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”.
Continue reading “The ALG-shaped hole in research on second-language acquisition”
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”
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””
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.
Continue reading “If language learning is harder for adults, why give them less and not more? Part one: Comprehensible input”
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.
So often is this the case that I find myself wondering if the same thing is true of the Automatic Language Growth, or ALG, approach, and the AUA Thai Program where it has mainly been implemented.
Maybe they aren’t as unique as they seem, and I just haven’t looked hard enough to find other methods and programs that are essentially the same.
Continue reading “Are ALG and AUA really that different from other language learning methods and programs?”
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.
Continue reading “Is Automatic Language Growth “passive learning”?”
The Automatic Language Growth method is currently being implemented in only one program: at the AUA Language Center in Bangkok, where it’s used to teach the Thai 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.
Continue reading “Listening classes”
“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!”
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.
Continue reading “Is correction needed to learn to speak a language well?”
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.
Continue reading “Real Language Learning”