Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Using the Gouin Series Method

Jonathan Arries, a colleague in Modern Languages, came to speak to my students and me recently about second language teaching methods that might be effective with children. We had a long discussion about methods for teaching different aged kids, and when to introduce a second alphabet.

One method he recommended for little kids was a Gouin Series. François Gouin was a French Latin teacher who wrote about his difficulties in learning German based on grammars and dictionaries. The approach he advocated was to have "themes" such as The Plant and to have students memorize sentences in sequence relating to the theme:
    The acorn sprouts.
    The oak plant takes root.
    The shoot sprouts out of the earth.
    The stalk buds.
The key points are that it's more important to learn sentences to speak than words, that verbs are the key elements in sentences, and that sentences are more easily learned when they form a narrative. Gouin succeeded in learning German when he banished the grammar and dictionary in favor of what we would now call discovery learning: he asked his consultants (German-speaking children) to teach him the series associated with different themes (The Plant, The Bird, etc.), and he dutifully wrote these down and memorized them.

Gouin's frustration with traditional grammars and dictionaries is similar to the frustration found in endangered language communities when they see the work that linguists have done. Linguists who document a language usually produce a reference grammar (a description of how sentences and words are formed), a dictionary (a list of all the words), and a text collection (stories, conversations, and other samples of language). These are of little use for people who want to learn how to ask their grandmother to tell a story or to lead a ceremony.

Gouin's method is attractive for its emphasis on actions. Verbs are particularly important in the native languages of the south: verbs are often the only words used in sentences, and the verb encodes everything from the person and number of the participants in a sentence, to tense, location, and direction.

The Gouin Series Method could also be useful in connecting themes kids are learning elsewhere in school with a language class. If kids are learning about frogs and amphibians in science, they could learn related series in their language class (The eggs hatch. / The tadpole swims. / The tadpole forms legs. / The tadpole becomes a frog.) Themes can be based on time (In the morning, In the spring, etc.), and some will lead to actions that kids can act out in a group, possibly in first person:
    When it's time for PE,
    I run outside
    I play ball with my friends
    I slide down the slide
Gouin's approach by itself might get boring quickly, but it's one useful method a teacher might use. Gouin's book was translated into English in 1892 and is available here.


  1. your blog really helped me a lot.. thanks:-)

  2. thank you, it helped me for the exam.

  3. Jack, I first encountered Gouin in the 1980's when I had an refugee ESL program. Clark Carr used this method to teach English to foreign students who attended a private school in Oregon. I am fortunate to have his curriculum. Clark believed that it was the sequence of actions that assisted in learning another language. I used his curriculum in an ESL in Albuquerque with some spectacular results.

    1. The original Gouin series in his book are very outdated. I imagine updated examples might be available. Can you direct me to where I could find them?

  4. Mr, thank you very much for this fulfilling post. I'll follow your blog.

  5. This link will show you two programs based on both this method and the works of educator Charlotte Mason, who used Gouin's method in her schools to teach even young children 3-5 languages at a time with great success. These new texts include series from Gouin plus updated, American relevant series. I disagree that it will "get boring". Only a bad teacher would allow that. :)

  6. We use the cherrydale press Spanish blending this method with charlotte mason style and love it.

  7. We use the cherrydale press Spanish blending this method with charlotte mason style and love it.

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