My name is Kristian Peltonen and I’m the creator of Beyond Language Learning and the author of all the posts on this site.
While I’ve been interested in languages and language learning for much of my life, I grew up monolingual in Ontario, Canada, only learning to speak English as a child. Like many people, I was disappointed with second language instruction in school, finding myself unable to even have basic conversations in another language despite years of classes. For a time, I even thought I was just not good at languages. These kinds of experiences led me to investigate how as an adult I might become highly fluent in a new language.
At first, I tried to teach myself languages through studying grammar, memorizing vocabulary, and practicing speaking. But as I read more about second language acquisition, I discovered that the key to fluency is not study and practice, but getting plenty of comprehensible input—exposure to a language in ways that we understand what is being said.
In researching language acquisition though comprehensible input, I came across a unique approach called Automatic Language Growth. ALG theorizes that adults can learn languages as easily and as well as children if they learn them like children: by listening a lot first and gaining understanding, then gradually speaking more and more based on this experience, rather than consciously trying to produce or work out the language.
Discovering ALG led me to return to university and study psychology and linguistics with the aim of finding answers to questions that the approach raises, but I was surprised to find out how little research has been done on many of them. In particular, given that adults and children typically do and experience very different things when learning new languages, why not try to control for these differences and see what happens if adults learn languages more like children? For example, children appear to listen a lot before speaking much, while adults often try to speak a new language right away. Yet very few studies have been attempted to find out what would happen if adults listened more first (although research that has been done suggests this can lead to more native-like pronunciation).
I also attempted to apply ALG myself in order to get a better understanding of the language acquisition process firsthand. First, I tried to use the approach to learn Mandarin Chinese starting practically from scratch. Because I couldn’t find any schools that supported such an approach, I began by just watching Chinese TV shows for many hours and guessing at meaning, hoping that I would start to understand and pick up the language. As I understood more, I continued to acquire the language with tutors using ALG’s Crosstalk method, speaking English while they spoke Mandarin to me.
Through this experiment, I found that it’s possible to acquire quite a lot of a language through just watching and listening, without study, practice, or translation, even with TV shows that aren’t designed to be understandable to learners. I also saw how it’s possible to pick up language while learning and focusing on things other than the language itself. This made me wonder what might be possible with content and experiences that are made to be both highly interesting and highly comprehensible, even to complete beginners in a language.
I decided to put my acquisition of Mandarin on hold and go to Bangkok, Thailand to experience the AUA Thai Program, where ALG has mainly been applied since the American linguist Dr. J. Marvin Brown originated it there over 35 years ago. Although I initially had no interest in Thailand or the Thai language, I couldn’t find any language school anywhere else in the world that gave learners the same opportunity to pick up a language through simply watching, listening, and gaining understanding, without study, practice, or translation.
My experience with the program suggests that by listening first, it’s possible for adults to learn to pronounce a completely foreign language clearly and even much like a native speaker, without any special practice or instruction—something many people believe is impossible. Seeing the AUA Thai Program firsthand also helped give me insights on how the implementation of ALG could be developed to make it accessible to more people. Since then, I have studied “mainstream” language teaching and other comprehensible input-based approaches such as TPR (Total Physical Response) and TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling), and I am working on integrating their insights with what I have learned.
I am currently looking for graduate programs where I can continue researching second language acquisition, comprehensible input, and questions that relate to the ALG approach. I’m also working on projects and collaborating with other people and organizations to create fun ways for people to pick up new languages through listening and understandable experiences.
I want to not only contribute to theory on second language acquisition, but make sure that research findings are being applied to help people better acquire languages. I think this can help generate a virtuous cycle where continued research supports more and better opportunities to acquire languages, and these opportunities support further research.
My dream is that everyone who wants to acquire another language can easily access an incredible selection of content and opportunities through which they can effortlessly pick up the language of their choice while doing, learning, and experiencing other things that they enjoy.
Get in touch
You can reach me through the contact form on this site.