Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I have read the story of Armando before and just now came across it again. The article was written by Stephen Krashen and is about how Armando acquired Hebrew. It's not very long, so I urge you to read it if you haven't read it before.

Armando became a near-native speaker of Hebrew without classes, books, or studying. He was simply employed in a family-owned restaurant where the owners were Hebrew speakers. Armando said (quote from the article),
...it was two or three years until he was comfortable in conversation even though he heard Hebrew all day on the job. He said that he never forced or pushed himself with Hebrew, that his approach was relaxed.
In a job, you may hear Hebrew all day long, but it wouldn't be as much as in a class at ALG World. In a restaurant, when it gets busy (assuming his restaurant had busy times) people may be shouting orders but they won't be having conversations. When a restaurant is slow, the workers are talking and conversing a lot. So each day and each hour would vary. That is why it may have taken him longer than an ALG World class. But at least he didn't give up like many students do.
Armando told me that he had never learned to read Hebrew, never studied Hebrew grammar, had no idea of what the rules of Hebrew grammar were, and certainly did not think about grammar when speaking. He said that he received about five corrections a day, but none of these were aimed at grammar; it was all vocabulary.
So we see he never studied the grammar. He never spent time reading either. His acquisition was all through the ear.

It's very interesting to see how the judges came to different conclusions about the speaker they heard (Armando.) While 2 of the 4 said that he was not a native speaker, 1 of them explicitly stated that he thought Armando was a native speaker. I don't know what that says about Armando, but it says a lot about the people who judge you.

Krashen also states the following in the article:
Of course, Hebrew was not comprehensible for him right away. His great accomplishment was due to patience, being willing to acquire slowly and gradually with a long silent period (or period of reduced output). With a "natural approach" language class Armando would have had comprehensible input right away and would moved through the beginning stages more quickly, and real conversational Hebrew would have been comprehensible earlier.
I note that "Hebrew was not comprehensible for him right away." This, to me, clearly means that comprehension became the result of the input.

It also interesting that Krashen changed the name of the input hypothesis to the comprehension hypothesis. I have not looked at everything Krashen has written. I mean, I have not read the vast majority of his works. So I do not know for sure, but I suspect that he has never done a study on incomprehensible input. I think it is just being taken as a given that incomprehensible input is of no value. For most people, that makes sense.

But not to me. That's like saying that incomprehensible language just bounces off of you and has no effect. This simply cannot be true. I will write about why I disagree in another post.

Monday, October 20, 2008

50 words

This article states:
By 24 months, children will usually have a vocabulary of around 50 words and have begun combining those words in two or three word sentences.
At 36 months, the child has a vocabulary of 300 to 1,000 words!

How does the child learn all these words? Does a child look them up in the dictionary? Do the little toddlers ask for a translation? "Now, what would that be in baby talk?" Or perhaps they do a Google search?

They just look, listen, and guess. Can adults learn the same way or do we need a dictionary and must try to memorize lists of words? ALG World has already proven that adults can learn the same way. We don't need translations. We don't need explanations of how the language works. We don't need to think about the language. We just need the exposure to the language. An hour a week is not going to be enough. You're going to have to give it a try, but do not tell me that you tried for 200 hours. That's not enough. With a language close to your own, it should not take as long as a completely different language.

Too bad there are not that many people in the world who are willing to try this. We need more testimonials from those who learned a language without studying. I guess if this type of language acquisition became the norm, a lot of publishers would lose sales.

your brain predicts words

Your brain is doing a lot of work without you telling it to do so. So why do we think we must tell it what to do for a second language? Your brain can do so much at lightening speed, so why would you want to get in the way of that? Trying to learn a language is like getting in the way. There is an article which tells us this:
ScienceDaily (Sep. 15, 2008) — Scientists at the University of Rochester have shown for the first time that our brains automatically consider many possible words and their meanings before we've even heard the final sound of the word.
Without the proper amount of exposure to a new language, your brain will not have enough data to do this processing. I think the article shows us how much it is that our brain will do. We don't need to force it. Just give yourself the exposure and let your new language build up inside of your brain.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

what can we do?

If you've been reading my blog, you can tell that I've become convinced that the ALG method (automatic language growth) is the best way to acquire a language. It is the only method that gets you to native proficiency in 2 to 3 years. And there are many reasons why and how it works, which I won't go into in this post.

So what can we do if we cannot go to Thailand or if ALG World does not offer the language that we want to learn? The way I see it, there are 2 choices. The first is to go with the other methods of learning a language where you use dictionaries and look up everything you don't understand. In the end, you'll have to be satisfied with whatever ceiling you reach.

The second choice is to try to create our own Automatic Language Growth. The way I'm going to do this is to use online TV. In fact, I began about a week ago. I don't remember exactly which day it was. I'm not going to document how many hours I've watched or any statistics like that. I know it's much easier to watch 10 hours of TV than to listen to an hour of limited content.

As you might be aware, I have been trying to learn Chinese. From now on, in accordance with ALG principles, I'm no longer going to try. I'm simply going to bathe in the language and let the language into my brain. If there was ever anyone who was good at not trying, that would be me!

As I have already learned a little bit of the language, I hear many of the words that I have learned. I am experiencing first-hand the crippling effect of my learning. Whenever I hear something familiar, the meaning just won't come. I have to associate it with the English and then I understand the meaning. There is some kind of barrier. But I know I can get over this, because these already-learned words are so frequent and common that I eventually won't feel the need to translate them.

When I watched the first day, the language was very much like a blur. I tried to hear every word, but I could only hear 2 or 3 words in a sentence. I think the words that I could catch triggered something that made me not able to catch the other parts of the sentences. After a few days, I noticed that I could hear much more and it was much clearer. It was a big difference. Although I still don't know most of the language, it comes through more clearly now.

All of the Chinese TV shows and movies have subtitles in Chinese. With the help of seeing the word, I was able to figure out the meaning of a new word last night. When I saw it at first, I couldn't figure out what it meant. The word was 姐夫. I knew each character but was not able to understand what the word meant. After figuring out the relationship of the people in the drama and then finally seeing this word used in a context of only two people, I could finally figure out who 姐夫 was and of course what the word is. I don't think this is the intended way to acquire the language, but anyway, this is the first word I learned or figured out from watching TV.

There's another effect of watching many hours of TV in a foreign language. There's something happening inside my head because of all that input that is pouring in. There are times when I am not watching or thinking about the language at all, and I hear or feel something in the back of my head. Bits of phrases, or a word from the language is playing or repeating in my head. It's not me trying to do anything. But I hear this echo. I guess it is similar to a song you just can't get out of your head. But in this case, it's only partial language. My only guess is that my brain is processing the language. It's doing something in the background.

I believe the amount and variation of the language input is the most important thing to consider in regards to your exposure to the language. Without enough variation, your brain may not be able to work out the meaning. But with lots of variation, it all begins to make sense. Plus, I think you need to be overwhelmed by the language. Massive amounts of language input will really get your brain working. While Krashen states that it needs to be comprehensible, I do not. I believe that comprehension of the language is the by-product of the input. I will get more into this idea in another post. And finally, I believe that you shouldn't try or make any effort. Just relax and let the language flow in.

Friday, October 17, 2008

learn a language by watching TV

Can you learn a language by just watching TV? A member of the how-to-learn-any-language forum, user-named reineke, learned Italian by watching TV. His native language is Croatian. I would like to paste some of his posts from that thread where he revealed this information. The thread started with a question about learning a language by only listening. Reineke's was the first reply and soon after, the discussion turned to the ALG method (automatic language growth). That thread began in April 2007, so I'm not sure if Dr. Brown's book was available online at that time. I think it really is necessary to read the book in order to understand the method. From the thread we can see that forum members did not have a full grasp of the ALG method and the reasoning behind it.

While I'm not sure what Dr. Brown would have said about using TV as your input to learning a language, I am thinking it is possible and these comments from reineke back up that idea.

I did that for Italian as a kid. I liked watching cartoons so it wasn't really a "method". I took forced breaks during winter or whenever the weather was bad. One day someone asked me what the heck am I staring at something I don't understand, and I told them the gist of the plot. I frankly do not know when I started understanding, as I was too much into the stories. It was a massive amount of tv time but it's still the language I know the best, I'm near-native, kinda like a native speaker that's been away for very long and needs some refreshing, if you know what I mean. That's mostly due to my laziness though heh.

I forgot to mention that this is also exactly how I learned German. I bought my first satellite dish in 1990 and German channels were the most numerous. I spent a frightful amount of time on it. I did finish three years of elementary school German on my own and I stopped there (lazy bum). My German is lacking. I can understand just about everything (written and spoken) unless it's too technical but I'm at the point where I need to do a lot of reading (like I did for English and Italian) and grammar study or I won't progress any further. Compared to Italian, when I try to pronounce things I'm obviously foreign. I can fake it real well but I trip easily. I was relatively young when I started but not young enough. My advice is, yes it's possible but after "only" 800 hours you might be a little disappointed with your results. It might be different though if you try learning a related language. Another thing to think about is that you need massive amounts of material. And when I say massive I'm not kidding. You need several tv channels, access to a few thousand dvd's and many interesting radio channels. Boring material will cut you in the bud. No one has the spine to take 1000's of hours of boring material with this type of method. That's also one of the problems I'm currently facing with languages that are seemingly rather rich in multimedia material, namely Russian and Portuguese.

I just reread your post. I don't understand the part about not "focusing too hard" or "trying to figure things out". If you mean conscious effort, I don't think it's a problem with interesting material as it will draw you in. I did even as a kid occasionally peek in the dictionary though. I also sometimes pronounced things aloud for the heck of it. Doppio maglio perforante! Hahahaha. I think it's a silly rule.

So this can be compared to a sort of a spoken sentence method. A movie can have less than a half hour's worth of conversation (unless you're into real touchy feely stuff and even then there's a lot of "significant" silence). What is more important, perhaps, is the number of hours you'll be listening with little to no comprehension. We're talking going cold turkey here, listening to a language until you start understanding things and once you start collecting bonus points for "understood listening" you can do the math to see how long it will take you to finish. Right? Well, I did a lot of that with and without previous knowledge and I can tell you that previous formal training accelerated my comprehension. I still needed to do a large number of hours of listening, but having some sort of a grammatical skeleton on which to slap some flesh did help tremendously.

I do not believe in witchdoctor talk that you should only follow their method and nothing else.

The "critique" explains their method somewhat. A lot of the input comes directly from the teacher and is tailored to student's knowledge. It progressively gets harder, perhaps too fast (and therefore the critique). A second teacher helps by interacting with the first one. I am sure they use movies etc but it seems that their teachers are the main source of spoken language. How early they start with movies I don't know but all their content has method behind it. My "method" from the input perspective was very natural (and slow). The upside was that I was never bored. I basically just stared at all sorts of content meant for children and adults that I wanted to see. I was exclusively interested in the content and not in the process itself. I was in no hurry to ace the test. I believe it took a long while to say hey, I understand this and after that first Eureka my progress went incredibly fast. Way too fast perhaps and this leads me to believe that the hours spent listening to incomprehensible gibberish were paying a golden dividend. Some of the input I received over and over again may have rubbed off and bits may have been sleeping and waiting for the right key to unlock parts of the "system". I think way too much attention is being paid nowadays on trying to develop speaking skills from the very start. Everyone wants to be able to speak ASAP (even when they have no pressing need) and the schools are trying to oblige. Shorter courses for busy people who need to travel and hopefully make themselves understood in foreign lands are a completely different ball game.

I believe 1600-800 implies 50% comprehension on average. The first number depends on the shortcuts devised by the teachers (gestures, pictures etc.), on the course material and on your own individual progress. Mine was probably 4000-800. The second number depends on the difficulty of the language and is nothing else than an ideal number of hours of comprehensible input needed to reach a certain level of competence. Good pronunciation was a natural outcome of the process but not the main goal in itself. In any case the first number is always significantly higher than the second one. If I got something wrong someone please correct me.

If I'm using Pimsleur and there's a silence, I don't see why I can't open my yap and pronounce things as my voice is not directly interfering with the input.

Ahh that's interesting. But children do not keep their yaps shut that long. They do make attempts at words and sentences and usually they suck real bad in the beginning. They're natural at it though and that was my point. They don't force themselves either to speak or to keep their pieholes shut all the time. I've heard a couple of theories disputing the "critical period" and even that it's been refuted altogether (from an old psychology teacher). I haven't researched it but I'd certainly like to believe it.

It's interesting how you find having to keep quiet a burden. I've always found being forced to repeat after the teacher and having fake practice conversations a real pain. This theory suits me.

Now, what about the languages where we were forced to speak for a long time? Are our brains "polluted" forever? What about long periods without much input and no attempts at speaking? Would a renewed effort at 800 hrs of comprehensible input and no talk work effectively? Would previous imperfect efforts at speaking be overwritten or refreshed together with other knowledge? :)

The last bit is most relevant, I think, as they bothered to find out who studied language actively and who had poor knowledge of it. The desired result for us, language geeks er enthusiasts is to see the same parts of the brain fire up as those of a native speaker. This seems to be the case with the people who had good knowledge of the language. I doubt they all followed the same method. They did mention one caveat though: all subjects spoke two related languages. The most important sentence:

"attained proficiency is more important than age of acquisition"

The listening approach requires a lot of listening. You cannot really "try it" to see if it works, you have to finish it. I wouldn't use children as the only guideline for language learning. The problems with bilingual children are complex. Often kids will refuse to speak in the "inferior" language as it makes no sense talking to daddy in Polish when he perfectly well understands English. Such children are overwhelmingly more exposed to English (TV, mom, school, friends) than the other language (dad). Often they're embarrassed to speak in the language. I am not sure that the chorus method is the only method to guarantee a native accent. I am not sure that any method "guarantees" a native accent for adult learners. If you keep at it long enough and under favorable circumstances it might. So could the listening method or a combination thereof. What are the disadvantages of the chorus method? I see one of practicality.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

from the outside in

There are some documents worth reading over at ALG World. Among them, I highly recommend Dr. J. Marvin Brown's book, From the Outside In. By reading this book, you will understand the background and proof of Automatic Language Growth. You see, a lot of people who are aware of ALG do not realize that this is a proven method. To everybody, including myself, who have just heard about AUA Thai in the last two years, it seems that this is a new approach, but in reality, AUA has been teaching Thai this way for over 20 years now! So it's not just theory. It has been tested, verified, and implemented. When they say that speaking is not necessary and will hurt your ability to acquire the language, they know what they are talking about!

Here are the things you must not do while acquiring a new language as stated in the book:
  1. Don't Speak!
  2. Don't Ask!
  3. Don't Look Up Words!
  4. Don't Take Notes!
  5. Don't Think!
All of this means, don't analyze the language. We all do this naturally as adults to some degree, and if you look at the worst language learners, you will see this over analyzing. I have worked with ESL students as a teacher or conversation partner, so I have run into these people who analyze and think about the language more than anyone else, and let me tell you, they drive me nuts! They will start thinking about the language and trying to figure out how to construct a sentence and totally ignore their teacher. It's like, hey I'm going to tell you how to say it. Would you just stop thinking and start listening! But, of course, it's the system's fault. Everybody is expected to speak and everybody expects the quiet person is not getting anywhere.

A little background on Dr. Brown will show you that he had been there and done that. He had been through the FSI drilling and "practicing until it becomes automatic" type of learning. In fact, he learned Chinese through the Navy in the 1940's and was the guinea pig for the Army Method in the 50's. He is the one who proved that their methods "worked." And in 1980, he again set out to prove that practice makes perfect:

I was excited as I walked into the Japanese class that fall quarter of 1980. I had never been less than number one in a language class—and that was without trying. This time I was going to knock myself out. Getting an “A” wouldn’t be enough. Being the best in the class wouldn’t be enough. I was going to be the best the world had ever seen. You wouldn’t believe the extremes I went to.
I practiced until I could deliver it with perfect pronunciation and without a single hesitation. Then I practiced up to double speed without a hesitation.
I did this sort of thing with daily drills and quarterly speeches for three years. It didn’t work. And I could see that it never would. Not a single sentence was ever triggered by a thought. And this had been one of my requirements for success. I had set out to prove the success of practice. I proved, instead, its failure.
So, as you can see, Dr. Brown went from a motto of practice, practice, practice to a motto of don't practice! Another thing to point out is that Dr. Brown had created Thai language programs in the traditional way. He had many years of experience in revising the program and trying to improve it the traditional way. He had left AUA and when he came back is when he started the ALG way. With the old methods of teaching Thai, in 30 years he never had a single student pass his own abilities in Thai. And he wrote that after 10 years with the ALG method, he saw students passing him up all the time.

First, we need an understanding of how advanced Dr. Brown was in Thai. He studied Thai for 4 years and was immersed in Thailand for 40 years.
Now what was my own language preparation? I had studied Thai for 2 years at Cal at 3 hours a week and 2 years at Cornell at 6 hours a week. ... So when I arrived in Thailand I had been through almost 500 hours of classroom study by the Army Method. I could make near-perfect sounds once I had assembled a sentence for delivery, but I couldn’t even begin to ‘carry on a conversation’.
Where was the guinea pig after 32 years? I told you that by 1960 I thought I had arrived. Well I kept getting better and better through the 60’s ... People described my Thai as ‘legendary’ and I tended to believe them. When I gave lectures to Thai schools, the teachers would later tell me that my Thai was better than theirs. Now I knew full well how damning this comment can be, but I still lapped it up. More convincing were things like this. I phoned to speak to an American friend, and the servant who answered the phone later told him that a Thai man had called -- and swore by it. “Are you sure it wasn’t a foreigner with perfect Thai?” (he had been expecting me to call). “No. It was a Thai. I’m 100% certain.” I could see through this too, but I was succumbing to something I said earlier: ‘Short term satisfaction tends to blind us to long term goals.’
Now, the point that I am making here is that when your language skill is that much advanced and you recognize that someone else is even bettter, then that "better" person must be really, really good!
But what were the long-term goals of the guinea pig? I had set out to prove that the Army method could produce perfect speakers. Then, I thought I had proved the method right. Now, I can see that I had proved it wrong. The difference is hiding in the word ‘speak’. Then, I was thinking of ‘delivery’ (how the speaking comes out). Since my delivery was near perfect, I had proved it right. Now, I’m thinking of ‘production’ (how I get from thought to sentence). Since my production of Thai is very different from my production of English, I must have proved it wrong. Let me put it this way. When I speak Thai, I think in Thai. When I speak English, I think only in thought--I pay no attention to English.
A mif is a mental image flash. There is an article on it by David Long at the ALG World archive page. For now, I just needed to tell you what 'mif' stands for so when you read the next quote, you won't be wondering so much.
I found long ago that whenever I was in a Thai-speaking group together with other foreigners, I could easily tell whether they were better or worse than me. When I could see what they were trying to say, I would be flashing my own internal speaking (mifs), and I could easily see how my mifs compared to theirs. Was I faster or slower than them? Better or worse? Of course anyone could do the same thing for their own range. We’ve all got such a meter.
So, how long does it take for a successful student of the ALG method to pass up Dr. Brown at speaking Thai?
Our first success story came in 1988 when our course had grown to a full year. He was the first ‘student’ to pass me up. It took him about 5 years (one year of class plus 4 years of partial immersion). The most recent success story that I noticed was in 2001--after our course had reached new heights. It took her 2½ years (1½ years of class plus 1 year of partial immersion). And this is the current state of the art: 2½ years.

Remember now, I’m talking about a level above me. Her 2½ years had overtaken my 40! Notice also that my ‘bell test’ could only come at some time after a student had finished our course; that is, after a certain amount of immersion. It just so happened that the two people mentioned above worked in our department after their course and we were thus able to observe their immersion.
So, the proof is there. The concept has been proven. To sum it up, I'll state it this way. Not thinking about the language while acquiring it is far superior to drilling, practicing, and learning the language.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

learn a language without translation

Here's something for you to try if you enjoy extreme methods in language learning. Learn a language without any materials from your native language or any other language. Don't use a dictionary unless it is a monolingual dictionary in the language you are learning. Don't make any notes either. Keep all the info you learn in your head.

Do you think it would be impossible to learn anything this way? You would have to start out by just guessing at what words mean. Do you think no one could make heads or tails out of the language? But this is what Michal Ryszard Wojcik did in the Norsk Experiment when he started learning Norwegian in May 2001. He was able to figure out what a lot of words mean just by reading and re-reading in the language. He had learned English and German previously and was able to transfer his knowledge from those two languages to learn Norwegian. According to the how-to-learn-any-language website, there is a 30% overlap of vocabulary between English and Norwegian and a 60% overlap between German and Norwegian.

You should also read his report from another person who learned Norwegian the same way. This person is American and doesn't mention whether or not she has studied German.

ALG Crosstalk

Crosstalk is where two languages are used to communicate. Each person uses his own native language so that only perfect model language is heard. Non-verbal methods are utilized to facilitate communication as well. This Crosstalk method allows for longer discussions because each person can fully participate. If one person had to use a second language that they were limited in, then that person wouldn't be able to say as much and the conversation might be over sooner.

Crosstalk was further developed by AUA to allow it to be used in lower level classes. They also recommend students to use Crosstalk outside of the class. In Part 6, David Long explains crosstalk. And there is a video of crosstalk in action for you to see what it is like and how well it works.

I think this video demo showing people communicating but speaking only their own native language illustrates the fact that you CAN continue to think in your own language even though you are engaged in a conversation where another language is being used. And that is why I said in a previous post that just listening to conversations in Japanese is not going to help me to start thinking in Japanese. It is totally not necessary to think in the language you are hearing to understand what you are hearing, and yet you are not translating either. They are just two separate skills.

While crosstalk is a good way to get input in your target language before you are ready to speak it, it will not turn you into a speaker of your target language. Nor will you learn to think in the target language. But with it, you can show the other person or people that you do understand what they are saying. I've had many experiences where I was spoken to in Japanese and since I thought it was pointless to speak English, I couldn't respond very well in Japanese and so of course the other person doubted how well I could understand them. That was a 4 or 5 years ago, so today I can respond quite well.

Normally, if you respond to someone in English they won't be able to understand you and even if they do, they will think you don't understand Japanese. 99 percent of people are not going to speak to you in their language if you are approaching them with English, so I think you have to set it up first. I think that crosstalk might work best in your own country. If you are in the US, for example, you might find a speaker of the language and ask them to speak to you in their language and let you respond in English. But you should tell them not to translate anything for you. Translating is really the lazy way out. What you want is for them to explain things to you in their language. When someone explains something, they use the most basic words and concepts in their language. Hearing those explanations is really good practice for you.

I was speaking with an acquaintance of mine in Japanese on Skype a couple of weeks ago and at the end she ask that next time I speak English and she will just speak Japanese. At first I laughed, but actually I have thought of that before so I was quite open to it. If she ever comes back online on Skype, we'll see how it goes. We'll see if she really sticks to speaking Japanese while I am speaking English or if she tries to practice speaking English.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

the ALG method

At ALG World, the basis for Speaking, Reading, and Writing starts with a foundation of understanding. But how do you gain understanding? By listening, looking, and guessing. Listening is how you develop your ear. With a well developed ear, you will be able to know whether your own pronunciation is correct or not. You will be able to self-correct. Some people believe that children can pick up pronunciation better than adults. I, however, notice that they don't do it any better. In fact, some 6-year olds still have trouble with certain sounds. It is not uncommon either. In English, "th" is difficult to pronounce as well as "r" sounds. Japanese also has sounds that some children will take longer to get right. So, the simple fact is, that children do not just produce the sounds of their native language correctly right off the bat. They take time and every child is different. Adults just need to learn to do more listening. At ALG World, students are not expected to start speaking until after 700 hours of class. They won't be allowed to speak Thai in the first 3 levels. So, at least 600 hours of listening!

David Long says that visual information is important to learning. I guess it would be like if you heard somebody say, "トイレに行きます" and every time they said that you saw them go into the bathroom (or toilet-room), you would make a connection with the sound to the action that you saw. Probably the first couple of times you would not be able to remember the words that were said as they would just whiz right by you. But soon you would start to recognize the words and after you heard them you would start to expect that action. As you get used to the sounds of the language the words would start to stick in your short recall memory. And later when you suddenly need to go, those words or that phrase would just pop into your mind. When you hear something and see something, that is an experience. Experiences create stronger bonds to the language than other methods.

The third key to learning was guessing. David Long says it is important to guess and then move on. Trying to hone in on the exact meaning will slow down your progress. If you were taking Thai at ALG World, you might be sitting there thinking in English because you haven't got any Thai yet. But if you try to connect every Thai word to something in English, you're going to be missing out on everything else going on. By using your ability to guess, you are learning intuitively. Adults want to be exact and have the "right" answer. But in reality, we don't need to be right to learn a foreign language. If someone said to you, "Do you want !#$%&?" and then handed you a banana, you would guess that the word you didn't know means "banana." So you would spend some time thinking that word meant "banana," so what? Then one day they say the same thing to you, but this time they hand you an apple. You might go into shock for a half a minute, but you would just readjust your understanding of that word. Do you dare make the mistake of thinking that the word means "fruit?" Or will you be more open-minded? Who knows what they'll hand you next time? Maybe a potato. But in the end, you'll get the correct understanding through all of your experiences.

Another thing said by David Long is that you learn through collecting experiences. The more experiences you collect the more you'll learn. Just a few minutes ago, I let a man from the Co-op in. We have an intercom that he rang from downstairs, and because the speaker is not clear enough for me, I couldn't understand where he was from or why he wanted to greet me and give me a present, but I let him come up anyway because I knew I could collect another experience for my Japanese learning. ALG World is the only place in the world where you can start out at zero and be given enough experiences to learn another language. You could spend 6 hours or 12 hours (if you skip lunch) a day experiencing the Thai language. Unfortunately, unless you are a kid being put into a school system, you cannot just go out into the real world and get that kind of experience.

If you come to Japan, as soon as you display a lack of understanding, communication will be shut off unless the other person can muster up some English. If you came to learn Japanese, then English is not what you want to hear. People are not interested in trying to help you learn their language when it is one of the most difficult languages on the planet. They've already tried learning yours and failed. They spent 6 years studying English, so they do not expect you to pick up Japanese in a million years. They are older than you too. That means they are wiser than you. You are just naive.

Just two days ago, I was complemented for being fluent in Japanese after only 5 and a half years in Japan. Well, opinions differ, but it's not polite to argue and luckily the remark was not said directly to me. People judge quickly and have low expectations, but I have high standards. Now I am at a level where I can go out there and collect my experiences myself. I'm not lost. I can follow just about anything in general. But still I don't have any friends. That is what I need to pile up the experiences and to keep learning.

So, the whole ALG method is really about collecting experiences. It's not about translating, looking words up, memorizing rules, or testing. Just experiencing. We learn through our experiences by Listening, Looking, and Guessing.

By the way, if you want more information on the school that has the ALG Thai program, you'll need to click on Programs at the ALG World home page and then click on AUA Thai Program.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

ALG experiences

Here are some links to stories that people have written about their experiences at ALG World.

Listening to Thai in Bangkok

Comprehension is King

(read more from this website by doing this search)

A YouTube video from a student.

Learning to Speak Thai - a student who quit the program.

There was one more blog that I had read months ago but I cannot find it.

ALG World

I might consider ALG World the ultimate in extreme language learning and seems by far the best method there is. ALG stands for Automatic Language Growth. This is total immersion and no translation. So you start at Level 1 with no knowledge of the language and the teachers only speak in the target language. Notice that they have 2 teachers, not just one. I think that it is best to have 2 teachers in the classroom. 2 native speaking teachers. Since you start out not knowing the language, the teachers use more than just speaking in order to communicate to you. So you are understanding. You are not trying to remember words and not being asked to speak in the target language. You are just acquiring the language. Your ability to guess is what facilitates your acquisition of the language. This natural acquisition gets you native fluency. That means you speak with the facility and pronunciation of someone who grew up speaking the language.

In a way, this seems similar to an English lesson at a conversation school in Japan because the native English speaking teachers here (in Japan) cannot all be expected to be able to speak Japanese so therefor the lessons that students take at one of these "schools" is all in English. Therefor I would like to point out what some of the differences are. First and foremost, here in Japan, you get only one teacher teaching a lesson. At ALG World there are 2 teachers in the classroom. Having 2 teachers provides natural interaction and dialog for the students. With only 1 teacher, the teacher has a much bigger challenge to display the natural language. The next point is that at ALG World, the students are not under any pressure to produce output. In Japan, progress is measured by output. The pressure and stress to speak is quite counter productive. I know I can perform better and remember things more easily when I am not under any pressure. The last major difference I would like to point out is the number of hours. At ALG World, the students take class for 6 hours a day. So that would be 1500 hours in a year and could be 3000 in 2 years. The average student may take 1 or 2 hours a week of lessons in Japan. So it could all just be the number of hours. But the difference between the approaches shows up in pronunciation and facility in the language, not just the number of years it takes.

There are some videos on YouTube. This one is a Japanese lesson at ALG World.
I don't know which level that class is, but I can understand it 100%.

Here is a level 1 Thai lesson. Very interesting. It seems to me that in Thai some sounds are made with the whole mouth. It's like the sound is not just being pushed out but it is being held in the mouth. Obviously I can't describe what I mean or what I hear. But it just feels like the sounds are produced in a totally different way. Maybe it's not just some, but maybe all the sounds. I noticed this also in the movie Ong Bak. I bought this movie in May or June this year here in Japan so I've got the original Thai as well as a Japanese dub and Japanese subtitles.

If you want to know more about the ALG method, there is a presentation on YouTube divided into six parts. The first part is here.