Beyond Language Learning: Looking Back at 2018

New Year 2019 FireworksAnother year has come and gone!

R.I.P. 2018 (2018-2018), as a joke I think is old by now goes.

I’m eager to look forward to this new year, but first I want to share a few highlights from Beyond Language Learning over the past year.

Automatic Language Growth: The Explainer Video

Since Automatic Language Growth is the main approach I’ve been researching and have focused on in this blog, I decided to make an explainer video about it.

The video explains the ALG theory and method and tells the story of how American linguist Dr. J. Marvin Brown came to develop it with the AUA Thai Program in Bangkok.

It is also kind of a manifesto for Beyond Language Learning, as it lays out what I intend to advance with this blog: more research on language acquisition to see just how well we can pick up new languages even as adults, and the development of better opportunities for comprehensible input, or understandable experience with language, so that all of us can do so to our full potential.

From feedback I’ve gotten on the video, I’ve realized it’s important to emphasize the need for these two things—more research and more opportunities—and have people take this as the main message, rather than getting the idea that ALG is the answer and they should drop everything and try to start teaching or learning languages through this approach.

Without the opportunities in place like good comprehensible input to support an approach like ALG, where learners pick up a language implicitly without study, practice, or translation, rushing to trying to implement it can be a recipe for frustration and failure.

Therefore I see the more immediate goal of these videos not so much as promoting ALG itself, but to prompt conversations toward bringing about the kind of research and opportunities I described, and creating a positive cycle where one supports the other.

Since putting out the full video, which runs about seven minutes, I’ve created a shorter version that cuts the original down to just over three minutes:

Of course I hope people will click through to watch the full version, and read more on this blog and elsewhere to get a more nuanced understanding of ALG and the issues surrounding it.

I’d like to create more videos about other topics related to ALG and language acquisition, but the process is quite time consuming, so for at least the next while I plan to focus on writing more posts.

Natural Khmer Site

Learn Khmer Naturally Natural Khmer website comprehensible input articleLiving and working around Southeast Asia, I have been in Cambodia over a good part of the past couple years.

Naturally, I wanted to learn the language that was being spoken around me, but I’ve been frustrated at the lack of resources.

I have also being asked by other people about learning Khmer, and while I’ve suggested that they focus on listening to comprehensible input first—especially if they intend to live in Cambodia and speak Khmer fluently—I didn’t know where I could point them to.

Unfortunately, LINK (Language Institute of Natural Khmer), the school that taught Khmer using the ALG approach, closed down in 2016.

I noticed that the naturalkhmer.com domain had since been lost and taken over by a squatter (though the contents from the old LINK site remain on archive.org).

Seeing that there were still many links to the school from other sites, and anyone who clicked on them wanting to know more would just find a bunch of unrelated links and ads, I went ahead and purchased the domain.

I set up a site with information on LINK and ALG and a blog with the goal of “sharing resources for learning Khmer with a focus on comprehensible input and natural approaches to language acquisition”

Besides specific content for Khmer, many of the ideas and suggestions I share in articles on the site can be applied to other languages, for example, the article “To learn to speak Khmer fluently, you need comprehensible input“.

However, I’m actually not that satisfied with what I’ve posted so far, especially in terms of the Khmer learning content.

While what I’ve posted and shared provides learners with some comprehensible input, besides a couple videos from LINK, none of it so far is really suitable for following an ALG approach from scratch.

What I want to do with the site in this new year is find ways to bring people together to create a kind of support network for people who want to acquire Khmer naturally through comprehensible input.

This support network should include many different sources of content, especially that which lower-level learners can understand, along with other ways to get understandable experience with the language, for example tutors and other people who can provide it.

Beyond Language Learning Highlights

In Beyond Language Learning’s About page I’ve written that one of my aims is not just to deal with theory or possibilities but also share things that are of practical use to language learners:

While focusing on a future where language learning is effortless and leads to very high levels of ability, this blog also endeavors to share information and resources to give ways for language learners to move toward this kind of learning today.

A few posts I’ve written this past year have been in this direction:

Audio description of TV and movies: a great source of comprehensible input for language learners

Audio description and language learning articleIt seems that few people have noted the value of audio description in providing comprehensible input for language learners especially at lower levels.

Intended to help people with blindness or visual impairments understand what is happening on screen, it also allows sighted language learners to get detailed descriptions in their target language of exactly what they are seeing.

Because they match what’s there visually, these descriptions can thus be far more comprehensible than other content like the dialogue, which is often about things happening in other times and places.

Audio description thus dovetails with the ALG approach of picking up language made understandable through non-verbal communication such as visual context, and it is available to people now through sources like Netflix for content in various languages.

AUA Thai Program Alumni Create Comprehensible Input for Beginners

In this post I looked at how AUA Thai Program alumni were creating comprehensible input that beginners can pick up languages from without study or translation, following the ALG approach that the AUA program uses.

The examples I shared includes Pablo Román’s Dreaming Spanish, a growing YouTube channel with hundreds of videos that anyone can pick up Spanish from without study.

Another resources is Aakanee.com, which contains resources for the Southeast Asian languages Thai, Isaan, and Khmer.

The Isaan content includes recordings and pictures that even complete beginners should be able to efficiently pick up languages from, and the site contains hundreds of free illustrations that one can have a tutor point to and describe to pick up any language from.

Advice to heritage language learners: Don’t focus so much on the language!

While being cautious about offering specific advice because I’m not well-versed in all the issues surrounding heritage language learning, in a recent post I offered some suggestions to heritage learners—those who have picked up some of a language from parents and relatives but have not become really proficient in it.

It seems that many heritage learners who have tried to improve get stuck and discouraged because of an unhelpful focus on the language itself: trying to study the language explicitly and focusing on things like grammatical rules, or feeling pressured by themselves or others to “say something” in the language.

To these learners, I suggested that they instead focus on meaning instead of the language, creating situations that are about real communication where they can gain more understanding in the language and have opportunities to begin to speak it without pressure or anxiety.

I plan to share more ideas and content that language learners can make use of in future posts.

Enough About Last Year

My next post will look ahead to this new year.

Onward in 2019!

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