Thursday, November 19, 2009

does credible second language acquisition research exist?

There's a bit of a debate going on over at the YouTube algworld channel page. I was trying to post a reply, but I get a processing error when I try to post, so I'll just put my comment here. Normally I would just give up, but I thought some of you might have a response to what I want to say.

Sorry flippinnoraable, but most studies and research are conducted over a very short time and very poorly done. From those pathetic studies, the researchers jump to some "probable" conclusions.  Credible research would have to be conducted from start to finish, over the entire learning process.  Show me the studies which have done this.  If there were a study done on ALG that showed students who started Thai from scratch, followed the requirements precisely, and came out with similar levels of acquisition, then how could it be disputed? What would there be to dispute? Language acquisition is measured by the end-results. Results are not disputable. Only theories are disputable. Why? Because a theory is theoretical. Results are not theoretical, they are factual.  Therefor, the dispute about any research can only apply to theory. You cannot dispute results. So, exactly which SLA research has shown any results? Which has shown how students can become fluent native-like speakers? You've never read any. Researchers never do experiments that long. They haven't the time nor the money.  There is no research anywhere that follows language learning from start to finish. If you find such a research paper available online, please post a link. Krashen has never done any experiments that completely back up his theories.

I don't blame you for wanting to make informed choices. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with what you are asking for.  I'm just saying that the research doesn't exist.  All you want is proof, right? Well, you are in Thailand, so why don't you see if you can find some ALG graduates and talk to them? Bring a video recorder with you and get us the real proof.  I suppose you have some excuse why you won't even try to do that.
Of course, what I mean by not being able to dispute results is something like if the result is blue, then it's blue. You can compare blue to another blue and if they are the same color then what is there to dispute? If you were to compare a fluent native-like speaker to a native-born native speaker and they were the same, then what dispute could you have?

You could always dispute whether Benny is fluent in the languages he says he is, but once he reaches native-like fluency, then there's no more point in trying to dispute it.

And that's the way I see ALG (Automatic Language Growth). If you start from zero and don't try to cheat, you'll be able to reach native fluency. I would like to see some of their students who have achieved this and would like to hear or read testimonial from some native Thai speakers who can verify it. But so far, no such videos have been made.


  1. Keith,
    Thanks for highlighting this discussion. In general, I get the impression that most second language acquisition research, including Krashen, ignores those who have been successful at learning a second language to a very high level especially where they may be indistinguishable from a native speaker. I do remember some Kratchen anecdotes about the mexican immigrant who learned Hebrew well from working in the kitchen of an Israeli restaurant, but overall it seems like case studies or histories of successful language learners don't exist or aren't prevalent. Do you have any information or opinions? Instead, it seems we have researchers who apply one limited treatment to a language class that isn't already successful, only watch it for a short time, and seem ecstatic about poor success. However, there are some important questions out there such as is this ALG method the only way to achieve true natural fluency? Are learners really damaged by speaking or can they take a break, do lots of listening and be healed? It'll definitely be interesting if Benny is ever successful.

  2. @1, Thank you for commenting. There is one document entitled, Success with Foreign Languages - Seven who achieved it and what worked for them, by Earl W. Stevick. While it's an interesting read, it does not document what level the learner's reached, nor does it even try to describe the fluency of the successful learners. So out of the seven successful learners, we have no idea which ones were the best. It's been a while since I read this document.

    I believe that Dr. Brown, the man who created and refined the ALG method, identified the principles required to becoming naturally fluent in a language, and found a way to put it in a classroom. I believe that as long as those principles are followed, the same thing can be achieved outside of a classroom.

    I believe learners are damaged by speaking too early, but it is probably repairable if a conscious effort is made to self-correct. I mean, you can correct your output and your pronunciation and prosody. But this will take a far greater effort than doing the acquisition correctly from the beginning. However, you may be able to sound like and speak like a native after your repairs, but you probably won't be able to think like a native. That was Dr. Brown's experience. According to his book, he could sound like a native and he could deliver like a native in Thai, but he couldn't quite make native-level.

    So we have to be careful here. Most learners think it's not even possible and aren't going for native-level. I'm sure over 99 percent are not aiming so high. Usually we will get arguments from someone who doesn't quite understand what we're actually talking about. So they can't see that there would be a difference between doing this the right way and the wrong way.

    The learner of Hebrew that you speak of was named Armando. My post on that article is here.

  3. Hi Keith!

    I like your new and improved site! I am glad to see that you're back to learning Mandarin. Keep up the good work!

  4. Where have you been, reineke? Thanks for your encouraging comments!


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