Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Guide to methods part 3: What Richards and Rodgers don't tell you.

I always had something of a soft spot for Suggestopedia with it's comfy chairs, baroque music and meditation. It always seemed to me like the cool kid of methods, taping straight into the brain and speeding up learning. I even continued to look at it affectionately after starting this blog because I remember reading in Richards and Rodgers that Lozanov accepted that his method was a placebo but tried to actually use the power of the placebo effect in his teaching. (it later turned out that was not true). 

That said, Suggestopedia would clearly bring up lots of red flags on my education 'baloney detection kit'. It makes extravagant claims of efficacy such as the claim that learning can be accelerated 5 - 50 times using suggestopedia or that “…1,000 words [can be] learned in a day" (Ostrander & Schroede 1979:15). 

It makes claims about things which are vague or hard to test“the method appeared to improve health and cure stress-related illnesses” (Ostrander & Schroeder 1979: 33). Also we can commonly see claims that “[suggestology] is a method of…making use of the unknown reserves, powers and abilities of the human mind” (Lozanov 1971:292), ah, those unknown reserves! Any guesses as to what percent of the mind Lozanov thinks people are currently using

With its 'double-planedness', 'elaboration', 'concert sessions',  'primary activation' and 'pseudo-passiveness', jargon or sciency sounding words are liberally employed. Richards & Rodgers note that “The method has a somewhat mystical air about it…partially because of it’s arcane terminology and neologisms, which one critic has unkindly called…  pseudoscientific gobbledygook’” (2014:317). 

It also has little evidence to back up it's claims. The few experiments done to tests its efficacy did not produce encouraging results.  Wagner & Tilney tested it, finding “no significant improvement across the five-week experimental period" (1983:5). And even Bancroft, a supporter of the method admits that:
Very often the exact means by which [Lozanov's] results were obtained remains obscure. Statistics, as has been pointed out by more than one reviewer, are often faulty or incomplete; the evidence from several experiments tends to be fused (or even confused).(1999:51)
All that said, it would be easy and rather pointless to pull apart and poke fun at suggestopedia here. What I'm more interested in looking at here is how much respect this approach received and why certain facts about the method were glossed over or ignored in the literature. 

What Richards and Rodgers don't tell you. 
I wanted to know more about Suggestopedia so I got hold of a copy of another book that details Lozanov's work called 'psychic discoveries behind the iron curtain'. Unlike many EFL books, this actually features interviews with Lozanov, and he gets to explain directly his beliefs. Here are a few things I learnt:

1) Lozanov was a Pioneer of parapsychology and believed that "everyone is psychic" (1971:281)

2) he ran the suggestopedia and parapsychology research centre in Bulgaria and 20 years work on precognition  

3) he believed that Telepathy is an inexpensive and promising communication system” (1971:293) 

4) he believed that he could render people unconscious with telepathy. 

Now, none of this means that he was necessarily wrong about Suggestopedia, (as the TEFLology guys point out that would be the 'genetic fallacy') but this information is nowhere to be found in any of the TEFL sources I've ever come across. The fact that someone claiming people can learn 1,000 words a day also claims that he put people to sleep with his mind seems to me, at least relevant.

And it's not just Richards and Rodgers who don't feel this is important information. in Byram's encyclopedia of language learning (entry by Baur) Lozanov is credited as working in a state run centre of 'suggestology' when in fact he ran the "institute of suggestology and parapsychology". 

These omissions in the literature and the seeming way his slightly weirder beliefs are ignored  interests me. Take Baur's insistence that
Lozanov discovered that certain yogic techniques of physical and mental relaxation could be used to produce a state of analgesia, or relief from pain, on the one hand, and a state of hypermnesia, or greatly improved memory and concentration, on the other...
Did Lozanov actually discover this? Or did he claim to discover it, -there is a whole world of difference. It just seems that Baur is happy to accept Lozanov's claims without question. But don't 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence?
These are not isolated incidents, almost everywhere Lozanov appears there is no mention of any of this kind of thing and his claims are either taken on face value or just ignored. Brian Tomlinson's is equally generous. In his 2011 book on materials development he writes:
The complexity of Lozanov's method is due to a lifetime's research into the hidden language and territory of the unconscious, in particular the nebulous area where it meets the conscious, which he calls the 'para-conscious'    
He then goes on to talk about 'left brained and right brained learners'Another example is Diane Larsen-Freeman who in this video tells viewer to keep an open mind and don't dismiss things 'ask yourself instead, is there anything valuable here that I can adapt to my own circumstances.' 


A very cursory examination of suggestopedia turns up things that would strain the credibility of even the most credulous. For example, Bancroft notes that "Dr. Lozanov...has performed painless surgical operations using suggestion and/or hypnosis instead of anesthetic" (2005:21) And yet suggestopedia still has some degree of currency in the ELT world. It still has exactly one more chapter in Richards and Rodgers latest edition than approaches like Dogme, crazy English or Demand High. It is still a choice for some DELTA experimental lessons and some teachers still use this approach. This study for example shows just how seriously some teachers can take it. Lozanov even made an appearance as a supporting reference in an ELTJ article recently.

TEFL hoarders?

'These fragments I have shored against my ruins' -T.S. Eliot 

That this happens isn't perhaps surprising. As I noted with my final 'red flag' supporters are not moved by contrary evidence. I think I might revise this statement to 'the method is promoted despite criticism' as this rule does not necessarily apply only to supporters. Everyone seems to do it. For example, Richards and Rodgers despite listing numerous issues with Suggestopedia describe a criticism (above) as 'unkind'. They go on to write “Perhaps, then, it is not productive to further belabour the science/non-science, data/double-talk issues and instead…try to identify and validate those techniques…that appear effective” (Richards & Rodgers 2014:326). 

The quote above about taking the best techniques and keeping them is particularly curious when we note that from the same publication, on the previous page the authors note that "Lozanov is unequivocally opposed to any eclectic use of the techniques outside of he full panoply of suggestopedic science" (a quote that appears verbatim in Byram). So are Richards and Rodgers suggesting we ignore the creator's advice and try to find something among the creation? If so, wouldn't that mean Lozanov didn't really know what he was doing and had just hit upon something completely by accident?

 My question then is 'why?' Why is it necessary for every method to be examined for some small saving grace? It almost seems as if there is a hoarding tendency among the TEFL community and we are reluctant to disregard methods wholly, no matter what problems we find with them. 'Sure' people say, 'The Silent Way is not for me, but Cuisenaire Rods? Now that I can get on board with!' 

We sit surrounded by odds and ends of grammar translation, trinkets of audiolingualism and some TPR stuffed under the mattress. Is it that we are such an impoverished field it seems risky to throw anything at all away? Or is this the elusive beast 'principled eclecticism' that I've heard so much about it. It certainly seems eclectic, but I'm struggling to see what the principles are.


afterword: A note on the name

there is some seeming confusion over what exactly the method was called. Part of this is caused by lozanov himself. Lozanov himself calls the 'science' suggestology and the education part of it suggestopedia. He then switches at some point to desuggestopedia because, in his words it sounded too manipulative and he wanted to remove the negative connotations and also because his approach rid people of there previous negative learning experiences (like dethorning a rose). This may seem clear but Lozanov also says:
Although it seems a little early to talk about reservopaedia before the science reservology has been entirely established, it will be right to gradually replace the word suggestopaedia by the word reservopaedia. And the science called reservology can be developed with the initial research of the laws of reservopaedia. These laws are very typical. All we need is highly qualified and respectable scientists. (2005:11)
so really it's anyone's guess what it's called. 


  1. I know some teachers may borrow some ideas from this method, but I don't know if any follow Suggestopedia or Desuggestopedia exactly step by step. I think it should be removed from methods textbooks, except for historical purposes. It's like including blood-letting or prescriptions for heroin in a medical textbook.

    1. Hi Jeremy,

      Thanks for replying. I also think it should be removed from textbooks. Perhaps, as you say, it could be left in as an example of methods get popular?

  2. Thanks for this. I think there are two things we can salvage from Suggestopedia, which a student of mine once dubbed 'Suggestophobia' ! The first is that making students relaxed in class, by using music, armchairs or whatever, is likely to help . That is if we accept Krashen;s idea of an affective filter and that affective factors in general have some role in SLA. We would really say that this is common sense rather than the 'science' of Suggestopedia of course. The second is that if used once in a while, an 'out there' methodology such as this may interest jaded students and this could impact positively on their motivation. Most accept that motivation is one important factor in second language learning, and there is some evidence for that- see for example Dornyei, Z (2012). Motivation in language learning.

    1. Hi Chris,

      Thanks for the comment. I guess your second point could be used to defend just about any method, couldn't it? So I won't argue with that. The first though, -I wonder. I was talking to Jo Sayer about this the other day. I might assume that "using music, armchairs or whatever," will help students, -but that's just an assumption, right? I mean, I personally might like it, but another student might think you're not taking things seriously and so it may have the reverse effect...I guess what I'm saying is that, assumptions might not translate into actual truths.Secondly, I wonder if students do necessarily learn more when they are relaxed? Krashen seems to suppose this is the case, and again, it might be true, -but has he tested it? I don't know if he's right or not. I do remember reading that students tend to retain more when they have to work at the information. So having them relaxed and not challenged might not be as good as having a little bit of stress.

    2. Regarding music, this ( qualitative small research article points out that EAP students find background music during small group discussions "beneficial". Of course, this did not measure whether it actually helped them learn. Most research has also shown that children, in utero or otherwise, don't really benefit from listening to music. So the claim that listening to music, especially Baroque music, seems tenuous at best. (Learning music is a different story.)

      Regarding your second point about difficulty, this has more support in science. (See for example

    3. Hi Unknown,

      I've actually written about that article here (

      She uses Lozanov as support.

  3. History notes:
    SEAL (the Society for Effective Affective Learning) was founded in 1983 (it folded in 2007) 'to promote the ideas of Suggestopedia, the work of Dr Georgi Lozanov'. It was an influential organisation which, at one time had over 700 members in 40 countries. The interests of its members included Brain-Friendly Learning, Brain Gym, Emotional Intelligence, Mind Body Harmony, Multiple Intelligences, Neuro Linguistic Programming, Right / Left Brain. In 2003, SEAL published a book called ‘Transforming Learning: Introducing SEAL Approaches’, compiled by Susan Norman, which gives a good flavour of SEAL. Extracts from this volume can be found on Google Books.
    Two years after the formation of SEAL, IATEFL’s first SIG was formed, the Teacher Development SIG. As is clear from its early Newsletters, it broadly shared the same interests as SEAL and many individuals were active in both organisations. The interest of the TD SIG members in many of these areas gradually waned, but in 1999 the baton was taken up by the online magazine ‘Humanising Language Teaching’ (HLT), edited by Mario Rinvolucri, who had been closely involved with both SEAL and the TD SIG. The first year of the magazine saw a ‘major article’ by Grethe Hooper Hansen (a former President of SEAL). Later editions saw articles about or referencing the work of Lozanov by Jane Arnold, Bonnie Tsai, Susan Norman and others. Enter ‘Lozanov’ in the search function of HLT and you get 32 hits, the most recent of which was in 2012, the year of Lozanov’s death. The owners of HLT, Pilgrims, still run teacher development courses, which include a focus on Suggestopedia.

    1. That's some very interesting background information..thanks for posting it.

  4. Fair points I am not sure it is possible to test the 'affective filter' hypothesis really. It would just seem to be common sense but of course that of course can be described a flaw. When I say it may help for student to be relaxed, I chose the wrong word. I just mean that making students comfortable in the class is logical. I agree that this will vary a lot and for some students this might equal intense work while for others it is learning in armchairs! You may have come across this article on language learning anxiety but just in case quite an interesting (if dated) overview. Scovel, T (1978).The effect of affect on foreign language learning: A review of the anxiety research. Language Learning 28/1, 129-142. You can find it on google.

    1. Hi Chris!

      thanks for the link to the article. I look forward to reading it. :)

  5. Hi Russ,
    I wouldn’t worry too much about Richards and Rogers. They dedicated a whole chapter to Suggestopedia for the same reason they dedicated chapters to the rest of the designer methods – they are the stepping stones to our current knowledge. Why Suggestopedia enjoys a longer life than, say, the Silent Way, is a more interesting question, but the answers will vary. For example, the explanations of the popularity of Suggestopedia in Bulgaria (it’s not overly popular, I can assure you, especially in the state school sector where foreign languages are predominantly taught) will be rather different from those in other local contexts.
    To me as a Bulgarian there are other interesting questions. Lozanov tested his methodology with 1500 first-graders in 1975/76. If the experiments with first-graders were as successful as he claimed, and if this was confirmed by a commission appointed by the Ministry of Education, why wasn’t his methodology implemented on a larger scale? How were the teachers participating in the experiment trained? What did they think of the methodology? Did they really follow it? If they did, how did the children react?
    A few years ago I was lucky to find one teacher who had taken part in the experiment and was still alive. My luck stopped there - she didn’t want to talk about her experiences. I hope you’ll be luckier with your questions. :)

    1. Hi Zarina!
      Thanks very much for your comment. Very interesting to know that the teacher you met wanted to keep Schtum! I wonder why? I was ways intrigued by the fact that the Russian government had allegedly confiscated Lozanov's work! It made me think there was some great secret to discover and the Russians wanted it for themselves. Perhaps they were just a bit embarrassed?

  6. Hi Russ,
    Great post again! I wonder how much control Richards and Rodgers had in the editing process. Sometimes editors are constrained/forced by word counts and "new" information to include things that are likely bullshit.

    Then again, they've had ample opportunities and certainly have enough respect and authority to make changes and delete the woo in the subsequent editions of the book. Either they see no problem or don't care. Both seem to imply that their hearts are no longer in bettering ESL/EFL teaching. And I have to say, after seeing Richards speak 7 times on the same freaking topic I'm betting at least one of these two reasons are why such crap is still in their book.

    1. interesting!

      I read an earlier article by Richards when he was really critical of a lot of these methods. With that in mind I can't quite understand why he continues to include them. It's a bit odd.

  7. You make a great point about "hoarding." I think this is because that our field has a poor view of itself as something that can be taken seriously. Many people probably believe that if we are throwing everything out, then are we really a field? If we can't even agree on the proper methods of instruction, how can we be taken seriously? But, like you mentioned above in the comments about leeches and blood-letting, a troubled past should not really influence how the field should in the present day, that is, more evidence based.

    However, unlike medicine, we can't easily take an evidence-based idea and translate it into the classroom. This seems to reinforce the "shakiness" that our field is based on, leading to further hoarding.

    Great post!