The classroom-with Silent-Way color-coded charts in the background.Studying Spanish The Silent Way


A first-time visitor to Mexico comments on language learning and Guadalajara

Photos ©2010 by John Pint

See the Video Clip on Youtube!

Some time ago, retired computer programmer Jon Levy of Washington, D.C., decided he would take up the study of a foreign language “because it would be good for the brain.” For no particular reason, Levy picked Spanish as his target language and began hunting for a good way to study it. “I started with the Pimsleur Method,” he says. This system is based on listening to recordings and repeating, but, continues Levy, “I found it wasn’t working for me. I wasn’t doing as much as I had to in order to learn it.”

Not about to give up, Levy next tried Rosetta Stone, a computer-based self-study approach which helps students figure out a new language for themselves. “I really liked Rosetta Stone and I did it for a couple of month, but then I started getting frustrated.” Levy had come upon aspects of Spanish which he was unable to puzzle out for himself, so he stopped using this method and joined an on-line class offered by a local community college. This program, however, bombarded him with vocabulary. “By the third week,” he complains, “I had forgotten what I learned the first week.”

Levy then recalled a demonstration Portuguese lesson he had seen long ago in 1965 of an approach called The Silent Way. He had been so impressed by the lesson he’d seen that he still recalled the name of the teacher, Dr. Caleb Gattegno (1911-1988, creator of The Silent Way).

Las regletas de Gina son moradas: Gina's rods are purple.Levy used the internet to hunt for a Spanish-the-Silent-Way course and was only able to find one person in the world offering such classes: Susana Ibarra de Pint of Guadalajara.

“I thought going to Mexico would be nice,” said Levy—“I had never been there before and I liked the idea of having someone to show me around. For me, this was all very daring—but I did it.”

On April 11, Levy flew to Guadalajara and the next day began studying Spanish five hours per day in Pinar de la Venta, a rustic community located just west of the city, at the edge of the Primavera Forest.

“I was never bored,” he commented, “and I was always learning. I never had this kind of educational experience before—so intense. But now, at the end of the one-week course, I feel I have the basis I need for continuing on by myself, which I never felt with other methods. When I get back to the U.S., I’m going to join one of those Spanish conversation groups—and now I’m ready to go back to the Rosetta Stone.”

Where are your rods and where are mine?

My rods are on top of Juan's and yours are (for me) in front of Pancho and Gina's .

(Written work on the third day of the five-day course.)


The Silent Way was so named in order to contrast it with language-teaching methods where the teacher shouts out phrases and the students repeat. In the Silent Way, the students are engaged in a game-like situation where they discover how the new language works by trial and error, a bit like all human beings do as small children, when they learn their first language.

The Silent Way was developed by Egyptian-born Dr. Caleb Gattegno, the innovative educator who introduced the Cuisenaire rods into many of the world’s classrooms, first for teaching and learning math and later for studying foreign languages. Gattegno also developed an approach to teaching reading (of one’s native language) called Words in Color. All of his educational approaches are based on “the subordination of teaching to learning,” a principle which requires teachers to constantly revise and adjust what they are doing in the classroom according to the ever-changing requirements of the students’ learning. In 1968, Gattegno founded Educational Solutions, Inc. in New York City. This organization and Une Education Pour Demain in France are the world leaders in carrying on Caleb Gattegno's work.


Apart from studying Spanish for 25 hours, Jon Levy was also taken by his teacher to visit local attractions like Tlaquepaque and Los Guachimontones. He says, “Mexico is quite different from the U.S.. People here are very hard-working. In the family I stayed with, the husband left for work at 7:00 AM and returned at 9:00 PM. On the streets, at stoplights, people are washing windshields, juggling and selling things, trying to make money any way they can. In New York, where I grew up, we call that hustling. Americans do work hard, but not like down here.”

 Jon Levy and Susana Ibarra with sculptures of Alejandro Colunga, permanently on display in downtown Guadalajara. “I was impressed by how much creativity I saw in Mexico,” said Levy.

“I loved the artwork in Tlaquepaque," continued Levy. "Another thing that impressed me was how much music there is, and how much creativity. In one restaurant, I heard a singer good enough to be with many opera companies in the United States. But the drivers here are insane. I saw somebody make a right turn from the left lane, across four lanes of traffic! So they are definitely equal to taxi drivers in New York City.”

As for the teacher of the Spanish course, Susana Ibarra was quite pleased with the one-week intensive course. “It went very well. Usually, I prefer to teach a group of students because we are constantly creating situations like ‘give one rod to him and the other to her’ and this is easier to do if you have several people in the room. However, in line with the principles of the Silent Way, I found new ways to make things clear, even though I had only one student. In fact, because he was along, I could constantly focus on his particular needs. So, you see, Jon learned a lot and so did I.”

You can seeThe Silent Way—and Jon Levy—in action in several Youtube video clips. If you are interested in taking a Silent-Way Spanish course, check out Susana Ibarra's web page.

John Pint

Tus regletas están entre las de Juan y Vicky: Your rods are between Juan and Vicky's.

1) Each of us has a rod of the same color.

2) We both have a rod of the same color

Jon Levy of Washington, D.C. (right) studies the master plan being followed by Guadalajara muralist Jorge Monroy (left) for the new Teuchitlan Interactive Museum.