Thursday, July 30, 2009

we learn from successes not failures

It's in the news! Science news. An article has just come out at Science Daily that says brain cells react and learn from successes. "After a failure, there was little or no change in the brain — nor was there any improvement in behavior."

From the article, it seems the research was done on animals, such as monkeys. I wouldn't be surprised if the results were different for humans because humans have more emotional feelings.

Of course, our objective is to learn how to do something correctly, not incorrectly.

Another thing to note is that the animals only knew if they had responded correctly when they were rewarded. So in this study rewards were given. Maybe we learn better if we get rewarded, I'm not sure. But the tests were too simple. Scientists are still studying the very basics and using simple little tests. But at least they are looking at the brain and seeing what does happen. If you read the article, think about how the brain is learning naturally and on its own.

When we study a language, our reward is being able to understand. But what makes a reward rewarding? Is looking up a translation in the dictionary rewarding? When excitement is created, that is rewarding. Using a dictionary is hardly exciting. But understanding on your own is exciting. It's a great reward.

Here's a link to the article: Why We Learn More From Our Successes Than Our Failures

What do you think about the article? Do you have any praises or criticisms? Is the study relevant to language learning?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

more on David Long

Catherine Wentworth posts interviews with successful Thai language learners and her latest post is an interview with David Long, the director of ALG World at AUA.

If you are not aware, David Long is one of the first students to complete the AUA Thai program and reach native-level Thai. I still have yet to see a video of David speaking Thai, but since I don't know the language myself I guess I won't lose any sleep over it.

Although it would be cool if there were a video with David Long speaking Thai with Stu Jay Raj. The two of them would probably make you think that learning Thai should be easy! Of course, if you were to go through the AUA Thai program at ALG World, it would be easy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

ALG Thai interview with David Long

Antonio Graceffo has uploaded an interview with David Long, the director of ALG (Automatic Language Growth) Thai. It has 5 parts, and since Antonio hadn't created a playlist for it, I created one myself. It's a very good interview. Thanks Antonio!

I hope to some day get a chance to go to AUA and enter this Thai program. I want to experience it for myself. And I don't mean "just experience it." I would complete the program and come out a native Thai speaker.

Here is a link to my playlist: ALG Thai presented by Antonio Graceffo

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

don't believe the lies!

You will hear the lies. You will read the lies. Don't believe the lies!

Let me list the lies in the article, Unraveling how children become bilingual so easily.

  1. The best time to learn a foreign language: Between birth and age 7.
  2. The brain tunes out sounds that don't fit.
  3. babies being raised bilingual — by simply speaking to them in two languages — can learn both in the time it takes most babies to learn one.
  4. While new language learning is easiest by age 7, the ability markedly declines after puberty.
  5. As an adult, "it's a totally different process. You won't learn it in the same way. You won't become (as good as) a native speaker."
  6. "You'll be surprised," Kuhl says. "They do seem to pick it up like sponges."

Why you should not believe what researchers say about language learning

These researchers have no clue as to how people learn languages. They do not really know what language learning is, therefor they cannot create a valid test. All of the researchers tend to test language-learning ability in one way. That way is to test how well individual words are learned in a short period of time. Sometimes as little as one day. First of all, language learning is not just learning words or vocabulary. Second, being able to recall the words the next day does not mean that they have been learned.

In the article above, it refers heavily to recognition of sounds not in your native language. There has been an erroneous conclusion that is often repeated. Sometimes it is stated as such: you cannot hear sounds not in your native language. That would be obviously false. All sounds enter your ears whether or not you've ever heard them before. This article states it in another way, saying that we lose an ability to distinguish sounds by the age of 11 months. This is erroneous. Rather than losing, we actually gain an ability to consolidate sounds and make sense of them. Have you ever thought somebody said one thing when they actually had said another, in your native language?

The brain tries to make sense of what you hear. There is a lot of processing going on to make sense of the language. The article mentions the difficulty of Japanese people being able to distinguish the difference between the words lake and rake. Of course their mind would only bring up the word that they know if they didn't really know both words. If they did know both words but always used the same pronunciation in their mind then they hadn't even established the difference in the words. Most likely, rake would not be a familiar or necessary word for a Japanese person.

Japanese people can hear the difference in pronunciation, but they don't remember which pronunciation had which meaning. That is the actual problem. They may not even know which sound is L and which one is R, but they can hear the difference! Now, if you don't know which sound is which, you will immediately forget which one you heard. The problem then would be that the sound cannot be accurately identified. The problem is not being unable to hear the difference.

I'm sure that my explanation above will be very unclear for many of you. But let me continue. A sentence from the article begins with, "Japanese college students who'd had little exposure to spoken English..." That identifies a big problem, doesn't it?! By college, students have studied English for 6 years. If you spend 6 years not listening to English but studying it, then you will not have made a distinction in your brain between the sounds of words.

The solution is not to teach the difference but to listen a lot. Show me students who had a lot of exposure to spoken English and you will find that they can tell you which sound is being spoken. Even if they start getting that input after puberty or after reaching adulthood, they will be able to do it.

If you start with a false assumption, your research will have false conclusions. There are better ways to research language learning than to base it on tests which don't test what you think they are testing. So please don't believe anything these researchers tell you about language learning! Don't assume that just because they are professional researchers that they are doing anything correctly. If they want to research language learning, why don't they go and actually learn some languages!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

study finds new method needed to achieve lower standards

There was probably somebody famous who said, "when you can't reach your goal, change your goal to what you can reach." Now Wafa Zoghbor wants to add to that so that you also need to change your method. She proposes that aiming for an accent which retains your native language identity could be more desirable than reaching a native accent.

I have never read anything so ridiculous before. If people want to accept not reaching a native accent, that is fine but there is no need to do anything differently. They can just keep doing what they are doing and be assured that they will have a foreign accent. The article says that intelligible pronunciation is all that is necessary because of the fact that there are more non-native speakers of English than native ones.

First of all, if learners don't aim for a native accent, they will not be intelligible. Thanks to some kind of effort to work on pronunciation, learners can be understood by natives and non-natives. But just using the sounds of one's own native-language to speak English or any other foreign language is not going to produce intelligible language output.

Most of us have met somebody who may have just started learning English or only remembers a little of what they studied. Most of that beginner learner's output is not understandable. Can you imagine them just keeping that pronunciation? That's what they will likely have if they don't work on improving it and just use a lower standard as their model.

It takes time to get used to and to be able to understand some of these foreign accents. When I went to college I had a roommate from Hong Kong. When I first met him I really couldn't understand most of what he was saying. I had to learn to listen carefully while he was speaking. I think his pronunciation got better as well as my ability to understand what he was saying. At the end of the first semester (4 months) I could understand him without any problem. After 3 years of school, he went to Vancouver and worked an internship for a year. When he came back I picked him up at the airport, and BAM! I got hit with the same experience as when I first met him. I had trouble understanding what he was saying.

I haven't spoken to him for years and he has been living in Hong Kong. I wonder how his pronunciation is now.

Article link:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

don't ever study English!

Have you every heard of ADSE? It stands for Absolutely Don't Study English and is also known as DESE, Don't Ever Study English. It's a method created by a Korean who then wrote a book for it. I believe the book was originally written in Korean and later Japanese and Chinese versions were published. Since it is a non-study way to learn a language, I am interested in finding out more about it and the man who wrote the book. Unfortunately, my Google searches don't give me much information.

The DESE process is outlined on this page and here I will quote it:
ADSE/DESE -- A Five-Stage Method of Language Acquisition & Language Learning

Stage 1: Select one audio tape suitable for your English level. Listen to it twice a day (one day off a week) until you can hear all the sounds of it. Don't try to translate and understand, comprehension is not important at this point, catching all the sounds is the goal.

Stage 2: Taking dictation of the whole passage sentence by sentence (not phrase by phrase or word by word). Looking up the English Dictionary (e.g. 'Collins COBUILD English Dictionary for Advanced Learners' or 'Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English') for the spelling of words you are not sure. Imitating the pronunciation and intonation, Reading the transcript aloud (recitation), you try to sound as much like the original as possible.

Stage 3: Writing down the definitions and the example sentences of the words you don't understand in Stage 2, you read them aloud. If there are any more words in Dictionary you still do not understand, you look them up and write them down, reading them aloud until you can understand all.

Stage 4: Select one video tape, VCD or DVD (Movie or TV Drama) without any model transcripts. Repeat the above Stages.

Stage 5: Going through an entire issue of an English newspaper printed in USA. (1) Read an article aloud (repeatedly). (2) Without looking, tell someone (or pretend to be telling someone) about what you have read. (3) Do dictionary work as needed. (4) One by One ...
I have a feeling the above quote does not give us the complete process. First of all, it doesn't really say how much nor how long. How long should the audio be for stage one? How long would this stage last?

In stage 2, for the spelling, what are you supposed to do about homonyms? If you don't understand the words yet, it won't be possible to pick the right homonym. It wouldn't even be possible to find the words in the dictionary either since the spelling patterns of English need to be learned before you can look anything up.

My main critique at this point is that every stage besides the first one looks like STUDY to me. Dictation is a lot of work and looking words up in a dictionary is tiring work. I thought this method was supposed to be based on enjoying the language. I would not enjoy all the work that this method prescribes.

I wonder what the results are like. If anybody can point me to any more info regarding this method, I would appreciate it. The only other description of it I found was written here.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

the 2009 kanji challenge!

If you've been trying to learn Kanji and need some motivation, why not join us in the 2009 Kanji Challenge? We've got 6 weeks to learn about 2009 characters! Isn't that enough time? Let's see who does it best and what methods are being used. If this interests you, then please join us! You can be a contributor to the blog, which requires a blogger account, so let us know and we can add your email address to send the invitation for you to be able to post. For more details and to see what's going on, visit the blog today! Just click on one of the links above or below.

Friday, July 10, 2009

how to make your own language learning method!

I think we all benefit from reading about various ways to learn languages. Whether we agree with the methods or not, they are interesting to read about and may spark new ideas. So I would like to write down some of my opinions about creating a language learning method.

The meaning of a method

For the purpose of this post, I'm going to try to decide what I'm talking about when I use the word "method." A method for learning languages or language acquisition may involve a series of steps, or a combination of tools that are used to go from point A in the language to point B. Some methods may be good for the beginning stages and other methods may be more appropriate for intermediate learners wanting to make the jump to advanced levels.

The methods that do not cover the full journey are often methods that have no changes in them. You are doing the same activities or using the same tools whether you are just starting to use that method or you are nearly finished with it. There are many examples of this in the commercial language learning arena. Publishers usually target the beginners and make sure their language learning system is not too complicated to understand. Publishing companies know there is a smaller return on making materials for advanced learners so they often don't provide enough content to get you beyond the beginner level.

But that does not mean the one-method-fits-all-levels of language learning could not work. Maybe Pimsleur and Assimil are really great methods. But if they offered a 4,000 lesson package, how many people would actually buy it? Most potential customers would say, "Whoah! I'll never get through that many lessons." And so they would give up before even starting.

Other methods will have the system divided between levels or stages. Activities or tools will be completely different for each phase. Essentially, those methods change focus for each level. There are many ways you could create one of these methods. A multi-tier approach defines what is believed to be important at each level and designs activities around those beliefs.

Creating your own method

Generally speaking, you would create a method that will take a language learner from zero knowledge to advanced fluency. Then, if you realize the limitations of the method, you could modify the method or simply modify the purpose of your language learning method.

But before you can create a method to learn languages, you need to be inspired. After all, methods do not spontaneously appear from thin air. There are two resources, other than pure genius, for obtaining inspiration. The best resources are text and voice.

By reading text, such as books or blogs, you can find many examples of what people are doing or what they think they did when they successfully learned a language. There are articles and journals with studies and research done on language learning and second language acquisition. There are also forums that you can read where many experienced language learners have gathered.

The other resource is the voice of actual people who have become bilingual. Ask everybody you know who has learned a foreign language how they accomplished this feat. When you find some really exceptional people, you should interview them and take notes or record the interview. You might decide to base your language learning method on what these people say.

How to be sure your method is working

You need to know that what you are doing in your method is actually working and completely necessary. It makes no sense to say, "Do A, B and C" when only A and C are necessary and yield the same results. An unnecessary element in your method is not only unhelpful, but it also creates a negative effect on your results! At the very least, the unnecessary activity uses up your energy and quite likely your time as well. At their worst, non-essential elements will unknowingly cause harm!

So if your method combines tactics, you'll need to test them out together, separately and in different configurations. Hopefully you are doing something measurable so that you may record the results and create a chart for comparison.

I do not recommend trying out a potpourri of tools and strategies and then calling that a method. You can obtain results and make some progress in learning a language by doing just about anything, so long as you keep doing it. But if you don't know why you're doing those activities and what kind of effect they are having, then you've just joined the millions of other language learners who don't know what they are doing either.

Remember to keep in mind that your past activities and experiences in learning the language are also having an effect on your current results. You cannot make claims like, "I tried doing method X for months and got nowhere, but after switching to method Y I'm experiencing big gains!" In reality, your time doing X prepared you for the gains you see from Y. So you'll need to try doing method Y on a new language. At least one that you've never done X with before. And then see if the gains automatically appear with the new method.

Is your method reproducible? Can you get the same results every time you use the method with different and new languages? Or do you find you have to make modifications when you run into languages that have features which weren't in your previously successful language learning experiences? Such as learning a new script. Or maybe it was a one-time success and it doesn't work when you try it on other languages or when other people try to use your method.

How to promote your method

The best way to promote your method is to create a blog like this one and document your experience as you go along. You'll want to give a description of your previous background with the language your method is being tested on. The best way to prove your current level is to create a video showing you using the language, speaking the language, or being utterly confused by the language. If you have no knowledge at all of the language, then you might just skip the proof of that. But once you've reached the point where you can show your skill, such as when you begin speaking the language, you should make a recording as evidence. Even just a voice recording would be better than nothing. Then later you'll be able to make recordings when you have made improvements and people will be able to compare and see or hear the difference.

In the meantime, you can go to the language forums and announce your entry into the contest for best language learning method. Whatever way you want, spread the word about your blog and let others follow your blog. If you show that your method is well thought out and based on sound principles, others may like to try it as well. This will help you figure out if your method is reproducible.

Once you've got your language learning method all figured out and have successfully learned or acquired several languages with it, you may want to write a book about it. This will help spread your language learning method around the world and you'll be helping as many people as possible to learn a new language.

How to handle the critics

No doubt, there are going to be a few, if not many, critics who do what they do best. They are going to criticize your method! But not to worry. That's just their job. They've got all kinds of reasons why your method won't succeed or work for them. Just remember, most of them will have never tried doing the very thing that they are saying won't work. So try not to let them bother you. After all, if they haven't attempted to correctly put your method into practice then they have nothing but unfounded arguments.

Even the best, most perfect, one-size-fits-all method won't work for everybody. Why? There will be people who try it and fail simply because they didn't execute the method properly. So for those who do attempt your method and don't get the same results, you need to figure out why. What did they do differently? What did you forget to tell them? There can be a number of factors and you won't likely figure it out except for people that you have face-to-face access to. Going back and forth on a forum or through email doesn't allow you the freedom to ask everything you want and won't guarantee that the responses are adequate.

Thank you for reading

I've probably missed a few points or ideas. But this should give you a lot to think about if you're creating the next must-try method for learning languages. Thank you for reading and feel free to post comments or even to create a link to this article!


Although I have written this article with the intention of it being error-free, I cannot guarantee the grammatical correctness or spelling accuracy of the content. I would, however, be thankful if you point out any problems you found while reading it. Just leave a comment and I will fix the errors and typos right away! Thanks!