferocious 'tude shown by such a method! Every teacher has fantasized about having such sheer control. We all know that sometimes coaxing English out of your students is like pulling teeth. At least with this method, you can just "get it done". But what are the side effects? Are students really learning, or merely vocal automatons?

Despite the gnashing of teeth by many naysayers, the method is known to be effective. The official website boasts it can teach basic English in 1/4 the time of conventional methods. There are even enough satisfied customers for it to become a strong commercial success in it's native country of England. Many believe it gives a strong foundation, but proves less effective in higher levels of conversation and discourse. Leaving students lacking in an ability to think for themselves, or speak naturally. Because the lessons have a halting, repetitive, mechanical flow, and the students do not hear the natural rhythm of English. Also learning is based almost entirely on speaking, lacking in reading and writing skills, with creativity discouraged in order to protect the almighty script. This script is what allows for the very short training period required for Callan method teachers. Lesson preparation is minimal at best, and all that is needed is a room, chairs, lectern, and... the script. 

But at least everyone knows what they can expect, because the method is very consistent and effective for beginners. It may not be the most well-rounded method, but instead it's sharp, piercing quality is part of it's strength. Callan trainers circulate a famous story where the method was shown to some educational psychologists who exclaimed that such a technique could even be used to teach a monkey.

So the program is very effective in a crash course of English for beginners... or for monkeys.

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