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.
I’ve written a lot about the Automatic Language Growth, or ALG, approach to language learning, which is based on the idea that adults can learn languages as easily and as well as children if they learn them like children.
While I discuss how that idea may be accurate, I don’t expect anyone to necessarily accept it without more support from formal research into this area.
Although many studies have found that people typically achieve less the older they begin learning a new language, adults and children typically have very different language learning experiences and approaches, and there is very little research that really tries to control for these differences.
Let’s assume though that the brain does lose some ability with maturity, making it inherently more difficult to learn a language well as an adult than as a child.
Many language learning methods, programs, and products are touted as new, different, or even revolutionary, yet a cursory examination reveals they’re at most a rehashing of what’s been done already in many other times and places.
Automatic Language Growth, or ALG, is a comprehension-based language learning method with the distinct proposition that adults can effortlessly approach native-like abilities in new languages if they acquire them as young children appear to—learning implicitly without study, translation, or practice, and letting speaking emerge gradually over a long “silent period” of mostly listening.
The ALG approach has primarily been implemented at the AUA Thai Program in Bangkok.
Students there attend classes where they watch and listen as two teachers tell stories, have discussions, make jokes, and give demonstrations, all in Thai.
The AUA Thai teachers use tools like props, gestures, and drawings to make what they’re saying comprehensible; this non-verbal communication is reduced in higher levels as students gain understanding of the spoken language.
This leaves those who want to use the ALG approach to pick up another language somewhere else having to find ways to implement it for themselves.
This can be difficult, but there are more opportunities than ever to get comprehensible input in one’s target language using media like TV and videos online, and, with the help of tutors and techniques like Crosstalk, create input that’s highly understandable as a beginner.
It’s also possible to apply ALG for oneself by attending classes at a language school that doesn’t specifically follow the method as the AUA Thai Program does.
When discussing language learning and input-based approaches like Automatic Language Growth (ALG), I encounter many people who insist that you need to have someone correcting you in order to learn to speak a language properly, especially if it’s a “difficult” one like Thai or Mandarin that has tones and other features that don’t exist in English.
They are often quite adamant about the need for instruction and constant correction and can’t seem to conceive of an adult learner being able to pronounce a language correctly without study and practice.
In my experience, it is possible even as an adult to learn to speak a language pretty clearly, to say the least, without any explicit instruction or practice.
One thing that has kept me going through difficulties and discouragement in working to apply Automatic Language Growth (ALG) and related methods to help myself and others learn languages is the many moments where I’ve experienced effortless and enjoyable language learning.
When I was learning Mandarin Chinese without study, trying to pick it up by watching TV shows and cartoons, there would be moments where new words and grammar would suddenly click into place.
The context made the meaning of these pieces of the language abundantly clear, and I would instantly understand them, be able to remember them, and automatically start to think using them.
An explanation of the Automatic Language Growth, or ALG, approach to language learning and the AUA Thai Program in Bangkok, where the ALG method has mainly been applied.
At present, the ALG approach is being implemented in only one language program: the AUA Thai Program in Bangkok where it originated over 30 years ago.
Because of this, and perhaps also the uniqueness of both the approach and the program, people tend to conflate the two, drawing conclusions about ALG based on their experiences with AUA, or what they’ve read and heard about AUA.
Therefore, it’s important to make a clear distinction between ALG and AUA.
ALG is the language learning method and AUA—specifically, the AUA Thai Program in Bangkok—implements ALG, giving learners an opportunity to follow the method.