AUA Thai Program alumni create comprehensible input for beginners

In many of my posts I have lamented the lack of comprehensible input for language learners, whether it be in the form of classes or other resources.

In my last post, I observed that while academics today generally agree that comprehensible input is very important to language acquisition, more comprehensible input exists today mainly by accident—because technology has made so much foreign language media easily available.

However most of this media, like TV shows and movies, is aimed at native speakers and so is not very comprehensible for beginners to efficiently pick up language from.

Even though media is so easy to create and distribute today, there isn’t a comparable effort to create good comprehensible input for beginner and intermediate learners that doesn’t require study or translation.

In this post I want to take a more positive focus and highlight some work that people have been doing to create this kind of input.

A number of former students of the AUA Thai Program have gone on to create their own resources to provide comprehensible input in various languages and post them online so that anyone can access for free from anywhere at any time.

This content reflects the Automatic Language Growth (ALG) approach used by the AUA Thai Program in that it uses non-verbal tools like gestures and drawings to make the language understandable so that even beginners can pick up language without study.

As I’ve written before, this kind of teaching seems to be so rare that I had to go halfway around the world to Bangkok, Thailand, to see it in action at AUA.

For some of the languages these former AUA Thai students are creating comprehensible input in, this kind of material has perhaps never before been deliberately made.

Spanish

After attending the AUA Thai Program, Pablo Román of Dreaming Languages started his YouTube channel Dreaming Spanish, where he posts videos on a variety of topics in Spanish made comprehensible through drawings, gestures, and other non-verbal communication.

While much of the material should be comprehensible enough for a speaker of a related language to efficiently pick up Spanish from, more recently, Pablo has started creating “Superbeginner” material that should be more efficient for learners whose first languages are totally unrelated to Spanish.

One of Pablo’s most recent Superbeginner Spanish videos is a tribute to Krashen’s famous demonstration of comprehensible input in German, which I described in my last post, with a few extra things thrown in.

Khmer

David Jacobs and Sonia Cautain, both former AUA Thai students, started LINK (Language Institute of Natural Khmer) in 2012 to teach the Khmer language in Phnom Penh, Cambodia using the ALG approach.

While the school closed in 2016, it’s Natural Khmer channel remains on YouTube with dozens of videos on everyday topics, presented in the form of short discussions and sketches.

Drawings, gestures, and props are used to make the language understandable.

While many of the videos feature two Khmer teachers from LINK and are entirely in Khmer, some videos that have one teacher and one foreigner use Crosstalk, an ALG technique where each person speaks their own language.

Thai, Isaan, and Khmer

Aakanee Noodle Soup

Andrej studied Thai using an approach based on listening and comprehensible input that included attending AUA classes and watching many hours of video and other content in Thai.

He has gone on to create the website aakanee.com with resources he has commissioned for learning Thai and other languages.

These include a collection of illustrations of everyday activities that are common in Southeast Asia, presented in the form of wordless comic strips.

For many of these illustrations there are recordings in Thai and Khmer describing in great detail what is happening in each frame and often providing additional background information.

I used the Thai recordings with the illustrations after I first went to Thailand to study at AUA, and found them very useful at my intermediate level for picking up a lot of additional vocabulary.

For beginners, there are illustrations of basic vocabulary with recordings in Isaan (also written Isan), the language of northeastern Thailand, describing the pictures in detail using a lot of repetition and questions and answers.

Those who want to learn Isaan language with a natural approach may find these helpful and efficient for picking up the language from, even if they don’t know any Thai, which is very similar.

All of these illustrations and another a set of wordless comics showing basic communicative functions are available for download on the site.

These drawings could be used with a tutor to create comprehensible input, or with a native speaker of one’s target language using Crosstalk, with each person talking about the images in their own language and picking up the other’s language in the process.

More languages

The ALG approach and the AUA Thai Program have been influential in promoting the creation of a kind of comprehensible input that is so far quite rare: content that’s interesting and understandable for beginners in a language without the need for study, practice, or translation.

I think in the near future we’ll be seeing much more teaching and content like this in many more languages.

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