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3. 6. 2014

Abstract : 

The aim of this article is to present François Gouin’s series method which associate the action to the word to reinforce the learning of the vocabulary. This intuition has found a similar approach during the twentieth century in the research in psychology directed by James Asher. These exercises are always recommended for the beginners’ levels. The author presents here typical activities enriched by using them together with an audiovisual support: Percy Adlon’s Out of Rosenheim.

Published  :

Francois Gouin’s series method. ACC Journal XI, Liberec 2005, ISBN 80-7083-966-X, pp.92-97.



1- Introduction

It is certainly a necessity for any researcher to be knowledgeable on the past evolution of the theoretical field it investigates. From this point of view, the vast historical synthesis of Claude Germain [1] is very helpful. Among others, this work describes an original method that was to some extent developed by François Gouin in 1880 in his famous Art to teach and to study languages [2].

However Christian Puren states the series method few times in his remarkable book [3], paradoxically, this French author of the nineteenth century, considered as one of the precursors of the Direct Method, is certainly better known in the Anglophone world than in his own country [4] (however an original application of Gouin’s idea is for instance available in Patrice Julien’s Activités ludiques [5].)

On the other hand, documentation in English praises this method. It is admired as a method due to its inherent simplicity, making it accessible to a wide range of teachers and learning environments [6]. It is well adapted to begin a unit (cultural context) or teach new vocabulary [7].

I would like to present here an application as original as possible of this method of the series. This originality will simply consist in integrating into it the use of an authentic document, the film of Percy Adlon: Out of Rosenheim.

Beforehand, it will certainly be necessary to describe the principles of the theory of François Gouin.

2- Genesis and principles of the method

An obvious failure was the first event that made it possible for the method to emerge from the critical thinking of François Gouin. Whereas he resided in Hamburg, he wanted indeed to learn German by applying the traditional methods he had used as a teacher of Latin in France. He learned by heart the grammatical rules and the lists of their exceptions. He memorized a whole dictionary. He translated Goethe and Schiller. He was only to meet with failure [8]. He did not speak more German than he understood in informal talks.

His frustration increased when he finally realized that French workmen, who had come to Germany to make their bread, were able to understand and converse with their peers. He concluded that he should study the ordinary, everyday language of the country [9].

A natural observation in context was another important stage in the creation of this new approach. Without the assistance of his young nephew of three and a half years old, undoubtedly, he would not have discovered this theory. To some extent, it did nothing but rationalize the amazement of small children by giving him the form of a systematic method.

The idea came to mind from one beautiful Sunday afternoon in spring. He and his nephew visited a mill. As the child wanted some explanation of an operation, Gouin showed him by successively describing to him the stages of the industrial production of the miller, and how he grinds flour. That evening, the boy repeated ten times what he had discovered during the day. He punctuated the account of the procedure with words like "then" while insisting systematically on the verb.

François Gouin will infer in this observation that the discovery of a language followed the same path as the discovery of life. This strategy takes basic life tasks and divides them into steps [7].

It is not important here to know if the language learned by the speaker is maternal for the nephew or foreign for the adult. The learner enters the FL (“Foreign Language) in a similar way to that by which the child enters the ML (Main Language) [9]. Therefore this approach is called natural. This basic conception will be precisely the main weakness of the new theory. As Eric Hawkins [10] noticed it, Henry Sweet [11] argued firmly that the fundamental objection…to the natural method is that it puts the adult into the position of an infant [and] does not allow him to make use of his own special advantages. But if this critic is relevant when it concerns an abusive generalization of the natural approach, it is still possible to accept the fact that some aspects of the theory are efficient in specific contexts.

Precisely, François Gouin’s method had met a similar approach in an area of contemporary psychology eighty years later when James Asher devised the Total Physical Response (TPR) [12]. TPR is now a household name among teachers of foreign languages [6]. This psychological design proposes the fact that memory is stimulated and increased when it is closely associated with motor activity [6]. Although TPR does not concentrate on linguistic repetition, contemporary psychology and first empirical step of François Gouin share the same principle that considers that the learner first creates a mental representation of real world events, taken in by the senses (not abstract rules of declension or conjugation) [9]. Thus the training of the language learning is a matter of transforming perceptions into conceptions and then using language to represent these conceptions [8].

Concretely, this principle organizes the actions for a particular goal and linguistically represents them in proposals built around the verb. For these reason the verb becomes the pivot of Gouin’s method of teaching. Therefore the teacher prepares six to eight short statements in the foreign language describing a logical sequence of actions or steps which take place in a specific context such as: morning routine, preparing an authentic meal, going to the post office, shopping, using the telephone, going to school, etc [7].

Initially the professor presents a certain number of statements, which would include a verb of action, and have the same form throughout. The teacher presents the statements to the class orally and accompanying them with pantomime of the actions involved. The class responds first through pantomime and later by imitating the statements while doing the actions [7].

Let us review in details this method when it is used in class.

3- Application in class

 The film of Percy Adlon [13] proposes obvious day-to-day actions and dialogue. The heroine, Jasmine, has for task to do the housework. This sequence enables teachers to experiment the Gouin´s series together with audio-visual support.

Level: - Beginners to intermediate

Objectives: - Motivation by the immediate comprehension of images and dialogues by pantomime and describing pantomime.

- Vocabulary of to do the housework.

1-  Setting in context: which are the symbols of America? What evokes for you Jack Kerouac and the road 66?

2-  The camera fixes on Brenda, the owner of a motel, sitting in front of the motel. Jasmine arrives at the Baghdad Cafe. She wants to rent a room, and Brenda invites her in the office to fill out a card there. Jasmine notes that the office is dirty but decides all the same to take a room. The images alone make this scene very attractive. The dialogues are short and comprehensible even for beginners since the acts of speech brought into play here, to fill a card out at a hotel, are quite simple. Thus the linguistic contents of the conversation do not contain any surprise, contrary to the characters sufficiently extravagant to put the class in a good mood and to incite them to find out the continuation of the adventures of Jasmine and Brenda.

3-  The professor presents a series of actions. While passing the sequence of the film, it makes a freeze frame on the selected action, and then it reproduces by miming the action that was viewed and reviews the verbal statement.

4-  The teacher repeats the series orally and class joins in with pantomime not with words [7].

5-  Class pantomimes series as teacher repeats orally but does not model actions [7].

6-  Individuals pantomime the series as teacher repeats orally [7].

7-  Class imitates series orally as well as physically, first together and then as individual volunteers [7].

8-  In the second scene, Jasmine is doing housework in Brenda's office. While stopping on the actions that were learned and with each pause, the students learn to describe the action.

9-  One student can mimic an action while another student describes what he/she is doing [7]. Students can widen the play by using the space and the concrete objects of the classroom.

10- Students should also learn to express emotion in language. Watching these actors can teach this. Brenda becomes angry when she sees that Jasmine has done housework, students can pantomime emotion as well.

SERIE : To do the housework

- She carries a bucket and a brush She carries

- She puts down the bucket She puts down

- She rolls up her sleeves She rolls up

- She cleans the sign She cleans

- She removes dust from the roof She removes

- She fills the dustbins She fills

- She takes out the dustbins She takes out

- She selects papers She selects

- She rubs the table She rubs

- She washes the fan She washes

- She passes the floor cloth She passes

4- Conclusion

As a conclusion it has to be pointed out that Gouin´s series cannot be taken as an exclusive and complete method in the teaching process. This kind of exercises requires a descriptive language that does not allow communication between the learners. It has to be only considered as a supply recommended to begin a unit (cultural context) or to teach new vocabulary [7]. In this case the old method refreshed by the contemporary works of James Asher in psychology could still be helpful for the teachers looking forward more diversity in every day work.

5- Literature

[1]  -GERMAIN Claude, Evolution de l’enseignement des langues : 5000 ans d’histoire, Nathan-Clé International, Paris, 1993, pp. 113-126, ISBN 2190333539.

 -GERMAIN Claude, Les fondements psychologiques et linguistiques de la méthode des séries de François Gouin (1880), revue Histoire Epistémologie Langage, 1995, vol. 17, fasc.1, Théories du langage et enseignement /apprentissage des langues (fin du XIXème siècle /début du XXème siècle), pp.115-141, ISSN 0750-8069.


[2] -GOUIN François, Essai sur une réforme des méthodes d'enseignement. Exposé d'une nouvelle méthode linguistique. L'art d'enseigner et d'étudier les langues, Sandoz et Fischbacher, Paris, 1880,

[3] - PUREN Christian, Histoire des méthodologies de l’enseignement des langues, Nathan-Clé International, Paris, 1988, ISBN 2190332664

[4] - ROBERTS J. T., Two French Language Teaching Reformers Reassessed-Claude Marcel and Francois Gouin, The Edwin Mellen Press, 1999, ISBN 0-7734-7988-0

[5] - JULIEN Patrice, Activités ludiques, activité : actions en chaîne, Clé International, 1993, p. 81, ISBN 2-19-033107-2

[6] -ENGLISH RAVEN.COM, Total Physical Response [on line], http://www.englishraven.com/method_TPR.html, accessed 07.01.04.

[7] - HAGEN Sara, The Gouin series, on the web site of Bloomington High School North [on line], teach new vocabulary, accessed 07.01.04.

[8] - THANASOULAS Dimitrios, The changing winds and shifting sands of the history of English Language Teaching, on the wibe site Developing Teacher.com [on line], http://www.developingteachers.com/articles_tchtraining/winds1_dimitrios.htm, accessed 07.01.04.

[9] - MASON Thimothy, Towards a History of Foreign Language Teaching, personal web site, http://perso.club-internet.fr/tmason/WebPages/LangTeach/Capes/EpDossier/HistLectures/Lesson1.htm, accessed 07.01.04.

[10] - HAWKINS, Eric W., Foreign Language Study and Language Awareness, in Language Awareness, Volume 8 Number 3/4, 1999, University of Wales Cardiff, ISSN 0965-8416.

[11] - SWEET Henry, The practical study of languages; a guide for teachers and learners, London, Oxford University Press, 1964 (1899).

[12] - ASHER James, Learning Another Language Through Action, Sky Oaks Publications, Los Gatos, 1988, ISBN 1-56018-4949.

[13] -ADLON Percy, Out of Rosenheim, Germany/USA, 1987, with Marianne Sagebrecht, C.C.H. Pounder and the amazing Jack Palace.



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