Why was it necessary to create the ULAT?

I began creating the ULAT method during the summer of 1980 after three initial years of highly disappointing language teaching experience in the Chicago area. In fact, I was so discouraged with the results of my teaching that I twice gave up the profession. The problem was that I had been teaching French and Spanish in the same less-than-effective way in which I myself had been taught in the 1960's, namely, with a heavy emphasis on written exercises and translation assignments right from the first day in class. The consequence of this approach was that I found my students to be, in essence, merely speaking English while using French or Spanish words. My approach resulted in a wearisome, stultifying atmosphere in the classroom and largely unintelligible communication from my students, interestingly enough, both in spoken and in written form.

During the summer of 1980, wanting to give language teaching one last try, I determined to throw out all of my assumptions as to how a language should be taught and to seek to replicate the natural language learning method by which one successfully learns one's native language. This essentially meant six things:

     1. I would devote roughly one entire year of instruction to the skills of listening and speaking, slowly integrating phonics instruction and elementary reading activities as the year progressed and only begin developing the ability to write once the students had a strong oral foundation to their knowledge of the second language.

     2. I would sever all ties in my instruction to the students' native language. I would reject the use of translation of any kind and would allow my students to live with a temporary imprecision of understanding regarding the exact meaning of a new word until repetition of that word in context, over time, gave them an understanding of it totally independent of their native language.

     3. I would primarily present words in a visual and auditory manner by means of mime, photos, video clips and sound and then assign representative gestures and images to those words thus presented.

     4. I would associate representative images with sound to enable them to discover how to modify and sequence those sounds and thus learn proper sentence structure once the students knew (in the right way - without any reflection in their native language) the meaning of those gestures, rather than provide them with grammatical analyses and graphs and diagrams to which their minds would be obliged to turn.

     5. I would expose them to statements expressed in terms of sequential images at a steadily accelerating rate which ultimately would not allow them the leisure of reflection in their native language. I called this the cultivation of "linguistic reflexes" once they had the proper sentence structure in mind.

     6. I would initially affirm any attempt to convey a message, no matter how faulty, provided that the student's statement was coherent. I would merely model proper speech in repeating the students' remark back to him or her, but without calling undue attention to their errors - much like what parents do in communicating with a toddler. Once the students would have the confidence that they could communicate, and therefore would be willing to open their mouths and speak, I would gradually become more direct in helping them refine their speech.

I knew that a traditional textbook approach would not allow me to respect the principles on which I had settled, so I began to create a curriculum that would be a helpful tool, rather than an impediment that would lead students to text-based thought. Accomplishing those objectives listed above led me to create a representative gesture system during the 1980-1981 school year in a middle school in East Lansing, Michigan. From there, I wrote a workbook the following year whose foreword, among other concepts, enumerated the principles mentioned above. In the early 1990's, while living and teaching in France, I created a more than 200-page textbook composed of nothing more than photos I had taken in Europe and crude, stick images drawn using a Paint program. These photocopied images were numbered and accompanied by audio cassettes that associated numbered sound to numbered images. Finally, returning to the United States and entering the cyber age, in the year 2000, I began transforming those photocopied lessons created in France to digital form and replaced the use of audio cassettes with hyperlinked sound files, naming the program the ULAT and establishing the "www.theulat.com" website.