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Foreign Language Instruction at Ambleside

Education is the Science of Relations.—The idea that vivifies teaching in the Parents’ Union is that Education is the Science of Relations; by which phrase we mean that children come into the world with a natural ‘appetency,’ to use Coleridge’s word, for, and affinity with, all the material of knowledge; for interest in the heroic past and in the age of myths; for a desire to know about everything that moves and lives, about strange places and strange peoples; for a wish to handle material and to make; a desire to run and ride and row and do whatever the law of gravitation permits. Therefore we do not feel it is lawful in the early days of a child’s life to select certain subjects for his education to the exclusion of others; to say he shall not learn Latin, for example, or shall not learn Science; but we endeavour that he shall have relations of pleasure and intimacy established with as many as possible of the interests proper to him; not learning a slight or incomplete smattering about this or that subject, but plunging into vital knowledge, with a great field before him which in all his life he will not be able to explore. In this conception we get that ‘touch of emotion’ which vivifies knowledge, for it is probable that we feel only as we are brought into our proper vital relations.


— Charlotte Mason, School Education —


Foreign language instruction at Ambleside Schools follows a “series method” created by François Gouin and described in the book, Teaching Languages with Miss Mason and François, by Allison Adrian. A series reflects the steps one performs when encountering various situations; arriving at school, for example, I say, “Good morning;” I open my backpack; I take out my books; I put my books on the shelf … when introducing a new series, students learn the series in English before moving on to the Spanish. Marcella Tyler, Spanish instructor at Ambleside Marion, teaches Spanish using this method, and a 20-minute class for younger students includes memory work, prayers, songs, recitation of previous series, and engaging in learning new series. Brian Brostrom, of RiverTree School, oversees Spanish instruction for Ambleside Schools International. Brian wrote:


In his book Vintage Innovation: Leveraging Retro Tools and Classic Ideas to Design Deeper Learning Experiences, author John Spencer articulates how meaningful education can often take place with a combination of innovative ideas and the “tried and true.” Decidedly innovative for the time period in which it was created, our Gouin method used in Spanish language instruction shows just how effectively a nineteenth-century method can still be used to engage students in a joy-filled pursuit toward proficiency in another language. For François Gouin to harness the students’ natural restless energy and desire to speak in creating a methodology in training their ears, tongues and minds in a second language was a stroke of brilliance. The following is one of my favorite passages from Gouin’s work:


“One of the French Ministers said some time back, speaking of the teaching of languages, that what was necessary was to seek some means, not of making the whole class of children sit still on the school-benches, but, on the other hand, of putting them to work, and of utilizing the unconquerable need of movement of childhood upon the side of instruction; that the means should be found not of imposing silence upon a class, but rather of requiring them all to speak.”


Although nearly 130 years have passed, I believe the children of Gouin’s time were entirely similar to ours in so many ways. Some things just never change.