They say that it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, and that you should be the change you wish to see in the world.
I’ve written a lot about the lack of content that presents languages in ways that make them understandable so that even beginning learners can just watch, listen, and pick up languages efficiently without study, practice, or translation.
Experts widely agree that exposure to a new language in ways that you can understand what is being said—known as comprehensible input—is critical to acquiring the language and becoming fluent in it.
Yet decades after linguist Stephen Krashen popularized the concept of comprehensible input, for practically any given language, there is still very little material that lower-level adult learners can easily understand without added study or instruction.
This kind of comprehensible input seems to be so rare that I had to go halfway around the world to the unique AUA Thai Program in Bangkok in order to find it in abundance.
For a long time I’ve complained about the lack of comprehensible input and lamented the opportunities silently lost because of it.
Now I’ve decided to do something about it.
Continue reading “Creating Comprehensible Input Videos for Beginning English Learners”
Answering questions from readers about applying the ALG approach—acquiring a language by listening to comprehensible input—with tutors and language exchange partners
In my last post I described the language exchange method that polyglot and language instructor Jeff Brown has explained and demonstrated in a couple of popular YouTube videos.
With his method, you pick up a language from partners or tutors who speak it by having them speak it to you in ways that you can understand, such as by using actions, describing pictures, and telling stories using illustrated children’s books.
I wrote about how the method provides a way to acquire a language following the Automatic Language Growth (ALG) approach, which at present is only being used in one program to teach one language—the AUA Thai Program.
Both ALG and Brown’s approach are based on Dr. Stephen Krashen’s input hypothesis, which says we acquire languages by listening, not by speaking, and that we subconsciously learn to use them correctly and fluently by getting comprehensible input—hearing them in ways that we can understand—not by studying and practicing things like grammar rules.
The main difference with the ALG approach is that it advocates delaying producing the target language until it emerges naturally, without trying.
Continue reading “How Can We Learn to Speak a Language without Speaking It?”
A pair of inspiring videos provides a method for picking up a language without study through comprehensible input. Just listening when first using it and speaking one’s own language can lead to more native-like abilities, and let people acquire each other’s languages together.
When I first learned about Automatic Language Growth (ALG), I wanted to acquire a language by following this unique approach, but I didn’t know how.
ALG theory suggests that adults can effortlessly learn languages as well as young children do when they learn them like children: picking them up through listening and understanding without conscious study or practice.
However, I couldn’t find any classes that taught a language like the AUA Thai Program, where ALG has mainly been applied.
This means teaching the language by speaking it in ways that students can understand it at their level, using non-verbal communication as needed, without adding things like translation or speaking practice.
I also couldn’t find any content that was suited to this kind of approach, such as videos in a foreign language that are both highly understandable and interesting for adults who are just beginning to learn it.
How then could I acquire a language the way I wanted to?
Continue reading “How to Acquire a Language with Tutors and Exchanges, and Speak It Like a Native Speaker”
In a recent post I wrote about how meaningful repetition of language can help provide comprehensible input (CI) to language learners and support acquisition.
Meaningful repetition helps learners acquire new language, both by increasing their comprehension through adding redundancy to the input and by increasing their number of understandable encounters with words and structures.
I talked a lot about the power of the circling technique, where a teacher makes a statement in the target language and then asks their students various kinds of questions based on what they just said.
Since that post, a friend has alerted me to another way of providing a lot of meaningful repetition of language.
He finds it so useful for acquiring language that he calls it “the crown jewel of comprehensible input”.
I wouldn’t go quite that far, but I can certainly see how powerful it can be.
We could call this technique the use of parallel structure.
Continue reading “How “Parallel Structure” Can Enhance Comprehensible Input with More Meaningful Repetition of Language”
As someone who’s interested in advancing research on second language acquisition to help people better learn languages, I think that a careful and rigorous scientific approach is tremendously important.
Good research of lasting value involves carefully planned studies and experiments that require the investment of a lot of time, money, and human resources—not things that can be thrown together on a whim.
At the same time, I think there’s enormous value in also being able to research and experiment in a much more informal way: through unbounded play with language acquisition.
The ability to try out many things spontaneously can help us break away from preconceived notions and generate new insights, and this can ultimately lead to better research questions and better formal studies.
Continue reading “Freedom to Play”
There’s no shortage of compelling things to communicate in every language. The challenge is having people make them highly comprehensible even to those who don’t yet know their language at all.
In order to acquire new languages as effectively, efficiently, enjoyably, and effortlessly as possible, the most important thing is to have an abundance of compelling comprehensible input at every level.
Compelling comprehensible input means being able to hear the language you’re learning in ways that are both highly interesting and highly understandable to you.
Unfortunately, although we have both the technology and human resources to create it in abundance today, compelling comprehensible input remains needlessly scarce.
This is especially the case for total beginners, but it’s true for every level of learner, all the way up to advanced.
This blog, Beyond Language Learning, is about creating a world where compelling comprehensible input is available in abundance to every language learner.
You’re reading this, I hope, because you too are interested in the same kind of goal, thinking about how to get there, and perhaps even working already to build that world.
Continue reading “Abundant Compelling Comprehensible Input: What We’re Aiming For, and How to Get There”
There are no true shortcuts to learning a language to fluency. But there could be far more efficient and enjoyable ways to get there.
Several years ago when I was learning Chinese, I encountered a guy at a language meetup.
He had lived in Taiwan and spoke fluent Mandarin.
As I remember it, he remarked that the vast majority of foreigners in Taiwan failed to learn the language.
He also said that the people there wouldn’t understand you if your pronunciation was even slightly off—even with very common words in their language like numbers.
I remarked that all these failures and difficulties pointed to a need for better resources to support language learning.
“You’re looking for a shortcut,” he told me with what sounded like a hint of annoyance.
I tried to explain that I was looking for better opportunities to learn languages—not so much a shortcut.
“And I’m telling you there isn’t one,” he reiterated.
He said that you had to put in the time and effort, and there was no way around it.
I am putting in the time and effort, I protested; I am listening to Chinese.
Continue reading “Looking For a Shortcut?”