Automatic Language Growth: The Story So Far (New Video!)

Beyond Language Learning’s YouTube channel is up with its first video. In about seven minutes it tells the story of the Automatic Language Growth (ALG) approach and the unique AUA Thai Program, describing how they upend common beliefs about language learning in adulthood, and may represent the future of language learning. Enjoy!

The Automatic Language Growth page on this site features the script of the video and will soon include and link to more detailed background information and research. For now you can watch the video and read this synopsis:

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My experiences using Crosstalk to learn Mandarin Chinese

Crosstalk is a term for multilingual communication where each person speaks their own language, using non-verbal tools as needed to make themselves understood.

It can be used to implement the Automatic Language Growth approach to language learning, which theorizes that adults can learn languages as well and as effortlessly as children do if they learn them like children—by picking them up through experience instead of study, and listening and understanding before speaking much.

Dr. J. Marvin Brown, the originator of ALG, found the adult propensity to try to speak a new language before having a sufficient foundation of listening experience to be responsible for many of the problems adult language learners face, such as pronunciation difficulties and “broken” grammar.

Seeing the pressure his students faced to speak from early on, Brown developed Crosstalk as a way for them to gain more listening experience and communicate with speakers of the target language without having to speak it themselves.

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The ALG-shaped hole in second-language acquisition research: a further look

In a previous post I wrote that what’s missing from research on second-language acquisition overlaps so much with Automatic Language Growth theory and methods that SLA research could be said to have an ALG-shaped hole.

I focused on what I think are the largest areas of this research hole, starting with the lack of scientific control in research on the issue of age and second language acquisition.

ALG posits that adult language learners typically attain less with greater effort than children learning languages because of how their approach and environment typically differs from children.

Yet researchers have generally observed the lower rates of attainment in adults and assumed that they result from some loss of ability, without even proposing to try to control for these differences.

I argued a major part of controlling for these differences would be research into a “silent period” of listening to a language before speaking, based on the observation that while a child gets a lot of exposure to a new language early on, for some time their production is quite limited.

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If language learning is harder for adults, why give them less and not more? Part three: Listening experience

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.

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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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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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