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.


  1. good observation. I have often wondered why kids are given so much props for being able to pick up another language when they often can't produce standard pronunciation of their own language.
    What do they know? they're just kids. : )
    I think just paying attention to context and listening without always attempting a translation is key to adult language learning. How many times have you impressed someone with a phrase in some obscure language, and they probably imagined that you sat at home learning to say thank you in Persian just to impress them. The truth is you just have to pay attention.

  2. I am probably missing something, but my understanding of alg is that you have either to go to the country that speaks your target language of find a class at home that uses the alg method. I really like alg I think that they are probably correct in their teachings. My problem is how do you live in a country where you don't speak the language, but very much want to, when you almost certainly need a job to survive and that usually means fluency in the language to begin with.
    I am studying Italian, French and German using the Pimsleur method. My Italian, which I wasn't entirely unfamiliar with before starting has really taken off. It is to early to say anything about French which I came to as a complete beginner. As for German, I started that language knowing nothing, yet within 7 days I can say more and understand native speakers better than my mother who has spent the last year studying phrases books, vocabulary lists and verb tables, which she chants out loud. Listening to native speakers is definitely the way to go if you want to speak a language even tolerably well.


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