Thursday, August 06, 2009

what else causes damage?

More from Dr. J. Marvin Brown's book:
Now, 15 years and thousands of students later, we’ve had hundreds of students who went more than a thousand hours with speaking and dozens who went the same distance without. None of the ‘speakers’ ever got close to my mark while some ‘non-speakers’ eventually passed it. But not all. That is, some ‘non-speakers' passed me and some didn’t. It looked like there was something besides speaking that was causing damage.
Let's look at that paragraph again, shall we?
None of the ‘speakers’ ever got close to my mark while some ‘non-speakers’ eventually passed it.
If we zoom in a little closer we can see:
None of the ‘speakers’ ever got close to my mark...


  1. You didn't answer the question in your post title though :). What else causes damage?

    You've read the book, so you know of course, but for the benefit of other readers, the answer is "analyzing the language", or "thinking about the language" in linguistic terms: oh, this ending I keep hearing must mean past tense. Big no-no :)

    Analyzing separates the language from the experience, but they can't be separated. Instead of thinking of them as different, it might help to think of language as an attribute of an experience. You can't separate the red from the ketchup. Just take in the experience and nevermind the language.

    So according to Dr. Brown: don't speak, and don't analyze what you hear. Just take it in.

  2. Hmm, I wonder why I didn't answer the question.

  3. Hey Keith :) Just a quick question: do you think shadowing is damaging in the same way that speaking is damaging? I mean, you're not coming up with the sounds, words, or structures on your own; you're just imitating native speakers, right?

    The only reason I ask this is because I'm embarking on an "extreme language learning" journey myself starting september 1st, and I was wondering if it would be safe to do a bit of shadowing everyday in addition to the massive amounts of input I'll be getting. Thanks for any help!

  4. I have a feeling that the students who passed the "mark" were the ones who fully immersed themselves in the language. They watched the news, dramas, cartoons, etc. Read novels and comic books, and listened to music and the radio, all in their target language, every day, all day. And those who didn't, relied mostly on the program to "teach" them the language.

    I also have a feeling that the damage done is not permanent. If they were to spend some quality time immersed in native content, without speaking or analyzying, they would probably see a great improvement in their ability.

    In my opinion the issue lies not with the speaking, but with the habits that are being created. Shadowing, as igordesu mentioned, is beneficial and certainly helps improve your accent. It's the forming of one's own sentences that is very dangerous. Every time you do anything you strengthen a neural pathway in your mind. If you form your own (incorrent) sentences too early, you begin to strengthen pathways that are associated with incorrect usage. As they get stronger and stronger, your brain has a much easier time traveling down that same path. And the reverse is true, if you speak correct sentences your brain will have an easier time with those paths.

    The strength of a path is proportional to all other "adjacent" paths that extend from a specific neuron. If you want to break the bad habits, just raise the ratio in favor of the correct usage (i.e. lots of exposure to native content and active shadowing).

    @igordesu: Shadowing is a very helpful tool, but I'd caution using it until you can fully understand what you intend to shadow and can hear all the sounds of the language. To be on the safe side, avoid any output for atleast 1000 hours. Also, if you begin shadowing later, it will take less total time to improve your speaking than if you had began earlier.

  5. Thousands of students>hundreds of students>dozens>some

    Only a few non-speakers were better than a guy who is convinced that he learned Thai "the wrong way".

    Forget Thai. How do you prevent yourself from noticing similarities if you speak several languages? Why do you notice similarities in the first place? Maybe because we're supposed to - maybe because that's the most efficient way to do things?

    Brain plasticity. Adults can't compete with kids.

    Some native speakers are better at distinguishing native sounds than others. I can easily imagine that a very large percentage of adult population is simply not able to achieve native competence in a foreign language.

  6. @solar wind: thank you for your response. My target language is Japanese, and I have definitely listened to well over 1000 hours of Japanese. Though I can understand a good bit of the language, and I can even clearly pick out all the words that I don't know, I still have a long way to go. Perhaps I will take your advice and wait till later to start shadowing :)

  7. @igordesu: I would say that shadowing does not cause damage in the same way that making up sentences does. If one does it too early, then it damages pronunciation. If one does it too much, then it damages your vocal chords. Shadowing is probably quite beneficial if you want to be able to throw out canned phrases that you would use at work; such as "Would you like fries with your Big Mac?"

    @Solar Wind: the students did not learn to read the language right away. David even said so in his interview. He started learning to read a year after he began the program.

    @reineke: Dr. Brown spoke Thai really really well. He was not a poor speaker of Thai. He was one of the best. If you are a linguist, you would not be able to keep from noticing similarities. Have you even read the book yet? All of your questions and issues are addressed in the book.

  8. Exactly my point. I did not suggest that he was a poor speaker of Thai. He learned the language the wrong way in the sense that he followed the army method.

    I can only tell you that I have easily reached more than 1,000 hours of full understanding of German, that I didn't speak nor did I ever analyze the language - it did not interest me in the least. I cannot communicate well in German. That's an understatement. I have mental blocks. I make mistakes. I believe that Dr. Brown is grossly underestimating the number of hours needed to learn a language in this manner. I know that if I kept at it, it would eventually spill over, but I am not convinced this is the best course to take when studying a foreign language.

    I can vouch for the fact that keeping quiet for a while and simply listening helps develop a very good pronunciation and feeling for the language. I do believe that some of Dr. Brown's ideas about "permanent damage" are potentially very damaging and that the results from the ALG course appear very underwhelming.

  9. @reineke: There is a difference between what you have done and what Dr. Brown is saying. That is, he says language is best acquired through experiencing it, not just watching TV or listening to it. Once ALG students reach a certain point, they may begin speaking. Have you begun speaking German? There is one more thing Dr. Brown said is necessary for a student to pass him up. I am saving that for another post.

  10. Don't leave us hanging, Keith, what is it?

  11. Just watching TV? Gasp! I have already mentioned that I like the silent period thing - it suits me. Dr Brown's unsuccessful students strike me as unloved children - all the love goes to the very few who followed what papa said. Lol, this is simply an impression I got from his book.

    I have just begun trying to communicate - in a classroom setting. You know how that goes. I often cover my ears. I am not afraid of any damage, btw :)

  12. Unfortunately, there seems to be little scientific evidence for either side of this argument, due to a lack of studies, I suppose. However, it makes perfect sense to me that early speech production has disadvantages, the main ones being: (a) it hardwires wrong or inappropriate pronunciation and sentence structures, (b) it takes time away from native input, (c) it usually makes the student uneasy. Especially point (a) contributes to the "damage" Mr Brown writes about.
    Another point I find very interesting in the ALG approach is the idea that it's much better to learn by guessing and slowly closing in on the meaning of words or expressions instead of looking them up and linking them to words or expression of your mother tongue. David Long describes this in his video on the ALG approach at length. It seems to go against our adult tendency to be precise right away, to nail the meaning down. David claims that if you can let go of this idea and follow the guessing approach, the words and expressions will form a semantic web over time that is more or less independent of your mother tongue, and when speech finally emerges, the right words will be there.

  13. For the people that think shadowing is a safe way to speak should read this article:

    I know that prof. Arguelles promotes the technique, but when I hear him speak Dutch it just irritates me. He says that Dutch is his best foreign language, but he sounds weird when speaking it and has clearly no good idea on how he should sound.

    Sure, shadowing won't hurt you if you don't want to get bad habits regarding grammar and structures, but it sure damages your pronunciation. Also, it's just extremely hard to listen and speak at the same time; almost impossible if you ask me.

  14. Sorry, the correct link is:


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