Real Language Learning

One thing that has kept me going through difficulties and discouragement in working to apply Automatic Language Growth (ALG) and related methods to help myself and others learn languages is the many moments where I’ve experienced effortless and enjoyable language learning.

When I was learning Mandarin Chinese without study, trying to pick it up by watching TV shows and cartoons, there would be moments where new words and grammar would suddenly click into place.

The context made the meaning of these pieces of the language abundantly clear, and I would instantly understand them, be able to remember them, and automatically start to think using them.

Later, when I conversed with Chinese tutors using Crosstalk, with me speaking English and my tutor speaking Mandarin, there would be moments where the focus just became on communicating about something, and it ceased to matter that we were speaking different languages.

Yet afterwards, Mandarin words and phrases from the conversation would pop up and echo in my head, suggesting I had been learning the language all along as well.

Learning Thai in the AUA Thai Program in Bangkok, there would be moments where we as students would be utterly transfixed by what the teachers were talking about because it was so compelling or outrageous.

But besides learning a lot about Thai culture and people, we would be picking up the language as well in these moments.

In his autobiography From the Outside In, the American linguist Dr. J. Marvin Brown similarly describes moments of effortless language learning that he had experienced.

His desire to create a language learning environment where moment after moment would be like this eventually led him to develop the ALG approach used in the AUA Thai Program.

While the AUA Thai Program succeeds in creating such an environment perhaps more than any other language learning program, it has many limitations, such as being restricted to a classroom setting and a lack of choice of topics in a given hour.

As it was for Dr. Brown, the moments that I have experienced have shown me that effortless language acquisition is possible for adults as well as for children, and they have made me imagine a learning environment where such moments don’t just happen intermittently but are constant.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who named the concept of flow, often known as being “in the zone”, described this mental state of energized focus and total immersion as “optimal experience” and “what life should be like.”

I like to call the sort of language learning experience I envision real learning—an optimal language learning experience that makes one feel “this is what language learning should be like.”

Indeed, a big part of it would take place in the flow state.

Imagine a learning situation where you are constantly picking up new language through understandable experiences, while at the same time gaining life skills, knowledge about culture and other areas, and connecting with people.

It feels practically effortless and you’re thoroughly enjoying it and having fun all the while.

You come away from it feeling more energized than when you started.

I think that today, more than ever, it is possible to create these kinds of language learning experiences in abundance, and it’s just a matter of time before we do.

2 thoughts on “Real Language Learning”

  1. Another excellent post! It’s definitely important to strive for these moments & real learning.

    Now, I need to ask though: how can we achieve this AND make it possible for others to do the same? We see the benefits, believe in the model, and want others to benefit., but how can we practically make ALG/CI-dominant systems available to the masses? For better or worse, the average joe isn’t going to go out of his way to hire native tutors, set up Crosstalk experiences, and the like.

    So, there’s definitely an opportunity here, but what can we do with it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great questions Ryan. I will save my own attempts at specific answers for another post, but in response to the AND part, I think when we create ways to achieve this kind of language learning for ourselves we should do it in ways that make this learning more easily available to other people as well.

      I think there is no one answer to your set of questions, nor should there be. Indeed, I think one of the keys here is to make available an enormous variety of opportunities to get comprehensible input that’s compatible with the ALG approach, that is, input that allows one to easily pick up language implicitly without explanation or translation, and that doesn’t require one to produce language.

      Part of my purpose in writing is to raise awareness of the issue and inspire people. On that note, my longer-term vision is that many people from outside the world of language teaching will become highly involved in creating these kinds of language learning experiences, for example people from the world of arts and entertainment.


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