Thursday, October 22, 2009

natural language learning

I decided to talk about my preferred learning style for languages. I spent 5 hours on this 17 minute video. I had to edit out all the pauses. In the first part, I mostly talked about ALG and Dr. Brown's background teaching Thai.

This is not a prepared presentation, so there are some parts that I should have expanded on and there are some parts I should have clarified better.  Also, I did not conclude the video properly.  I decided to stop talking when I realized I had used almost 3 GB on my hard drive while recording.

My speech goes rather slowly, so I hope you don't fall asleep. It's probably good for those learning English. I created a playlist for the two parts so the second part could start right after the first and be viewed in the same player.

I hope you enjoy the talk.

Link to the playlist.


  1. Good video. I like the natural approach so I enjoy listening to people talk about it. Some things I've thought about recently based on my experience with the natural approach and watching my son learn language:

    1) Watching children's shows is better than watching dramas at the beginning stage. I got some Thai Sesame Street VCDs and I am able to follow along much better than I could when I was watching dramas.

    2) Related to #1, input where visible objects are identified and actions are described while they are being performed is the best way to start. In one of the Sesame Street VCDs a group of kids and monsters make some food. The camera pans over the ingredients and the kids identify them. Then they talk about what they are doing with the ingredients as they cook. Watching it I don't know any of the words, but I have full understanding of what they are saying. This is key. Later, I'll see the same objects again in some other context, and my brain will catch on that the same sound was used to identify them in all contexts and I'll acquire the word.

    This is also how I find myself talking to my son (2 years old). When we go on a walk for example, I identify things we see: "Oh look! It's a grasshopper. See that little green bug? That's a grasshopper." and I describe actions: "Look, the grasshopper jumped! Oh, he's jumping a lot. I wonder where he's going. Oh, he jumped into the rice field. Can you jump too? Good jumping!"

    Which brings me to ...

    #3: The best input is input that simulates how a parent talks to their children. I think the ideal situation would be to have a native speaker follow you around all day and describe the world for you. Like a language parent. I think the teachers at ALG World fill a role similar to this. A TV show like Sesame Street is also pretty close to this ideal.

    I'd like to come up with some more ideas to get parent-like input. Do you have any ideas?

  2. Hi Thomas

    I have to agree with you that some children's programme are much easier to follow than dramas. I now regularly (almost daily) watch 3 to 4 children's programme.

    Like you said, it's because they talk about things you can see or about the immediate environment around them.

    Programmes that are very easy to watch are;

    Why? (originally from Japan I think) - Runs to a tight format of 'guess the animal', a question about one of the animal's noticeable traits (i.e. why do elephants have such long trunks), kids then give three possible answers - which are usually very funny answers(i.e. other animals use the trunk as a slide), the answers are all wrong and then the real answer is given. Simple and lots of fun. I don't understand all the words but that doesn't matter, the context is easy to follow.
    Other programmes that I watch and find easy to follow include Louie - a rabbit that teaches you how to draw, he uses drawings as solutions to a certain problems - again runs to a quite a tight format.
    Charlie and Lori - looser in format than the two above. Usually each programme has a theme, which might make it easier to follow.
    Also watch Thomas the tank engine, Dora and Bob the builder. Pretty easy to follow too, but not as easy as the ones mentioned above.

    I think language learning could gain a hell of lot from children's programme's and 'parent-like' input. Also, from exercise vidoes, where the instructor gives a lot of language input but it's easy to follow because of the movements (TPR approach on video).

    I think something like this will become available in the future - language learning based on children's programmes.

  3. Interesting,

    But how much time it takes to get to a good speaking level usung TV method?
    We do not even discuss how we can learn writing here!
    It takes one year of a total immersion for Brown's ALG students and it's a given, TV immersion is not so effective.
    May be even twice or more as ineffective, so it would probably take 2 or more years of learning this way.
    As it is in fighting skills. You may spend years learning aikido with some sensei. And after one year of learning aikudo you come across with a boxer who spent the same one year in boxing gym sparring every day. No chances for you to win.
    My opinion is TV is good for keeping you motivated in learning since there are a lot of TV shows and films worth seeing.

  4. Aleksey, thank you for your comments. We do not know yet about the time requirements so we cannot yet come to conclusions about the effectiveness of the TV method.


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