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  • The Natural Method of Teaching Language
  • B. D. Pettengill

In a late number of the Annals, in a review of Mr. Keep's "First Lessons for Deaf-Mutes," the editor says that although that imitation of nature's method by which it is proposed to present words and sentences to the deaf-mute beginner in the same way they are uttered in the presence of the hearing child, viz., without any pre-arranged plan, system, or order, has seemed attractive in theory to many persons, [the editor himself included! see his article in the Annals, vol. xiv, page 193,] yet he will venture to say that it has never really been practised in any institution for the deaf and dumb.

I submit to the editor that if a method is attractive in theory, and has never been tried, this is not a reason why it should not be, but why it should be immediately put to the test of experiment.*

But the editor is certainly in error in supposing that no attempt has ever been made to put this theory into practice. I am not myself one of those persons who recommend to others what they do not practise themselves. According to my limited opportunities, I have practised the natural method of teaching language in instructing classes of deaf and dumb pupils, and the results have been entirely satisfactory to myself, and, as I believe, to all others interested.

But in an institution where the custom is (as in ours) annually to transfer classes from one teacher to another, no teacher has the opportunity to show what would have been the result of a uniform system pursued with his class during their whole term of instruction. A class taught for five years by the artificial methods in use, and then for one year instructed by the natural method, does not fully exhibit the benefits of that method. It is often more difficult to eradicate bad habits, contracted under an erroneous system of instruction, than it would have been to have made the pupils write correctly at first. Besides myself, I have heard of at least one teacher of the deaf and dumb in this country who believes that the way to teach deaf-mutes to converse by writing is to converse with them by writing, and who has for years successfully acted on this principle in teaching his classes.

Bnt although few teachers in institutions conducted under the French system confine themselves entirely to the natural method in teaching language, it is a fact, as I believe, that most of the instructors in these institutions employ this method to a considerable extent, and that their success is usually just in proportion as they do make use of it. [End Page 68]

Almost all teachers under the German system of teaching the deaf and dumb inform us that they endeavor to conform their methods of instructing their pupils in language, as much as possible, to those which nature employs in teaching children who hear and speak. It is believed that they do this to a much greater extent than is common in institutions conducted under the French system; and the result is, as many credible witnesses testify, that those pupils with whom their system is successful use language with more idiomatic correctness than do those who are taught according to our artificial methods. Besides, in teaching persons who hear and speak other languages than their vernacular, it is beginning to be understood and admitted that nature's process is the best. A method of teaching living languages solely by conversation, without grammar or dictionary, has lately been introduced and practised in this country by Professors Henosa and Sauveur. A school for teaching modern languages on this system has been established by them in Boston, and both of these gentlemen have publishcd pamphlets advocating their system, which, is warmly commented in the Atlantic Monthly of May last.

Professor Sauveur says in his pamphlet that the professors of Harvard and Yale have appreciated the system which his book reproduces, and have acknowledged it superior to every other.

"While at New Haven," says he, "I taught a select class, formed of the tutors...


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