Timeline of J. Marvin Brown and Automatic Language Growth


January 28: James Marvin Brown born to Lawrence Manley Brown and Fannie D. Brown (née Parker)

1920s – 1940s

Brown grows up in Salt Lake City, Utah.


1942-43 University of Utah

Card recording James Marvin Brown's enlistment in the United States Navy1943

January 27: Brown enlisted in the United States Navy

1943-44 University of Idaho


Northwestern University

December: Brown begins studying Mandarin Chinese in U.S. Navy language program at the University of Colorado


June: Brown finishes study of Mandarin at the University of Colorado; the Navy assigns him to Washington, D.C. to translate Chinese telegrams into English

August 4: Termination of service in the U.S. Navy

Fall: Brown returns to the University of Utah


Brown transfers to University of California


Brown recieves B.A. degree from the University of California, Berkeley

“In 1949, Marvin set out to prove the Army Method of language acquisition which basically held that the purpose of language study is just to prepare for later success in the country.” (History, ALG, alg.or.th)

Brown begins studying Thai under linguist Mary Haas at the University of California:

By this time I had studied 8 languages using the same old ‘grammar translation’ method (memorize words and grammar rules, translate sentences back and forth, and pass tests). But Thai under Mary Haas was something else. It was mostly practice. Mary told me that all I had to do to master a language was to practice until I got near-perfect pronunciation and then immerse myself in the country for a year. This reminded me of the bicycle cascade 4 years earlier: study first, then bathe in cascades. I decided to become the unofficial guinea pig for the Army Method. I would study Thai with Mary until I ‘mastered’ the pronunciation and then spend a year of immersion in Thailand. (Ch.3, From The Outside In)


Brown recieves M.A. degree from the University of California, Berkeley

October: Brown begins work on Ph.D. in linguistics at Cornell University


Brown works on “Spoken English for Thais”


Brown first arrives in Bangkok on a grant from the Ford Foundation

Newspaper clipping with photo of James Marvin Brown: "Scholar Home In S.L. After Asian Junket". The Salt Lake Tribune. 22 August 1957. p. 22.1957

Brown returns to the United States. Cornell University


Brown returns to Bangkok on a Fulbright Fellowship


September: “I returned to Cornell to teach Thai and Burmese and finish off my dissertation.”

Newspaper clipping about J. Marvin Brown: "Utahn Views Thai Offers". The Salt Lake Tribune. 27 January 1962. p. 20.1962

January: Completes Ph.D. in linguistics at Cornell University with doctoral dissertation From Ancient Thai to Modern Dialects: A Theory

March: Brown returns to Bangkok and is hired at AUA Language Center as staff linguist

Cover of From Ancient Thai to Modern Dialects by J. Marvin Brown


Brown’s doctoral dissertation published as From Ancient Thai to Modern Dialects

Brown writes “Phonemics Without Sounds”, later published in a reprint of his dissertation.

Two images from "Phonemics Without Sounds" by J. Marvin Brown showing a planet's orbit around the Sun and recorded observations of its apparent motion in the sky, respectively captioned as "a. The Inferred System. (How it works.)" and "b. Recorded observations. (How it appears.)"


Following publication of his dissertation, Brown refuses an offer from Division of Asian and Pacific Languages at the University of Hawaii for position as head of department of Southeast Asian Languages (Ch. 3, From The Outside In)

AUA Language Center Thai Course Book 1 cover1967

c. 1967: Publication of AUA Language Center Thai Course, books 1–3, Bangkok: American University Alumni Association Language Center.


Brown meets Adrian S. “Buzz” Palmer, who would introduce him to Krashen’s work on comprehensible input and the natural approach.

February: Brown marries Kwansuang Brown


Brown begins corresponding with William T. Powers, who developed perceptual control theory (PCT):

I was looking in the “Letters” section of Science in 1974 and I saw a reference to the book, Behavior: The Control of Perception by William Powers. It used the expression ‘a hierarchy of control systems’: three of my favorite words and all in the same expression. It reminded me of my 1965 article, ‘Phonemics Without Sounds’, which no one had understood. I sent a copy to Powers. He understood, he was impressed, and a correspondence began. He knew the importance of language to his theory and he had been looking for a linguist who could understand him. We clicked. I got a copy of his book and studied it for two years. (Ch. 5, From The Outside In)


July: Brown travels to Chicago to meet with William T. Powers, who developed perceptual control theory (PCT)


Brown quits job at AUA and returns to the United States to study physics at the University of Utah

Fall: Brown begins studying Japanese at the University of Utah


April: During his twelfth quarter at University of Utah, Brown decides to quit his studies

Late 1983: Brown teaches fall quarter Japanese class at the University of Utah using extreme practice approach

Cover of The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom by Stephen D. Krashen and Tracy D. TerrellDecember 14: Brown hits “rock bottom”: “I couldn’t wait for the students’ appraisals to come in. I got them on December 14, 1983, and with my heart beating wildly I read them. They all hated me and my practice—even those who had done it perfectly. And they all loved the delightful Japanese teacher with her charm and her natural talk. I cried myself to sleep that night.”

December 15: Brown reads The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom by Stephen D. Krashen and Tracy D. Terrell, leading to “a sudden conversion” to teaching language through comprehensible input.


January 6: Start date of Japanese class at the University of Utah where Brown first uses natural approach

Early 1984: Brown teaches winter quarter Japanese class using natural approach. After giving a demonstration of the natural approach in Thai in Palmer’s class on language teaching theory, Brown gives a natural approach class in Thai the following quarter.

October: Brown returns to Thailand and starts to work again at AUA Language Center

November: Brown teaches five-week demonstration term of Thai at AUA using natural approach for 15 students and almost 100 observers consisting of mostly linguists and university language teachers (Ch. 7, From The Outside In)


January: Brown hired by AUA to give natural approach Thai classes along with structural approach classes


Eight-month experimental German course offered at University of Utah based on methodology developed by Brown and‎ Dr. Adrian S. “Buzz” Palmer


July: Start of first year-long natural approach class of over 1000 hours at AUA


Cover of The Listening Approach: Methods and Materials for Applying Krashen's Input Hypothesis by J. Marvin Brown and‎ Dr. Adrian S. PalmerMay 1: Publication of The Listening Approach: Methods and Materials for Applying Krashen’s Input Hypothesis by J. Marvin Brown and‎ Dr. Adrian S. “Buzz” Palmer (Longman Pub Group)

“By the time the book finally came out, I had taught Natural Approach Thai at AUA for two more years, and we had become so different from Krashen and Terrell that we needed a new name. We called it ‘The Listening Approach’, and the book by this name came out in 1988.” (Brown, Ch.6, From The Outside In)


Automatic Language Growth equation curves (ALGie curves) estimating and predicting language acquisition displayed on chart
Algie (Automatic Language Growth equation) curves

“We completed the fine-tuning of Algie” (Automatic Language Growth Equation), an equation intended to measure learners’ natural language acquisition.



Brown learns Shantou (Swatow) Chinese through natural approach beginning around 1989; “I continued for 8 years at 1 to 2 hours a day.” (Ch. 7, From The Outside In)


July: Brown writes treatise Learning Languages Like Children on the Automatic Language Growth (ALG) approach


Brown retires from AUA; leaves around March 1995


Revision of 1992 treatise Learning Languages Like Children


August 28/29: James Marvin Brown dies at the age of 77.

2003ERIC (Education Resources Information Center) logo

Online submission of a partial version of Brown’s autobiography From the Outside In: The Secret to Automatic Language Growth to ERIC (Education Resources Information Center), a digital library sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences of the United States Department of Education.

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