How Young Children’s Mimicry of Language is Very Different from Adult Learners’ “Listen and Repeat”

When trying to imitate what young children learning languages do, we adults must also take into account how they think (and don’t think). Ignore this, and what we end up doing can be totally different.

I was interested to come across a recent post by Donovan Nagel on The Mezzofanti Guild blog titled “How To Learn Languages Like A Child (Yes It Is Possible)“.

Many other language learning bloggers appear quite skeptical about that idea, so I wanted to see what he had to say.

I think he’s on the right track in a lot of ways: for example, he says that adults can and should pick up grammar like children do, acquiring it through comprehensible input without explicit instruction.

He also writes that “[t]raditional language study and reading can actually get in the way of learning”, and suggests focusing on reading after getting attuned to the spoken language—a point I think is overlooked even by many proponents of “natural” or “learn like a child” approaches.

However, I think he’s also made the same kind of error that I’ve seen many other people make when they look at children’s language learning and try to apply it to adults.

Continue reading “How Young Children’s Mimicry of Language is Very Different from Adult Learners’ “Listen and Repeat””

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.

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

A typical heritage language learner has learned their heritage language to some extent in childhood from parents and relatives, but they’ve become more proficient in the language that dominates where they’ve grown up and been formally educated.

The question they face is how they can develop their heritage language from their current level to higher levels of proficiency.

Heritage language learning is quite a complex area that encompasses a range of issues, and I don’t pretend to be an expert on it.

However, seeing a couple of questions recently from heritage learners on the subreddit r/languagelearning, I felt obliged to offer some suggestions based on my experience and knowledge of language acquisition.

To me the difficulties these posters express appear to be consequences of the influence of “traditional” language learning with its focus on language itself, and they point to the advantages of comprehension-based approaches such as Automatic Language Growth (ALG) that focus on understanding and communicating meaning.

Continue reading “Advice to heritage language learners: Don’t focus so much on the language!”

What are you doing reading this blog?

Beyond Language Learning viewsOver the past year I’ve observed from the stats for Beyond Language Learning how people all over the world are visiting and reading this blog.

Not surprisingly, major English-speaking countries like the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom top the list for number of views.

Many readers also come from Thailand, almost certainly because I write a lot about the unique AUA Thai Program and the Automatic Language Growth approach it uses to teach Thai.

South Korea stands out as another country that I get a lot of views from consistently.

Occasionally I will see many views from less expected and far-flung places like Angola or Uzbekistan.

Wherever you are reading this from, I wonder what brings you to this blog.

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Looking back and forward: One year of posts on Beyond Language Learning

I started this blog at the beginning of last year with the opinion based on my research and experiences that given the right kind of opportunities, adults might be able to effortlessly learn languages to very high or even native-like levels of ability.

I wrote that these learning opportunities could involve having a lot of fun and gaining other things at the same time, something I further envision in another post describing the possibilities of optimal language learning experiences.

The ALG approach

In many posts over this past year I have focused on the Automatic Language Growth approach to language learning, which I introduced early on as something that has greatly influenced my thinking in this area.

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Learn languages like children? Adults aren’t even given the chance!

“Children’s brains are like sponges,” is practically a cliché when it comes to language learning.

Often I hear this kind of remark from adults who, struggling with trying to learn a new language, marvel at the ease with which young children seem to acquire them: “They just soak them up.”

The assumption seems to be that adults’ brains are no longer like sponges. They have hardened in some way and language must be drilled in to them with great difficulty.

What’s interesting to me is that when people talk about children’s brains soaking up languages like sponges, they seem to pay little attention to the other element that this metaphor implies.

How does a sponge get soaked?

It is immersed in water.

Continue reading “Learn languages like children? Adults aren’t even given the chance!”