Review of Bernard Dufeu’s Book: Ways towards a Pedagogy of Being

Spread the love

Ways towards a Pedagogy of Being{Wege zu einer Paedagogik des Seins} Mainz: Éditions Psychodramaturgie, 2003, self published by the author, pp. 431.

The question of how to motivate students to learn foreign languages continues to be one of the central issues that drives me to seek answers and to study different approaches. Many teachers complain about disinterested students. Then, almost daily, I face the problem that speaking in a foreign language is a great problem for the people in the country where I live, Hungary. What can be the reasons and how can be this changed? The reasons may be many-sided, e.g. the marked difference between the local language and the languages commonly learnt at school (English, German, French, Italian), or the widespread method by which languages are learnt here etc. But the problem seems to me not only located in my country but to be a global one. There are of course many countries (Scandinavian ones, Swiss etc. or multicultural countries), where people are fluent in one or even two foreign languages and can understand another one as well. Does this depend on the open-mindedness of the society?

When I began to develop a language learning method for myself based, amongst others, on Kato Lomb’s approach (all in all she had learnt about 43 languages, see more about her at Wikipedia), Mario Rinvolucri recommended to me Bernard Dufeu’s book Teaching Myself. The book is a good base and much much more for any passionate language teacher be she or he experienced or not. Unfortunately the English version o the book is out of print, so I read it in German in fact a revised version – Wege zu einer Paedagogik des Seins or, Ways Towards a Pedagogy of Being, published in 2003. I can recommend heartily to you if you understand this language, as it is a more comprehensive version than the previous ones.

  • The book presents a very convincing and authentic language teaching method based on more than 30 years experience of teaching and scientific work and, what we shouldn’t forget, on a passionate love of life, languages and people.
  • The author suggests that his approach should be called in English, Psychodramaturgy for Languge Acquisition as the previous English name did not really cover the original French meaning. In this review I have used that title.

The book consists of three parts. In the first one you can read about the theoretical foundation of a pedagogy of being. The second one is about the practical approach and in the third one you can read about aspects of Teacher Training.

At the very beginning of his book Dufeu tells us that he had to find his own way into this world, as the doctor who had been called for at his birth couldn’t be woken up in time. Thus the earliest event in his life characterises his career as a language Teacher as well; he had to find his own way into the world of pedagogy.

I would like to mention a few of the most important ideas about the method documented in this 431-page book..

  1. The importance of change in the language teaching system from the pedagogy of having to the pedagogy of being. The method of Bernard Dufeu, the Psychodramaturgy for Language Acquisition, ends with any authoritative teaching and changes the system from the bottom.
  2. The acquisition of correct pronunciation is crucial from the very beginning and is based on getting acquainted with the prosodic characteristics of the language, rhythm, melody and pronunciation. The written or read work is based on this.
  3. The spontaneous development of the curriculum within certain frames (exercises of Psychodrama and Dramaturgy ) is mostly based on the speech intentions of the protagonists (learners); there is no previously written material at the beginning. This allows a very deep involvement in the language as the curriculum is being developed while the protagonists interact with the trainer and with each other in some dramatic situations.
  4. Skills like empathy, receptivity, auditory memory, or social skills are developed in the course as well and have the same importance as writing, reading, comprehension, and speaking, as these latter are only one side of the coin and not the only skills on which should be concentrated in the language class. Developing these skills greatly supports language learning.
  5. Tales and myths can help language learning by their significant functions as they put us in contact us with our deepest psychological levels.
  6. Grammar is not in an “input” but in an “output” position. The rules will be discovered by the participants. Correctness is important, but it is subordinated to expression.

Let’s look in detail at the above points.

  1. Dufeu writes in the introduction to his book about the theory of change in institutions set up by the authors Watzlawick, Weakland and Fisch. A system can be changed in two ways:
    1. There are a few changes in the system but the system itself stays the same;
    2. The change comes about on a higher level, the premises are changed.

    Some problems can’t be solved with the first type of change. This is true in ELT as well. Many methods such as the audio-visual or audio-oral methods etc. have their base in applied sciences such as linguistics, educational psychology, etc. The so called alternative methods such as the Silent Way, Community Language Learning, the Natural Approach for example originate in disciplines such as mathematics, psychology so they represent a change of type B.

    As PLA (Psychodramaturgy for Linguistic Acquisition) has its very base in Psychodrama and Dramaturgy and even other disciplines such as Body Relaxing Methods, Mythodrama, Stegreiftheater, Music Education, Body Therapies, Group Dynamics and Theories of Foreign Language Teaching, it also represents a change of type B.

    The PLA integrates a holistic model of the human being. Emotional, physical, intellectual and social factors of the participants are considered as well.

    Dufeu makes a distinction between the pedagogy of having and the pedagogy of being. What then are the differences?

    The pedagogy of having The pedagogy of being
    Who Who
    Learner Participant
    Teacher Animator
    How How
    Hierarchical relationship Empathetic relationship
    The teacher gives commands The animator suggests, accompanies, responds to demand
    He is waiting for answers The teacher answers the questions
    Vertical transmission of intellectual understanding Horizontal expansion of practical knowledge
    Teaching on a conscious level Conscious and unconscious learning
    It is planned It is spontaneous
    Memorising, repeating Discovering, using, experimenting
    Transmitting model Individual developing
    Learnt language Experienced language, approaching from experience
    Course books and using of texts Use of frames
    The teacher is responsible for the programme Trainer and participants participate jointly and share responsibility for development of the programme and content
    Learner responsible for his mistakes Mistakes indispensable for learning
    Situations imposed from outside and constructed according to didactic criteria A real or imagined situation emerges from within the group
    The speaker separated from his/her speech content, results in double alienation The speaker expresses himself in direct contact with his/her words. There is self expression
    Pedagogy seems to be different from life Life is integrated in pedagogy.
    What What
    Selected texts independent from the group Spontaneous language is coming about in the group, individualized
    Programmed It is personalised
    Language of ‘He’, ‘they’ Language of ‘ I ‘,’You’,’ We’
    It concentrates on the meaning of the words. It concentrates on the meaning of the message.
    The language has a referential and metalinguistic function The language has an expressive, communicative, investigative, and symbolic function
    The What is dominant The Who is dominant
    Why Why
    Linguistic objectives Personal and linguistic objectives
    Directed towards past or future Directed towards the group
    A pedagogy concentrating on an objective, on results A pedagogy of the road that concentrates on the process
  2. The acquisition of a correct pronunciation is crucial and is based on getting acquainted with the prosodic characteristics of the language such as rhythm, melody and pronunciation, from the very beginning. The written or read work is based on this.The trainer explains the exercise for the group in the very first day within the frames of a warming up exercise that prepares for the main exercise. Explanation is needed, as this exercise may be very different form the usual ones done by the participants in previous courses. The animator explains that is very important to first learn the rhythm, melody and sounds of a language as this greatly helps understanding, then he says a sequence which is spoken by the group in chorus. This helps the pupils get in contact with the prosodic elements of the language. The trainer follows his words with gestures as well so it leads the participants toward a global understanding and not to an understanding of individual units.Rhythm: to encounter a foreign language is at first like experiencing a new rhythm. The rhythm provides the structural framework into which melodies and sounds can fit. Participants are helped to recognize what is specific about their own rhythm. Then they begin exercises based on natural rhythms found in the foreign language.

    The function of intonation is to help a person’s spoken words to resonate and live and to express all the elements of the message, that is to say, its emotional and personal as well as its intellectual components. Memory is stimulated when rhythm and melody are taken into account. The language practised in the exercises of PLA is full of such characteristics and, being personal, it more easily works its way into the body and mind so that it is progressively assimilated without being consciously learnt by heart.

    Learners often tend to speak lifelessly in the foreign language, which reflects the fact that it has been taught to them throughout their school lives with its emotional content removed. They need help to rediscover the expressiveness of the sounds in the language. In PLA the protagonists are sensitized to vocal nuances. Participants are made aware of their body’s zones of sound resonance, the effects of their vibration, and their influence on breathing movements.

  3. The curriculum is being developed spontaneously while the trainer gives certain frames and proposes some exercises. Self-expression is central to language acquisition. Learners should be the authors of their own speech: everyone has something to communicate, real or imaginary, directed to others or to himself or herself. The message is inseparable from the people who give it sense and value.There are many exercises that allow the participants to create their own speech intentions; of course they are helped by the animator. Dufeu uses the techniques of psychodrama such as doubling, mirroring and role change. In one of the exercises, for example, the trainer sits behind the protagonist in the middle of the group. The participant says a word or if she or he is an advanced student, a sentence three times with different intonations. With the intonation the participant may express different meanings. The trainer is listening very carefully to the intonation and to the paraverbal elements joining the speech. After identifying himself or herself with the protagonist the trainer extends the words of the protagonist by saying sentences referring to the previous words or sentences of the protagonist. The words of the trainer are spontaneous and simple coherent ones. They go around the protagonist’s words with synonyms. The animator takes care not to insult the protagonist’s intimate sphere. The animator focuses on the protagonist, if she or he accepts his sequences or not. In this way a complex text comes about that can be developed further and further.
  4. A central pedagogic objective in PLA is to continue to contribute to personal development of the protagonist generally. Encouragement of his or her aptitudes, attitudes, and types of behaviour which will advance the essential components of communication-receptiveness, and capacity for expression. The exercises in the context of an appropriate setting for acquisition and learning, develop receptiveness, i.e. listening skills, openness, empathy, sensitivity towards oneself and others, intellectual development, observation skills, synthetic and analytical processes, and non-stressful concentration. There are two interlinked areas for developing a capacity for expression: the linguistic and the personal.Linguistic development includes a broadening of the capacity for rhythmic and melodic reproduction which assumes acquiring breathing and vocal techniques, a reinforcement of our capacity for synthesising information in a new setting, of association, creativity, and a willingness to experiment.Personal development includes developing spontaneity, creativity, willingness to become involved, of expressing ourselves as individuals, that is the capacity not only to react but to respond personally to situations, taking risks and being prepared to make mistakes. It also helps to develop physical, emotional, and intellectual flexibility.

    The development of language skills contributes to the development of the whole individual while traditional teaching concentrates more exclusively on linguistic objectives and, above all, on the acquisition of structure and lexis.

  5. As fairy-tales and myths represent a means of contact with the deep sources of our imagination, it may be very important to use them in language teaching. We carry an imaginary world within us, and fairy tales and myth provide a ‘drawbridge’ that connects us with the inner symbolic universe. At the same time we come into direct contact with our unconscious. Considering Jung’s view that myths and symbols are the most archaic structures of the psychic life and created by the collective unconscious.Every fairy tale or myth carries a multiplicity of significance and it is often the latent meaning that surfaces rather than the immediate and more obvious one. Communication between participants is therefore enriched in spite of the seeming simplicity of the story.You will read about other functions of the fairy-tales and myth as protection, structuring function, stimulating effect etc. and interesting exercises with fairy tales. One of my favourite exercises is

    the multiple character:

    Everyone in the class plays the same character in a well known fairy-tale. Snow White, for instance. During a relaxation period, each participant imagines what moment in the fairy tale matters most for them, what the character might say and do. They then move around the room repeating the same phrase and action several times. After a while, they begin to extend their character by expressing themselves more freely when they meet the others

  6. Grammatical activities are not planned in precise detail because language is discovered in responding to the needs and expressions of the participants. Moreover, in PLA expression is given priority over correctness. Of course participants are not encouraged to be careless in their use of language and when a participant formulates an incorrect expression the animators reformulate it when possible directly if not after the exercise. The amount of corrective intervention in the first days varies according to how confident the participants feels using the language, and increases gradually as the course continues. Grammar is not in an “input” but in an “output” position.In the third part of the book Dufeu writes about the significant areas of Teacher Training, by which the pedagogical changes proposed in his book can come about.First of all the teacher must have a highly developed command of the language, with fluency, flexibility, and an ability to be creative in the foreign language, as he or she must respond spontaneously to the participants’ needs for expression. Another area involves the ‘how’ of the objectives. The PLA approach implies a change of attitude on the part of teachers. They can no longer take refuge in the textbook. In PLA Teachers can use methods based on creative and stimulating doubt, in which only the frame is pre-planned but in which the language is live and expressed by living people. Further the teachers should have at their disposal a variety of techniques and activities suited to the interests and abilities of participants, and which encourage them to express themselves and to encounter the others. For this to be possible it is often necessary to develop the teacher’s own creative skills. But even personal and interpersonal dimensions have an effect on our teaching. In fact they are the heart of the teaching profession. Relationship with the participants has a determining influence, not only on acquisition of the language, but also on their personal development. The teacher can sharpen or blunt the curiosity in the foreign language. The empathetic teaching presented in the book has a positive influence on this. The way how we teach can give students more confidence in themselves and in their capacity for expression.

I know it is impossible to cover all the book and the approach with a review like this and I am sure many questions have arisen in you while reading. Try to borrow the book from somewhere and read it. I can guarantee you’ll enjoy it. The book can be considered as one of the most important readers for language teachers, as it gives a detailed description of some facts on language teaching that are mostly ignored or somehow not spoken about. It reminds us that learning is a physical, emotional, intellectual and social experience as well. The activities and procedures it describes are adaptable to non-PLA classrooms, too.

Dufeu’s aim as I learnt it from him personally is not that his method should become as popular as possible, but to encourage teachers to think over their own language teaching and to come to their own ideas and coherent methods. I think reading his book will make you not only acquainted with a very interesting and working alternative method but I am sure you may have new ideas regarding your teaching, just as I had when developing my materials.

You can find further information about PLA and order Bernard Dufeu’s book from himself or register to participate at his Teacher Training week ends at This homepage is in German and French.

Mihály Hevesi