Gastineau Method / Conversation Method (1890’s)

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Gastineau Method / Conversation Method (1890’s)

Postby Speakeasy » Mon Sep 09, 2019 1:23 am

The Gastineau Method / The Conversation Method
In the late 1890’s, the American Book Company published a small collection of language courses, attributed to a New York language teacher, Mr. Edmond A. M. Gastineau (1858 - 1939) and his collaborators, for the instruction of French, German, Italian, and Spanish under the lengthy series title “The Gastineau method: The conversation method for speaking, reading, and writing [Language], intended for self-study or use in schools; with a system of pronunciation based on Websterian equivalents.” These courses were identified as the "Gastineau Method" or the "Conversation Method" and were also associated with the “International Phonographic Language Schools” (I.P.L.S.) (See the postcard, below).
Gastineau Method.JPG
Gastineau Method.JPG (35.05 KiB) Viewed 268 times

Materials for these courses comprised: (a) one hard-bound textbook, measuring 5-1/4 inches x 7-1/2 inches, for a total of approximately 570 pages, and (b) a set of Edison phonograph cylinders having an estimated total duration of 2 hours.

In the introductory section of the course book, entitled “How to Speak a Language”, beginning with a quote from John Locke (I would fain* have one show me that tongue that anyone can learn to speak, as he should, by the rules of grammar), the author takes considerable pains to describe the ineffectiveness of previous approaches to learning a foreign language as to the method and as to the nature and extent of the vocabulary commonly used in other courses of instruction. He then provides a description of, and a justification for, “The Way of Nature” of learning a language. It is clear from the description and from the lessons themselves that the author developed his own version of the “Direct Method” of language instruction as used by Cortina and Rosenthal. NOTE: *Fain: from the Old English fægen, meaning "happy, glad, or well pleased." The image below is that of a promotional postcard inviting the holder to communicate with “International Phonographic Language Schools” (I.P.L.S.) for information on their language courses.
I.P.L.S. (International Phonographic Language School) Postcard.JPG
I.P.L.S. (International Phonographic Language School) Postcard.JPG (136.61 KiB) Viewed 260 times

I.P.L.S. (International Phonographic Language School) Postcard 1.JPG
I.P.L.S. (International Phonographic Language School) Postcard 1.JPG (66.35 KiB) Viewed 256 times

The language was introduced through a series of “conversations” which were preceded by what-we-would-now-call “basic sentences” and “sentence-pattern drills” based thereon, accompanied by a phonetic transcription and a literary translation, with a literal translation and notes at the bottom of the page. The conversations took place in what-have-become predictable scenes taken from the everyday life of a traveller: arrival in the country, passing customs, arranging for transportation, confirming lodgings, dining out, shopping, sight-seeing and entertainment, weather, minor health issues, and the like. Ample notes on the target language’s structure were provided within the lessons, along with vocabulary lists; a very good summary of the L2 grammar was provided in the appendix. Although the focus of these courses was on the “spoken” language, "reading passages" were included. As was the common practice of publishers of German courses of the period, several passages were printed in the standard Fraktur calligraphic Latin blackletter typeface typically encountered in German language publications.
Gastineau Method German 2.JPG
Gastineau Method German 2.JPG (94.08 KiB) Viewed 325 times

Gastineau Method German 3.JPG
Gastineau Method German 3.JPG (99.74 KiB) Viewed 325 times

On balance, save for a few matters of vocabulary and of register of speech, these courses seem quite contemporary, resembling the Assimil courses, but with better notes! My overall impression of the depth of coverage of the language’s structure, the variety of the vocabulary, and the complexity of the language deployed in the conversations would be that these courses would fall somewhere within the CEFR A2-B1 range.

Audio Recordings
Samples of the audio recordings (circa 1890) are freely available in mp3 format via the University of California Berkley (UCSB) Cylinder Audio Archive website under the sub-section “Language Instruction” catalogued as I.P.L.S. (International Phonographic Language Schools). ([url][/url]. For more information on this project, please refer to the discussion thread “Phonograph Cylinder Audio Archives Vintage Language Courses” of 8 September 2019.

The recordings cover complete conversations, but none of the exercise materials. This is quite understandable given the technology of the period and the consequentially large number of phonograph cylinders which would have been necessary to cover all of the printed materials.

Putting aside the obvious age of the recordings, including the possible deterioration of the cylinders from which the audio tracks were salvaged, it is interesting to note that the native speakers’ delivery was quite clear and well-articulated in the fashion of a theatrical presentation (but not overly so), and that the cadence was consistent with that of conversation between native speakers. The recordings would have been (just?) sufficient for the development of reasonably good aural/oral skills.

Assessment: Excellent!
Taking into consideration the period when the Gastineau Method / Conversation Method courses were introduced, and putting aside some minor issues of vocabulary and register of speech, these CEFR A2-B1 courses are actually quite contemporary in appearance, resembling somewhat those of Assimil, but with better notes. The audio recordings, again taking into consideration the period, would have provided diligent students with a reasonably solid opportunity to develop their aural/oral skills. Clearly, more than a century on, these courses would be of greatest interest to collectors of vintage language-learning materials. Course manuals, as originals and as reprints, abound on the internet.

Interminable tinkering (OCD).
Last edited by Speakeasy on Tue Sep 10, 2019 11:41 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Gastineau Method / Conversation Method (1890’s)

Postby IronMike » Tue Sep 10, 2019 1:23 am

You really could write a history of at-home language courses. You find the most wonderful language courses!
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Re: Gastineau Method / Conversation Method (1890’s)

Postby Speakeasy » Tue Sep 10, 2019 2:44 am

IronMike wrote:You really could write a history of at-home language courses...
IronMike, I thank you deeply for your generous support. Yes, indeed! My opus could easily stretch across six volumes under the series name “Thee Compleat Historie of the Teaching of the Foreign Tongue in its Many Variantes: A Study of Methods and Minutiae Across Tyme”, to be edited by a *Vanity Publisher. Of course, I would be counting on the forum members’ crowd funding activities to finance the project.

*Vanity Press / Vanity Publisher: A vanity press, vanity publisher, or subsidy publisher is a publishing house in which authors pay to have their books published. In contrast, mainstream publishers, whether major companies or small presses, derive their profit from sales of the book to the general public. While a commercial publisher's intended market is the general public, a vanity publisher's intended market is the author and a very small number of interested members of the general public (e.g., members of a language learners' forum). In some cases, authors of a book that is vanity published will buy a substantial number of copies of their book, so that they can give it away as a promotional tool (to fellow members of the forum). Because any remaining copies will be tilled into the soil, vanity books are considered to be eco-friendly. Source: Nature Watch (or something like that)..
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Re: Gastineau Method / Conversation Method (1890’s)

Postby DaraghM » Tue Sep 10, 2019 8:29 am

I think a book would be very good, but a curated museum exhibition would be even better. I’ve seen a few interesting themed museum exhibitions, but never one on the history of language learning products. You have the golden collection.
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