You are hereLanguage Study - It just doesn't make any sense! (Part 2)

By dvlong - Posted on 30 January 2010

Language Study - It just doesn't make any sense! (Part 2)

All over the world, young children move to foreign countries and through play and exposure, become native in that new language.  At the same time, their parents spend time and money in language schools and with the exception of the first few months, never rise to the ability of their kids.

From this I am seeing two basic ways to think about language learning.  The first way, the adult way, is how schools have been trying to teach language - structured and lots and lots of practice.  The second way or child's way, is to do what ever it is those young kids do - and NOT do the things they don't!

What's the difference?  The adult way offers poor end results, a lot of work, and a 95% failure rate.  The child's way offers native useage, real communication, and a 100% success rate.

This choice should be a no brainer. But it's not!  We seem to be well ingrained with the idea that once we're older, we simply cannot learn in the same ways as when we were young.

At risk of repeating myself, there is nothing to stop us from doing what young children do.  It's our added abilities that get in the way - the ability to translate, study, and do all those conscious things that make up the largest part of language classes.  So the real problem appears to be this - we experience difficulty learning naturally, because we have an ability to grasp things consciously and through our own effort. What does it take to let go of that ability?  Many of our students never do - and they wind up working at language learning and gaining the small gains they get from such effort.

For me, the bottom line is this: Which way produces the best results?  The child's way does - always.  Does it take longer?  No.  It's much faster but speaking begins after some time.  The natural process requires that you wait for the ability to speak.  Overall, nature provides us with the absolute most effective and efficient way of gaining a new language.

A student of mine was struggling over this point, and was about to decide that she would do both - the adult, hard work and practice way and the natural input way.  I explained that these two ways are going in complete opposite directions.  It's probably impossible to actually do both at once.  In any case, after she told me that the natural way took too long, I asked her how she would rate her English ability, compared with an American.  She said somewhere around 30%.  And how many years has she already studied?  Over 10, with at least 1,500 hours of class time alone.

So why continue to invest more time, in a program that gives you 30% fluency after 1,500 hours?  Going the child's route, my student would be fluent already!

I really wish I had access to more information at the start of the ALG Thai program, after having read Marvin J Brown's book I can notice the shortfalls within my own learning and attribute them to a failure to adhere to the method. I am fairly fluent in terms of understanding but my pronunciation suffers on particular words and these tend to be words, for which I asked the meaning and tended to try to memorise things. With this said I still seem to be much better at understanding Thai than most other foreigners so even without strict adherence to ALG guidelines it seems that the program can be pretty damned effective.

I am taking the time now to immerse myself in all the material I can find on ALG and doing my best to find people to crosstalk with online, using Skype, whilst I am not living in Thailand. I think this is a fascinating subject and I think one of the most important things in the future success of the method will be the proper education of students before they begin a course, so they don't accidentally scunder their own future progress. Infact, I would even go so far as to suggest that a pre AT1 class be introduced to educate students in the methodology of ALG so they can really take in onboard and apply it.

" Many of our students never do..."
Does it mean that the majority of the ALG students ultimately fail?

The ALG definition of success is native-like fluency and based on that, yes. Most fail. Most of our students don't follow what we suggest, and most don't have this definition of success either.

Thanks a lot for all your answers.
Could you approximately specify the proportion of those who manage to get native-like fluency?

Julien, when I began to reply, I realized that I needed to go a little deeper than a simple reply so check out this:

You admit in another post on this blog that you studied over 1000 hours and understood about 70 percent of what was said yet had sucky spoken thai skills. How is that ANY different from the student you quote except you did all that studying in a single year while she spread it out? Last time I did basic math, close to 70% in understandability and next to 0% in speaking is not much better than hers with the same hours invested, now is it?

Sadly, I've yet to meet a SINGLE student from AUA whose attended class for the mythical 600 hours and speaks anything even close to resembling coherent properly structured basic thai. Maybe they can speak two-word-tourist-thai, yes, but 'real honest to goodness thai' Nope, never seen it....

Please, if you have some students like that have them contact me, you have my email.
P/S: sorry to be harsh but this blog sounds like a frickin' infomercial for ALG. ..

Thanks Tod for this question. The difference is always in the end result. We have never seen anyone in our program speaking fluently at 600 or 800 hours as a result of the ALG Approach. Speaking begins at that time. The comparison we have used is that at about 800 hours (factors such as native culture/language can lessen this amount of input) a person is at and equivalent level of a 2 year old child - In native language acquisition, I've never met a two year old child who was fluent, but then I've never met a 2 year old who I doubted would become fluent either.

We are fully aware that in modern society, we want everything, right now. What we're saying is that if you want real fluency, the only way to get it is through input of the language - not practice. And input takes time before you're going to experience the abilities that compare to adult language practice methods. Incidentally, adult language methods are not faster - and in the long run, can't take you as far. They only give you the ability to use some words and phrases to a degree - but rarely if ever fluently.

Lastly, (sorry this is so long) for all of those who studied and did become fluent, it is generally the case (I've never met an exception) that they have received incredible amounts of input as well. They credit the study - I credit the input. I do this because our students who do only input can do the same thing without the study, but this never seems to work the other way around.

regarding your p.s. - I've been sold on Automatic Language Growth ever since I got about half way through the program. My intent isn't to create infomercials, but having failed in my studies of English, Spanish and Greek, I am definitely biased. :-)