Automatic Language Growth, or ALG, is a comprehensible input-based approach to language teaching, meaning it’s based on the idea that we learn languages by being exposed to them in ways that we can understand what is being communicated.
This puts ALG in the same category as better-known CI-based approaches such as TPR (Total Physical Response), TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling), and Story Listening.
What sets ALG apart is that it is a developing theory and method of language acquisition that was conceived with the goal of bringing adults from zero knowledge to native-like fluency in second languages.
The ALG approach can in fact subsume these other CI-based approaches where they are consistent with its approach to language learning.
It’s been over 30 years since the American linguist Dr. J. Marvin Brown originated the Automatic Language Growth approach to language learning.
The ALG approach claims that adults can become like native speakers of second languages as easily as young children do if they learn them the same way, picking them up implicitly with a lot of listening before speaking much.
Since its inception in 1984, the AUA Thai Program in Bangkok has been one of the few programs anywhere that allows adult learners to follow the ALG method, giving them the opportunity to pick up Thai language through understandable experiences without translation or study, and without having to practice speaking.
Today, after more than three decades, ALG has hardly gotten any further than where it began in Southeast Asia.
In a previous post I wrote that what’s missing from research on second-language acquisition overlaps so much with Automatic Language Growth theory and methods that SLA research could be said to have an ALG-shaped hole.
I focused on what I think are the largest areas of this research hole, starting with the lack of scientific control in research on the issue of age and second language acquisition.
ALG posits that adult language learners typically attain less with greater effort than children learning languages because of how their approach and environment typically differs from children.
Yet researchers have generally observed the lower rates of attainment in adults and assumed that they result from some loss of ability, without even proposing to try to control for these differences.
I argued a major part of controlling for these differences would be research into a “silent period” of listening to a language before speaking, based on the observation that while a child gets a lot of exposure to a new language early on, for some time their production is quite limited.
Every academic discipline has its research gaps and holes—those areas that haven’t been adequately investigated and the questions that haven’t been answered, or even asked.
The field of second language acquisition is no exception.
What’s fascinating, and at times maddening, about looking at the Automatic Language Growth, or ALG approach, alongside existing research on second-language acquisition is how so much of what ALG asserts and touches upon has not really been examined.
These gaps coincide so much with ALG theory and practice that I would say it’s as if the research on second language acquisition has an ALG-shaped hole.
In this post I will focus on what I think are the most prominent parts of this research hole: scientific control in research on the issue of age and second language acquisition, and the so-called “silent period”.
In a previous post I discussed the apparent uniqueness of the Automatic Language Growth (ALG) approach to language learning and the AUA Thai Program where it has mainly been implemented.
I wrote how I inquired in an online group discussing comprehensible input-based approaches as to whether there were any other methods or programs that were “pure” comprehensible input in the sense of not including study or practice.
All of the suggested answers turned out to involve some element of translation, study, or speaking practice—the kind of conscious learning that ALG and AUA seek to avoid.
I wrote that I still find it hard to believe there doesn’t seem to be anything else like ALG and AUA, and questioned whether perhaps they’re not really as different as they seem from other methods and programs.
In previousposts, I have been asking why, if the conventional wisdom is accurate and language learning is inherently harder as an adult than it is as a child, we don’t then help adults by giving them more of the opportunities that children learning languages get.
Young children get abundant opportunities for understandable experiences in a new language, and a chance to listen and absorb the new language before speaking much.
In contrast, adult learners have difficulty getting the same quality and quantity of experiences, yet they’re often expected to produce a lot of the language from the start.
The AUA Thai Programuniquelyprovides adult learners with the experience and approach of child learners, giving beginners the opportunity to listen to Thai in a way that is understandable through experiences and non-verbal communication, allowing them to listen for hundreds of hours without having to speak.
In my previous post, I wrote that while the ALG approach suggests adults can pick up languages as easily as young children can if they have the same learning environment and approach, even if language learning is harder for adults, the response should be to help them by offering them more of what children get rather than less.
I focused on how children naturally get many understandable experiences that allow them to pick up language without translation or study.
This kind of high-quality comprehensible input isn’t easily available to many adult beginning learners.