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”.

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If language learning is harder for adults, why give them less and not more? Part one: Comprehensible input

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.

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Are ALG and AUA really that different from other language learning methods and programs?

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 website alg because we are differentSo 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.

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Is Automatic Language Growth “passive learning”?

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.

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Listening classes

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.

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Learn languages like children? Adults aren’t even given the chance!

“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!”

Is correction needed to learn to speak a language well?

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.

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Real Language Learning

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.

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