My experiences using Crosstalk to learn Thai

In my previous post I detailed my experiences learning Mandarin Chinese using Crosstalk, a method where each person speaks their own language using non-verbal tools as needed to communicate.

Crosstalk provides a way to implement the Automatic Language Growth approach, which theorizes that adults can learn languages as well and as easily as children if they pick them up like children, through understandable experiences without study or practice, and letting speaking emerge on its own.

This suggests that adult speakers of different languages could use Crosstalk to communicate, gradually gain understanding of each other’s language, and with this, have the basis to go on and approach native-like fluency in their new languages.

While most of my experience with Crosstalk has been with Mandarin, I also have some experience with Crosstalk as part of learning the Thai language.

I put my Mandarin learning on hold when I decided to go to Bangkok, Thailand and experience firsthand the AUA Thai Program, where ALG has mainly been implemented since it was originated there by Dr. J. Marvin Brown in 1984.

Crosstalk and the AUA Thai Program

Although its use is more limited than the kind of one-on-one conversations that I had been having with Mandarin, Crosstalk is definitely a part of the AUA Thai Program’s implementation of ALG.

In most AUA Thai classes, the students spend most of their time watching and listening to two teachers speaking Thai using gestures, drawings, and other non-verbal communication to make the language comprehensible.

In accordance with the ALG method, the students are discouraged from speaking Thai that hasn’t emerged naturally as a result of their experience with the language.

Where Crosstalk comes in is that students can use their own language to communicate with the teachers, along with non-verbal communication like gestures.

In practice, however, most students use English regardless of their native language, and like my Chinese tutors, the teachers understand English quite well, so the students don’t need to use much non-verbal communication to make themselves understood.

In keeping with the ALG approach, early on in the program I would only use English when communicating.

After several months I started to give some short answers in Thai, and this grew over time as the language became clearer for me and more and more started to emerge.

To this day, I use Thai in class where it is natural for me to do so and English when I have something to say that I can’t yet express in Thai.

Using Crosstalk to continue learning Thai

When I was back in Canada after attending nearly 1000 hours of AUA Thai classes in Bangkok over a year, I sought out some Thai speakers online for conversation exchange.

I posted a profile on the site Conversation Exchange that introduced myself and gave a short explanation of Crosstalk in Thai that I had written with help from some Thai friends:

ผมอยากปรับปรุงความเข้าใจในการฟังภาษาไทยของผม ใครที่สนใจปรับปรุงความเข้าใจในการฟังภาษาอังกฤษ? ผมจะพูดภาษาอังกฤษ คุณก็พูดภาษาไทย ในวิธีการนี้สามารถปรับปรุงความเข้าใจภาษาที่สองด้วยกัน

(I want to improve my Thai listening comprehension. Is there anyone interested in improving their English listening comprehension? I’ll speak English, and you speak Thai. This way, we can improve our second language understanding together.)

I talked to many Thais who contacted me over Skype and tried to set up Crosstalk exchanges as I described.

Most did not work out—even if I did get them to use Crosstalk, it didn’t last more than one or two calls—but I did make a couple of friends with whom I’ve used Crosstalk regularly.

One of them was in Bangkok, so I often chatted with her over Skype using video, and another lived in Toronto at the time so I met with him in person, and we often spoke using Crosstalk.

In all, my experiences with Crosstalk conversations with Thai friends probably add up to several dozen hours, so Crosstalk hasn’t been as significant part of my experience of learning Thai as it has with my experience of learning Mandarin.

Having been living in Thailand and being at a level where I can make conversation in Thai, I find these days I just communicate in Thai where necessary rather than use Crosstalk.

Generally, the Thai people I encounter either have is significantly higher speaking and listening ability in English compared to my Thai, in which case we communicate in English, or their English ability is significantly lower than my Thai, so we communicate in Thai.

One factor that seems to contribute to sustainable Crosstalk exchanges that work organically is that the people are at comparable levels in their respective second languages.

I don’t necessarily plan to use Crosstalk more in my Thai learning but I will if the right circumstances are there where I can gain more Thai input through it while doing something fun or useful—for example, teaching English to Thais in classes that are listening-based like the AUA Thai Program, so the students can communicate in Thai.

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