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.