It’s been a while! The last time I posted to this blog was almost three years ago, back in July 2020.
I’ve been planning to start posting again, and I think it’s about time I shared an update. In this post, I’ll discuss:
- Why I stopped posting: Discouragement, being busy, and taking action on what I’ve written about language acquisition
- What I’ve been doing: My projects related to improving language learning: creating content, coaching, and consulting
- Why I’ve decided to start posting again: Focusing on what I can do best, growing interest in topics on this blog, and responding to technological advances
Finally, I have a few words if you’ve tried to contact me before, have been in touch, or were thinking about reaching out.
Why I stopped posting
There’s a lot I’ve wanted to write about and share on this blog over the past few years.
But, for a number of reasons, I let it fall by the wayside.
One reason is that I’ve been occupied with various work, projects, and challenges over the past few years.
Another reason is that after putting a lot of work into this blog, I was discouraged by a lack of response at the time and a lack of return on investment.
From 2017 to 2020, I spent hundreds of hours creating content for Beyond Language Learning.
- I researched, wrote, and published over 50 posts.
- I worked on dozens more posts, including a 20,000-word feature I completed but haven’t yet posted.
- I wrote and animated an explainer video about Automatic Language Growth (ALG), the approach that’s a main topic of this blog.
After all that, part of me felt I had spent enough time and effort on Beyond Language Learning and I should let it go for a while.
One more reason I stopped is that I didn’t want to just be writing more and more about language acquisition theory and issues like the lack of opportunities to acquire languages through comprehensible input, especially for beginners.
I’ve always been interested in not just researching and discussing better ways to acquire languages, but actually living that out: experiencing it, applying it, and putting it into action so that people everywhere can acquire languages to very high levels much more effortlessly, efficiently, and enjoyably.
Since I stopped posting here, I’ve tried to work on that mission with many of the things I’ve been doing away from this blog.
What I’ve been doing
There are three main language-related projects I’ve been working on over the past few years:
- Creating comprehensible input videos for beginning English learners
- Coaching professionals who speak English as a second language to help them improve their English for their careers
- Consulting on ways to teach and learn languages through comprehensible input approaches in a variety of situations
I plan to write in detail about each of these projects in future posts, and I’ll discuss them briefly here.
Creating comprehensible input videos
As I wrote in one of my last posts before I stopped posting here, I started a YouTube channel called English Comprehensible Input for ESL Beginners, or Comprehensible English for short.
After complaining for years about the lack of teaching and content that you could just understand and pick up a language from as a beginner—even for English and other languages with tens or hundreds of millions of speakers—I decided I ought to do something about it.
Seeing that there was still almost no language content online like the demonstration Stephen Krashen gave when he was popularizing comprehensible input four decades ago, and like the AUA Thai Program, which uniquely used the ALG approach for over 30 years, I started making my own videos.
My goal with Comprehensible English has been to provide lots of interesting English video content that speakers of any language can easily understand and learn English from just by watching and listening, without study, practice, translations, or explanations—even if they are total beginners who don’t know any English at all yet.
Unlike most other content online aimed at English learners, instead of trying to teach vocabulary and grammar by translating or explaining it, I try to simply use the language a lot in meaningful and highly understandable ways so that beginners can pick it up without trying.
I do this by talking about topics and telling stories using lots of visuals and other non-verbal communication alongside everything I say to make the meaning clear, and I use lots of repetition in a variety of ways to help viewers acquire the language.
Since I first wrote about Comprehensible English on this blog, I’ve posted over 100 more videos to the channel.
The videos range in length from under a minute to over an hour, and they feature a wide variety of topics, activities, and stories.
In the videos, I use techniques from ALG, the Natural Approach, TPR (Total Physical Response), TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling), and other comprehension-based methods and approaches.
I’ve tried to adapt these techniques to video so that anyone, anywhere can just go online and start acquiring English naturally from scratch.
The Comprehensible English channel has now grown to over 50 hours of video and over 20,000 subscribers, I’ve gotten lots of amazing feedback from learners of different levels and backgrounds who say it’s helped them improve their English, and other people who are interested in comprehensible input and ALG have joined me in helping to make videos.
Coaching professionals who speak English as a second language
Another project I’ve been working on to make a living while using what I’ve learned to help others is coaching professionals who speak English as a second language.
Many of these professionals around the world are finding that communicating in English well is increasingly important to advancing their careers, but they struggle to improve.
Typically, they began learning English in school, and their classes focused on things like reading and writing in English and studying and memorizing English grammar and vocabulary for tests.
As a result, although they can often read and write English quite well, they have difficulties with speaking and listening that can limit their opportunities.
To address these problems, I developed a program to help them use spoken English more fluently, confidently, and effectively.
In my program, I coach clients on the areas I think are most important to helping them improve efficiently so they can reach their goals.
These areas include English comprehension, pronunciation, and communication skills.
English comprehension coaching
One of the first things I coach clients on in my program is ways to get more English comprehensible input in order to grow the English they can understand and use fluently.
In particular, I encourage them to listen to lots of spoken English that relates to what they need to communicate in their careers so they can acquire relevant words and expressions and use them fluently.
I also work with them to develop habits so they can consistently get more English comprehensible input and implement strategies to listen in ways that can help them pick up English and develop their speaking more efficiently.
English pronunciation coaching
Another area I cover in the program is English pronunciation, helping clients with English sounds and sound combinations that they have problems with.
Many English learners have difficulty distinguishing English sounds that are not distinguished in their first language, and they substitute sounds from their first language for English sounds when they speak English.
Theories like ALG suggest that these problems are not the inevitable result of learning English after early childhood, but the result of the methods typically used to teach English later in life, which often emphasize reading and speaking before hearing and understanding much English.
Addressing these English learners’ pronunciation challenges can help them not only speak more clearly, but also hear English more clearly by allowing them to more clearly hear and distinguish sounds and words.
This can make it easier for them to get more comprehensible input and pick up English vocabulary more efficiently.
English communication coaching
In my coaching program, I also help clients communicate more confidently and effectively in English in common and important situations in their work and careers, such as meetings, presentations, and job interviews.
One way I do this is by giving them strategies to use the English they’ve already acquired more efficiently as they continue to acquire the language.
For example, I encourage them to focus on their goal of communicating what they want to communicate in English, instead of focusing too much on the language itself.
One reason for that is I find that many English learners feel that they need more vocabulary or more complex grammar to communicate well, when actually they could often get across their points clearly using the English they already have.
By doing things like simplifying and clarifying their messages, and remembering to use non-verbal tools and context when communicating in English—as they do in their first languages—they can use the English they already know more effectively as they continue to improve over time.
Consulting on comprehension-based language teaching and learning
The other thing I’ve been doing more and more is consulting and advising on various language learning and teaching endeavours, based on my knowledge and experience with ALG and other comprehension-based approaches.
The endeavours are generally well outside of contexts where comprehension-based language teaching, while still rare, has been more commonly applied, such as classroom teaching in U.S. public schools.
As more people have reached out to me for advice through this blog and elsewhere, I’ve had the opportunity to contribute ideas, feedback, and suggestions to interesting and innovative projects to create better opportunities for people to acquire languages.
I plan to write about some of these projects in future posts.
Going forward, I plan to focus more on this consulting and related work, like educating language teachers, coaches, learners, and others to help them implement comprehension-based methods and techniques.
I’ve realized that rather than trying so much to do things like creating comprehensible English content and finding clients to coach myself, it makes more sense for me to focus my efforts on helping others apply what I’ve learned so that many more people can teach and learn languages more effectively.
That realization is also part of why I’ve decided to start posting to this blog again.
Why I’m starting to post again
I want to focus on what I know and do best in order to have the most impact in making language learning more effortless, efficient, and enjoyable.
Based on the feedback I’ve received, along with the consulting about language learning I have done, my writing and content here is among those things I can do best.
Therefore, I plan to lean into those things I can do best and that I am most interested in doing, and get help with or work with others on the things I am not as good at or not as interested in.
Growing interest in comprehensible input
Another reason I’m starting to post here again is the growing interest I’ve seen in comprehensible input and comprehension-based language teaching and learning, both in general and with regards to my work.
Interestingly, I have gotten more people reaching out and more interest in my consulting and other things I discuss here since I stopped posting to this blog than when I was posting before.
This doesn’t surprise me, as I have long expected interest to grow over time in things like comprehensible input and acquiring languages implicitly through experience instead of conscious study and practice.
Making the most of technological advances
The other big thing that has spurred me to pick up this blog is recent advances in technology that are more drastic and potentially transformative, or at least are more noticeable and dramatic, than advances in previous years.
Over the past year, there’s been an explosion in the public awareness and availability of applications of “generative AI” systems.
Trained on massive amounts of data, these systems can now generate impressively human-like writing, illustrations, and other content in response to prompts.
While there’s a lot of hype about the present capabilities of these systems, it appears that this emerging technology is already changing the way that many people work.
It also appears that the technology could quickly upend many jobs that involve tasks people didn’t expect could be easily automated, such as those that involve writing, design, and even teaching.
As such technologies are applied more and more, I think there’s a need for voices that emphasize:
- Applying them mindfully to areas like education, based on research in those areas
- Carefully combining what they can do best with what humans can do best
- Avoiding the tendency to apply them in ways that might seem easiest or most obvious, but are not actually most helpful or effective for the problem at hand.
For example, many applications of generative AI to education seem to involve applications that are based on explicit teaching and learning, such as chatbots that can tirelessly answer learner’s questions and explain concepts to them.
With language teaching, which depends on fostering implicit learning to be successful, far too often, new technology is applied in ways that merely replicate “traditional” methods like grammar–translation.
Despite all the potential of these technologies, the same old explicit teaching of language, focused on conscious study, practice, and memorization, is simply rehashed in ways that are slicker and more user-friendly, with features like gamification and “optimizing” grammar teaching using machine learning.
It seems as if things are continuing in the same direction with the use of generative AI, which itself is based on rehashing past information, albeit in very sophisticated ways and at an enormous scale.
Unfortunately, it seems that many people are so taken with the new technologies and the idea of applying them to make education more accessible that they are satisfied with whatever applications become the most popular and don’t demand better.
Will emerging technologies only incidentally bring about more opportunities to acquire languages naturally, similar to how much more comprehensible input is available today, four decades after Krashen, mainly because technologies like digital video and the web have made media like TV and movies in different languages so much easier to create and distribute, not because of the deliberate development of CI content and teaching for learners?
With my Comprehensible English YouTube channel and other projects I’ve worked and consulted on, my focus has been on deliberately creating and making better CI available to learners, filling gaps like the lack of highly comprehensible input for learners who can’t yet understand content like TV and movies in their target language well, and taking advantage of current technology to create and distribute it.
In this way, I’ve been trying to combine the best methodologies, human abilities, and technologies to give people better opportunities to acquire languages.
With these emerging technologies, my aim will be the same: bringing together the best theory and practice, the best of what humans can do, and the best of what technology can do to make language learning as effortless, efficient, and enjoyable as possible.
With a more careful application of these technologies, I think so much more is possible, not just for language acquisition, but also for other areas of education and learning.
Final notes for now: Apologies and thanks
If you reached out at some point through the contact form, email, or comments over the past few years expecting a reply and you didn’t hear back from me, I apologize.
At many times over the past few years, I’ve been overwhelmed with work and other things going on, and have found it difficult to respond to many messages and comments.
If you sent a message before and didn’t hear back from me, the best thing to do is to message me again, referring to your previous message if necessary. I will try my best to respond.
On that note, I want to thank everyone who has read this blog, reached out, and expressed their support for my work.
If you haven’t reached out yet, and this blog or related content has been helpful to you in any way, please let me know in the comments or with a message!
It would mean a lot to me and encourage me as I continue Beyond Language Learning!
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5 thoughts on “Creating, Coaching, Consulting, and Continuing Beyond Language Learning: An Update”
Looking forward to more from you!
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Very cool! Looking Forward to more 非常好
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So great to see you’re back! I discovered second language acquisition in 2020 and it was a gamechanger, made my fantasy about being able to speak other languages a realistic possibility. Not there yet, I’ve hit various setbacks, but I know I’ll get there. Would love to pick your brain about reading in the target language, as I’ve received mixed messages on that front and would like a second opinion from an ALG expert.
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Great to see you get back into the game!!
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I never left!!!