Are ALG and AUA really that different from other language learning methods and programs?

Many language learning methods, programs, and products are touted as new, different, or even revolutionary, yet a cursory examination reveals they’re at most a rehashing of what’s been done already in many other times and places.

So often is this the case that I find myself wondering if the same thing is true of the Automatic Language Growth, or ALG, approach, and the AUA Thai Program where it has mainly been implemented.

Maybe they aren’t as unique as they seem, and I just haven’t looked hard enough to find other methods and programs that are essentially the same.

One place to search for likely candidates is among language teaching methods and programs that, like ALG and AUA, are based on comprehensible input.

The notion of comprehensible input, or CI for short, was popularized by the linguist Dr. Stephen Krashen, who said that we don’t learn languages through study and practice but acquire them “when we understand messages“.

Accordingly, CI-based approaches such as Total Physical Response (TPR), Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS), and Story Listening focus on having students listen to the language in ways that they can understand it, using various means to make this input comprehensible.

What differentiates ALG from these other CI-based approaches is the theory that given the necessary environment of comprehensible input, adult second language learners can effortlessly become as native-like as those who begin in early childhood.

Contrary to the popular belief that adults have lost the ability to do this, ALG theory says that with maturity, adults have gained abilities to consciously analyze and practice language, and these interfere with the natural acquisition process, producing the adult second language difficulties we typically see.

In practice, this means that ALG approach will avoid having students do things pertaining to language that very young children cannot do as well.

All translation and explicit discussion of language are avoided.

Students are not expected to speak in the target language, which manifests in a so-called silent period, more accurately described as a period of limited output, spanning hundreds of hours.

Study and reading are delayed until one is already conversant in the language.

This contrasts ALG with other CI-based methods, which often include translation, grammar teaching, speaking practice, and reading and writing from early on.

Recently my search for other methods like ALG and programs like the AUA Thai Program came up in a discussion group about using CI-based methods to teach second languages to adults.

A friend from AUA had posted asking if there were any other programs that use “pure” or even predominately CI.

Elaborating on the question, I took it to mean another program that, like AUA, avoids tools like translation to make input comprehensible, using only context and non-verbal communication like pictures and actions, and that doesn’t add things like explicit study of language or speaking practice.

One person commented that many TPRS teachers use predominantly CI, but noted the use of assessments involving speaking and writing—something probably required in the context of public schools where TPRS is often found—which would rule it out as “pure” CI in the sense I described.

In addition, TPRS teachers generally introduce words with translations to “establish meaning”, writing the words in the target language and in the students’ language.

A teacher who used CI responded that he didn’t require his students to speak.

As with AUA, they could respond with gestures and limit their speaking to what comes naturally and effortlessly.

However, he wrote that because of time limitations he relied on translation to make the input comprehensible.

Another commenter mentioned a language immersion program that uses CI, but it is for students who have done previous formal study, unlike AUA which is designed for complete beginners.

All the approaches and programs had some element that would differentiate them from the “pure CI” of ALG that AUA basically implements.

No one could come up with any method that is like the ALG approach or program that is like the AUA Thai Program, where students can, starting from scratch, pick up the language from spoken comprehensible input alone without translations or other explicit instruction, and without having to practice speaking.

In a world as big as ours, can ALG and AUA really be that unique?

I left off with this comment:

…I hope my questions and comments here do not come off as pedantic or critical of anyone’s teaching or program as that is not my intention.

Mainly I’m genuinely curious as to whether there are any other programs that use CI alone without any translation, explicit teaching, or speaking practice, as is the case with the AUA Thai Program. I literally went halfway around the world to see this program because I couldn’t find anything else, anywhere, that is “purely CI” in this sense.

Having seen in the AUA Thai Program what’s possible with CI alone, I’m interested in the further development of CI and opportunities for CI. For example, I think rich experiences could be created in many ways that could produce much more rapid and effective acquisition of vocabulary than translation, while allowing learners to acquire many other things at the same time, for example learning about other subject matter or gaining life skills.

Also I want adult learners to have as much choice as possible in how they learn or acquire language in both content and method, from when one wants to produce the target language to whether or not one learns with translations or explanations.

I don’t think a no-translation, no-explanation approach like ALG should be forced upon anyone. Ideally, the content and teaching should be so compelling and rich in meaning that the learner doesn’t want or need anything further to understand and acquire the language.

In a follow-up to this post I further discuss the apparent uniqueness of AUA and ALG along with misconceptions about the program and method.

 

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