Four years ago I began the search for an English Method to use with my online students. I found Callan to be a great “direct method” for tutoring students in China. I was working with a real-world school and this method provided us a logical progression for beginners. To this day, I have not found a better systematic approach for beginners learners. The downfall of Callan was in trying to apply it to online learners. It simply does not convert to online dynamics.
I wrote about my love of Callan’s genius over 3 years ago. There I spoke of the wonderful results one could achieve with a direct method for learners who would be speaking from day one. I even started creating a series of videos to help the online learner. I still consider Callan to be one of the Fathers of modern English Teaching Methodologies. While organizations like Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur have made strides within audio based courses, none have created the conversational dynamic which made Callan Method so productive with anything coming close to conversational fluency.
Two innovators did impress me. Language Bridge by Arkady Zilberman took the method further by applying modern technology and brain functioning research. He spoke directly about Callan in an article for Kirsten Winkler, defining the fatal flaw of most language learning systems, that being “subconscious cross-translation”. Basically this phenomena is constantly converting all words back and forth to one’s mother tongue. He is now trying to convert the stand-alone program to a blended learning approach.
The second innovator is “Speak your mind”. They took the basic Callan Method and applied modern teaching methods for sophisticated classroom use. Once again, while their method works well in live classrooms, it does not translate well to online classes.
All of the above mentioned methods work. If you are the type of learner who can listen and interact with audio/video lessons, you should try these out, especially the two innovators spoken of. Even Callan introduced a slightly nuanced application of his materials called the “teach each other system” which is basically a buddy system.
Grammar based academic models are abstract and an analytical approach to learning the coding system of language. Grammar almost never serves the normal learner with spoken fluency. The direct method of Callan starts with conversation from day one. The most basic beginner can associate the repetitive actions and objects within a real-world context.
This direct approach can readily be achieved with online learners up to page 44 in Callan’s workbook and audios. At that point the learning requires a classroom with windows, doors, objects and people to observe the actions. Without the context of real-time characters interacting with the world while speaking, the method breaks down for online learners. Interpersonal activities without people in real situations is the basis for continuing. The only possible venue to replicate this might be in a “Second Life” environment.
Sadly, the conclusion for me and those who would continue with online learning is that Callan must be left behind. Fortunately there are many direct methods finding their niche with online learners. Callan and the audio centric methods can still be used by a few but not by the masses.
Goodbye Sir Callan, thanks for the memories.