Language learning research and opportunities for comprehensible input: a “chicken-and-egg” problem

While I intend to write on many different topics that relate to language learning, there are two main things I want to advocate for with this blog:

More research on language learning, especially on issues like age and second language acquisition. I think that research that controls for the differences between what adults and children typically do and experience when learning languages will reveal that adults have a much greater potential to effortlessly pick up languages than commonly believed if they are given the right opportunities, namely:

More opportunities for comprehensible input in second languages. I think we’ve really just barely scratched the surface in terms of creating media and experiences that adults can pick up language from without the need for study or translation, especially opportunities that are highly understandable and interesting for beginners.

As it is now, it seems the lack of research on language learning and the lack of opportunities for comprehensible input make up kind of a “chicken-and-egg” problem—a vicious cycle where the lack of one reinforces the lack of the other.

Right now, there are few materials and opportunities where as an adult, one can efficiently pick up language as a beginner without relying on translation, study, or practice.

I myself had to go halfway around the world to find a language program that provides such an opportunity, and which seems to be the only one of its kind.

The AUA Thai Program is based on the Automatic Language Growth theory and approach, which argues that adults retain their childhood ability to acquire new languages effortlessly and become native-like given the right opportunities, but adult abilities to consciously study and practice language typically get in the way.

In contrast, the default assumption seems to be that adults aren’t able to effortlessly pick up languages like children, when in fact they’re hardly even given the chance to begin with—unlike children, they generally need to do some form of study or practice in order to attain comprehensible input.

Vicious Cycle
The vicious cycle: A lack of research into and opportunities for effortless language acquisition for adults.

With this assumption in place, there is a lack of research or even proposals for research to try to give adults the opportunity to pick up languages implicitly like children to see what the results will be.

With the lack of research that might suggest otherwise, it’s assumed that adults have to do something different from children to learn languages, like study and practice.

With this assumption, opportunities for comprehensible input that might help adults learn languages like children without the need for study or practice are not being created.

With this lack of easily available opportunities for this kind of comprehensible input, it is much more difficult to conduct research to see whether adults can pick up languages like children.

A virtuous cycle: Research into and opportunities for effortless language acquisition for adults support more and more research and opportunities.

Thus the same assumptions remain in place, and opportunities for adults to pick up languages like children are not created, which makes is more difficult to carry out research on whether adults can pick up languages like children, and so on.

In place of this vicious cycle, I’m interested in creating a virtuous cycle, where new research into what extent adults can learn languages like children and new opportunities that can allow them to do so will continually encourage further research and further opportunities.

Update: Watch a new video that discusses this problem of a lack of language learning research and opportunities for adults and tells the story so far of ALG and the AUA Thai Program.

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