What’s the best way to teach or learn a language? In part one of this series about historic Spanish teaching and learning methods, we explored what phonographs, or modern technologies, have to do with language-learning classrooms. In the second part of this series, we will explore the “natural” or “Pestalozzian” method. Our goal is to examine the method’s potential role, if any, in the language-learning classrooms of our century.

First, the same caveat from the first post: there are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of early primers, textbooks, readers, and similar resources in the world. While this series does not attempt to explore them all, it does attempt to survey early resources focused on the methods of teaching and learning languages and specifically the methods for native English-speakers. This myopic exploration most aligns with the goal we established in the first part of this series, namely how to lower the effective barrier in order to learn/teach another language, no matter how imperfect our teaching/learning scenario.

Natural or Pestalozzian Method

Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2007686622/

You’ve heard this story before, but once upon a time, there was a guy. And he had ideas, which were published in a book. In this particular case, the guy was Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (pictured), a Swiss man who lived from 1746-1827. Pestallozi actually wrote several books, but the specific titles and details are not as important as the effect Pestalozzi had on the education world and on teaching ideas in the language classroom.

Fast forward about fifty (50) years, to 1883-4, when two men published the Worman’s Chautauqua Language Series, a set of books designed to help instructors teach and students learn languages such as French, German, and Spanish (specifically Castilian).

The title of the first Spanish edition (full text available from Hathitrust here and here) makes explicit the book’s methods. It appears in Spanish as Primer libro de español segun <sic> el método natural and in English as First Spanish Book After the Natural or Pestalozzian Method for Schools and Home Instruction.

According to the preface, Worman was a professor at Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tennessee), and Monsanto was a professor of modern languages at Packard Business College in New York. They describe their approach to teaching and learning language as “Pestallozian in nature” and their books as something akin to teacher and student copies all-in-one (preface v).

In the same preface, they claim that their methods differ “widely from all other methods of teaching foreign language” (v) and outline the “natural” or “Pestalozzian nature” of teaching language, summarized as follows (from preface v-vi):

Eight Steps to the “Natural Way”
  1. Teaching without “learner’s vernacular”
  2. Using “pictorial illustration” of vocabulary to be learned
  3. Teaching grammar in the target language

Here we pause to examine a direct quote from the preface because it discusses other language teaching methods in common practice at the time:

“All other elementary [i.e., beginning] text-books, after the natural method, ignore the difficulties of grammar . . . “

Herman, 1883/4, preface
  1. Modeling patterns to enable students to see how parts connect to “the whole”
  2. Using specific examples to help students “deduce” or infer broad language rules
  3. Using “contrast and association” to avoid over-relying upon or “overtaxing” memory
  4. Scaffolding lessons and trying to use interesting “subjects and topics”
  5. Using “distinctive type” to draw attention to changes in form and tense

After some guidance for teachers, the preface closes by stating that, “A living teacher is always to be preferred . . . ” (v). In the absence of a live teacher to clarify and answer questions, especially grammatical ones, “self-studiers” are encouraged to reference another book, Languellier’s Grammar of Spanish (New York: Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co.) (vi).

Then, after a brief introduction to the Spanish alphabet, the book begins lessons entirely in Spanish, including all instructions and footnotes. Wait? What? Almost every word after the alphabet is in the target language, in this case Spanish? Indeed.

The Pestalozzian method as applied by Worman and Monsanto means that students were expected to learn broad language rules through specific use of the language or, worded differently, all Spanish grammar and rules using Spanish from lesson one. Although, again, they did encourage having live teachers who could clarify and explain finer grammatical points (preface vi).

The Contrast

In comparing the Iturralde method (1922) from the first post to the “natural” or Pestallozian method (1883/84) discussed above, there are striking contrasts. Iturralde’s book, published a little under forty years later, involves far more use of bilingual text and explanations in English. Students are not expected to deduce language rules from all-Spanish text, and there is more emphasis on leveraging technology and conversation to solidify learning. You can see the English-heavy text of Iturralde’s Method below:


While the “natural” or Pestallozian method adapts a somewhat progressive view of learning, at this point in history (1880s), it appears to still rely more heavily on “classical” or “traditional” teaching and learning methods than Iturralde’s 1922 methods.

What do you think? Is throwing students straight into full language immersion from lesson one too much? Bad or good pedagogy? A method we should return to?

Let us know what you think by commenting below, and we’ll see you for the third part of the series where we investigate what impact religion has had on foreign-language instruction and learning.


Classroom Image: No Known Rights Restrictions in United States. Johnston, F. B., photographer. (1899). “Classroom with students and teacher.” Washington, D.C. [Photograph.] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2001703720/.

Featured Image: No known rights restrictions in the United States. Thielley, C., Spitzweg, K. & Schaus, W. (1861). The Book-worm / painted by C. Spitzweg; lith. by Thielley. [New York: Published by W. Schaus, 749 Broadway, New York City]. [Photograph]. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2018647804/.

Pages Images: Pages 86-87. No Known Rights Restrictions in the United States. Iturralde, M. (1922) The Iturralde method for the study of Spanish with the aid of phonographic records. New York, The Iturralde language method company. [PDF]. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/22003130/.

Portrait Image: No Known Rights Restrictions in the United States. Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, half-length portrait. [Between 1920 and 1930]. [Photograph]. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2007686622/.

Iturralde, M. (1922) The Iturralde method for the study of Spanish with the aid of phonographic records. New York, The Iturralde language method company. [PDF]. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/22003130/.

(n.a.). (n.d.) “Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi.” Retrieved from http://www.jhpestalozzi.org/.

Sibler, K. (n.d.) “Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, Swiss educator.” Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Johann-Heinrich-Pestalozzi.

Worman, J. H. & Monsato, H.M. (1883/4). Primer libro de español segun el método natural. New York: A.S. Barnes & company. Retrieved from Hathitrust here and here.

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