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.


  1. Keith, I am finding the ALG stuff interesting, I will find out more about it, there seem to be some striking similarities with the methods I have developed for myself (although at a slower pace I guess). No books no classes, no teacher, hardly any grammar, never been to China, lots of input etc. yet after 2.5 years I seem to have made much progress (with full time learning etc. should have been considerably faster)

    I am very busy at the moment but soon I will write up a complete report of what I have done and how far it has taken me, my blog is just snippets. This post amongst a few others may be relevant: http://friedelcraft.blogspot.com/2008/04/best-thing-i-did-in-starting-to-learn.html

    I suspect the ALG method may be more of a hothouse technique but it is interesting if similar methods work well on a slower approach. Remember I was guy on Tower of Confusion who suggested that asking for the details of why Kevin Rudd sounds like a foreigner speaking Chinese won't help, you, just have to wait until you can hear it..... with enough input it is that simple I believe.

  2. Hey Chris! I look forward to reading your complete report of your Mandarin method.


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