What is the future of Automatic Language Growth?

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.

AUA behind gate
The AUA Thai Program’s former location on Bangkok’s Ratchadamri Road. This building has since been demolished.

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.

Continue reading “What is the future of Automatic Language Growth?”

Failure

I write here because I’m deeply and passionately interested in how the average adult can learn new languages and become as native-like as possible with the least difficulty, and ideally, have a lot of fun doing it.

However, I have not yet succeeded in even becoming fluent in any language besides English, my native language.

Perhaps I have even failed in my attempts to learn languages.

The main learning method I have been examining is Automatic Language Growth (ALG), which claims that adults can effortlessly approach native-like fluency in new languages if they learn them like children—listening first in the context of many understandable experiences, then beginning to speak.

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The ALG-shaped hole in second-language acquisition research: a further look

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.

Continue reading “The ALG-shaped hole in second-language acquisition research: a further look”

The ALG-shaped hole in research on second-language acquisition

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”.

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More on whether ALG and AUA are really that different from other language learning methods and programs

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.

Nìall Beag suggests the latter in a post on his blog Lingua FranklyTake nobody’s word for it: a case study.

However, while this post, like others on his blog, raises a lot of great points, it contains a number of inaccuracies and misconceptions about ALG.

Continue reading “More on whether ALG and AUA are really that different from other language learning methods and programs”

If language learning is harder for adults, why give them less and not more? Part three: Listening experience

In previous posts, 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.

I focused on two areas: comprehensible input and a “silent period”.

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 Program uniquely provides 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.

Continue reading “If language learning is harder for adults, why give them less and not more? Part three: Listening experience”

If language learning is harder for adults, why give them less and not more? Part two: A “silent period”

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.

I asked why more such opportunities for input are not being created for adults, as has been done with the AUA Thai Program, which uniquely implements the ALG method.

In this post I want to look at another language learning opportunity that children get in abundance but is normally denied to adults.

This is the so-called “silent period”, but perhaps it’s better to refer to it here as “the right to remain silent”.

Continue reading “If language learning is harder for adults, why give them less and not more? Part two: A “silent period””