Did I Find The Dream School? (AUA 3/3)

This is the third and last post in a series about the AUA school in Bangkok. In this post I talk about my final achievement in the Thai language, my conclusions, and about the things I would improve about the school. If you haven’t read the previous parts you can read them here: In Search Of The Dream School (AUA 1/3) and Studying At The Dream School (AUA 2/3).

So, did I become good at Thai? What was my final achievement? Did I manage to order pad thai without shrimp? First let me put things into perspective by summarizing all the contact that I had with the Thai language.

I arrived in Bangkok at the beginning of July 2015, and I ended up staying there for 13 months, attending AUA all along. I attended almost every weekday, with the only exception of some short holidays and a 20-day period for Christmas when the school is closed. I attended some Saturdays too, but only sometimes. On average I attended 6 lessons every day, with breaks every 2 lessons or so.

During that stay I attended exactly 1203 lessons, my original goal being 1200. Since every lesson is 50 minutes long, that means 1000 hours of sitting in class listening to somebody speak Thai.

Most of the time I was taking classes I was purposefully avoiding most other contact with the Thai language. In particular, I didn’t want to do anything that deviates from the ALG method, so I didn’t do any kind of self-study, exercises, or practicing speaking. Even now, more than 3 years after I started learning Thai, I haven’t checked a single word in the dictionary. After some time at AUA I did learn about Crosstalk and I became quite interested in it, and during the time I was in Bangkok I ended up doing 74 hours of it.

At the beginning I wasn’t trying to get exposure to Thai media either, since I wanted to see how fast it would be to learn the language by attending AUA only. The last 2 months or so of my stay in Bangkok I did begin watching videos and TV in Thai, and did it for 65 hours.

I never tried to practice speaking, and in general I tried to avoid speaking the language unless I needed to. I managed to do that more or less, and in the year I was staying there I had only a handful of conversations in Thai, mostly to give the necessary instructions to taxi drivers, and one phone call (be careful with your apartment rental agent, mine vanished without a trace).

So the total balance of my exposure to the Thai language was 1000 hours at AUA, 74 hours of one-on-one Crosstalk with a Thai partner, and 65 of watching TV and videos, mostly on YouTube.

By the end of my stay, I knew enough Thai to get by in the country in most daily life situations. I was also able to understand around 40% of Thai TV series and sitcoms. I even successfully had that phone call with an associate of my housing agent, when the agent disappeared without a trace and left me without any means to contact my landlady.

Still, while I could understand most things that were said around me, especially the things that people said directly to me, the amount of words I had acquired by that time didn’t allow me to be “fluent” in the language. It wasn’t everything that I felt I needed to have comfortable daily conversation with friends without them having to make an effort. I was comfortably an intermediate learner though, as I could understand somebody speaking only Thai to me, as long as they could be patient and rephrase or explain things I didn’t understand. But in the end I felt I was still missing many common words that are used daily.

The first conversation

After I finished my goal at AUA, I got a teacher to sit down with me and have a conversation for 10 minutes. That was the longest conversation I had had in Thai until that moment. I got several insights from that conversation.

The words that I knew well, the ones that I had heard hundreds of times after having first learned them, came very naturally and without me having to think at all. What that tells me is that there is no need for any kind of production exercises or speaking practice to move words from your passive vocabulary to your active vocabulary, it’s just a matter of knowing the vocabulary well enough, so that the current context and the meaning in your head will trigger that particular word.

I did struggle with some words, but most of the time either I could recall a word or I couldn’t, so things keep coming off my mouth quite fluently as long as I was talking about common topics that I was comfortable with. I was quite nervous though. Even though I was only recording the conversation for myself, it did feel a bit like an exam. I kept mixing up the words for “mother” and “father”, and instead of saying “meh”, “poh”, I would say “moh”, “peh”. Also, I should mention that in my mind there wasn’t anything else besides Thai words. I was never trying to translate words in my mind, but that’s the same experience I’ve had with every other foreign language that I’ve learned.

I didn’t have any problem to get the teacher to understand my pronunciation. This is a thing that MOST foreigners struggle with in Thai. Even after a long time studying the language, when they go out and try to speak it, many find out that nobody understands their pronunciation. Learners of Thai usually blame this on the tones of the language. In my experience hearing students trying to speak, they don’t seem to get almost anything right. They don’t get the tones right, but they don’t get right the consonant sounds, the vowel sounds, the vowel length, and the general pace and intonation of the language.

One thing I noticed when first trying to speak is that the sounds of the language didn’t come out exactly the way I could hear them in my head. My mental image of the sounds of the language was probably quite good by that point, but since I hadn’t got any practice making the sounds, my muscles weren’t yet well trained in producing them. My hypothesis is that after I start speaking, my production of sounds should start matching my mental image pretty quickly, maybe after just a few hours of speaking. This is a theory that I still have to test, as I still haven’t started speaking now, more than two years after leaving Bangkok.

A better AUA

There’s many good things to say about AUA and all the pioneer work they have done. But while I was there I also took note of the different things that I thought could be improved. Some things could be easily implemented at AUA, while other things would only work in an ideal situation with enough students and money. I’ll start with the things that I think could be easily improved.

One thing that I missed as a beginner was having more stories told to us. As I mentioned in the last post, I felt the lessons in which they told us stories were some of the most effective ones as my rate of understanding was higher than in other lessons. I think the beginner stage could be sped up by doing more of these. There are also certain games (I’m looking at you, bingo) that I’d rather live without. Also some of the games seemed to be trying to bring the focus of the students to particular words, which seems to go against the principles of the ALG method.

I also think that the school management could use student attendance information to offer topics that are more popular. A couple of examples are “Debate” and “Adult Stories”, for both of which the classroom was full of students. In spite of that, those topics were taught very rarely. They were only in the schedule in one of the terms during the 10 or so months that I spent in the intermediate and advanced levels, each term being 6 weeks.

Another thing that I think would be beneficial is trying different approaches to increase the amount of vocabulary that teachers use. I’m not sure why this happens but after about 1000 lessons I got the impression that the teachers were barely using any words that I didn’t know already. That may be due to them having unconsciously adapted the vocabulary over the years to something they know their students will understand easily. The fact that they’ve had to teach for so many hours by each other’s side could also mean that their choice of words has become a bit homogeneous among the different teachers.

One idea is teaching new topics that haven’t been taught before. Another option is getting some local Thai people to come to class as guests every now and then. Also having more role plays or acting out stories could also give more exposure to the students to vocabulary that’s used in different situations that doesn’t come up often in a classroom setting (when shopping, when having an argument with your boyfriend or girlfriend, when running away from zombies…).

Another thing that irked me and that I would like to see improve was that certain principles of ALG weren’t sometimes respected. Even though this didn’t happen in most lessons, you would every now and then get a teacher to compare two similar words and point out the difference in their pronunciation, get the students to try to say a word out loud, or to “cheat” by getting one of the students to translate a word to English (since the teachers are not supposed to use English themselves). Maybe I’m being a bit too strict here, since this was only a very small part of the time of a small number of classes, but I still wished that they would have been more aware of it.

The rest of the problems that I noticed are things that would be harder to fix and that may only be realistically implemented in a bigger school with more students or more money. One obvious thing that I mentioned before is to increase the amount of levels. Having a less steep learning curve would help with the speed of learning, since you could have a separate group for complete beginners that could benefit from having even easier activities. Having a separate class the whole day for students in the advanced classroom, so that they don’t have to go to the intermediate classes for most of the day, would also help them continue learning at a steady pace even at the more advanced levels.

One of the great things about AUA is that we got to listen to many different teachers. There were 10 of them when I was there. That is great because it allows students to listen to a wide variety of voices, and get used to the differences in pronunciation, accent and vocabulary of the different teachers. The more, the better though, so in a bigger school you could have even more teachers from different regions in the country.

The last two problems that I found are two things that seem to often come together with Comprehensible Input methods, no matter the situation. The first one was actually one of the first things that I noticed when I started attending AUA. The problem is that not all the students are equally open to the new ideas that the ALG method introduces, and that skepticism keeps many of them from even giving it a try. I think this is something that all the initiatives that attempt to apply Comprehensible Input methods have to face.

At AUA, this causes some students to discard the school right away after they see that it doesn’t use a traditional language instruction method. Even most of the students who decide to stay and study at AUA don’t really follow the ALG principles and are doing some kind of language study in parallel. Many attend a second school or do some kind of self-study. I think one big reason for this is that AUA doesn’t do a good job of explaining its method and the importance of following it. There’s a short introduction when you sign up for school where they explain to you how the classes work and what you are expected to do in them, but there’s no explanation about the reasons for using this method and the supposed benefits.

I’ve discussed this with the administration of the school, and apparently the reason for not having a more thorough introduction is that not many people agree with the principles of ALG, and fewer students would decide to study at AUA if they had such an introduction. I understand the point of view of the managers of the school and I probably would do the same if I was in their situation. The livelihood of the teachers depends on having a certain number of students coming to the school every month. However, I can’t help thinking that, in the long run, having more students that believe in the method and follow it would allow the school to show better results, and that would attract even more students.

The second problem that all Comprehensible Input initiatives face is how to provide a short-term sense of progress to the students. This is not very important in a middle or high school setting, since the results can be seen at the end of the year, but it is important for a language school like AUA that needs to retain its students. Traditional language education provides this sense of progress very well by providing a list of units, grammar points, and vocabulary for each lesson, so that at the end of the lesson you can clearly see what you’ve supposedly learned (and will soon forget). In CI-based approaches there’s no such thing. Actual acquisition of a whole word or a whole grammar point doesn’t happen in a single day. Acquisition is rather a process of gradually getting used to and refining many aspects of the language. During a CI-based lesson, instead of having learned the translation for 20 words, you have very slightly improved hundreds of words and grammar items in your head, and some of them you may notice, but most of them will go unnoticed and not contribute to your impression of making progress in learning the language.

Because of this, many students believe that they are not improving much after having attended 10 hours or more of class, and they give up on the method. The answer to this problem is not obvious, but I think it’s probably the single biggest issue that’s keeping CI methods from becoming the norm. The long term benefits of using CI are clear to me, but we need a way to provide students with medium-term and short-term sense of accomplishment.

AUA does provide some form of medium-term sense of accomplishment by showing a chart of your progress on their website. That chart is based on the amount of hours of class you’ve attended and how well you’re following the method. Unfortunately, not many students look at it.

I think that more could be done. For example, students could be given a roadmap of small milestones and be told what they can expect to be able to do with the language at each milestone. Things like “Order at a restaurant”, “Give instructions to a taxi”, “Make friends who only speak Thai”, etc. Also, it’s good to cause a strong emotional response in people. We could record them listening to a teacher speaking Thai, and play that video back to them in the future, so they can notice how bad they were at understanding things that now seem really easy. Their improvement would be crystal clear to them.

Medium-term feedback is good and necessary, but to get most of the students to get that far before dropping out it is quite important that we provide them with a more immediate sense of accomplishment. Ideally, students would leave the school each day feeling that they learned something. How we do that though is not self-evident and I don’t have a definitive answer. Because of the nature of Comprehensible Input, learning of the grammar is a very gradual process, and many of the features of the grammar of a language aren’t acquired until the learner has acquired a decent amount of vocabulary. Because of that, I think it makes more sense to focus on using vocabulary to provide that sense of progress. But how do we do that?

Lessons could have a small list of easy-to-guess words that the teacher makes sure that the students notice. Those words could be mentioned more or less explicitly so that the students notice them and feel like there’s a purpose in that lesson. One problem with this approach, though, is that we would be bringing attention to the language, which is one thing that ALG tells us not to do. This may still be okay if those words refer to concrete real life items and not more abstract elements of the language. The danger with bringing the student’s attention to specific words is that they may try to analyze them, try to translate them in their heads, and make mistaken assumptions about their meaning and usage. Concrete vocabulary may be less prone to confusion and wrong assumptions so using it may be a good compromise. However, I will continue working on finding an approach that can let learners get a feeling of their progress without bringing attention to the language.

Was I satisfied?

I consider my stay in Bangkok really successful. I got to confirm that you can learn a language completely from context without the need for explanations or any kind of connection to a language you already know. I got to experience what it feels like to develop a feeling for the sounds of the language, all the way from not being sure of what I heard for most of the words, to knowing the different ways a word may be pronounced in different situations depending on formality, background of the speaker, etc.

I also got to experience first-hand what it is like to get used to the sounds of a tonal language to the point in which two words that only differ in their tone feel like two completely different words. Unfortunately, there’s still so much belief that tones should be taught explicitly and practiced over and over.

It was also my first time learning a foreign language while being completely unaware of how to write it. While many people say that they can’t imagine what it feels like, in the end it’s not that different. The concept of each sound ends up forming in your head, even if it’s not linked to any particular letter. It is something similar to how English has so many vowel sounds, but many of them aren’t tied to any particular letter. English speakers can still identify particular sounds, and are able to explain to each other how certain words are pronounced. That means that the concept of each sound exists in their brain. Those concepts are connected to, but separate of, the letters themselves.

My experience attending AUA also helped me confirm how we can acquire an intuitive feeling for the grammar without having learned any rules. Not only that, but I also confirmed that I don’t even need to formulate the rules in my head for that intuitive knowledge to appear, as there are many things in Thai about sentence structure that just sound right to me but that I wouldn’t be able to explain.

Thanks to all the experience I got as a student I got very comfortable with the method and learned how to apply it to learners at different levels. This serves me well presently as I’m applying what I learned to benefit a lot of people and allow them to learn a large variety of languages. I hope the principles that guide the ALG method will gain broader acceptance and help improve language education and language learning all over the world in more and more situations.

Something else I learned about during my stay in Bangkok is Crosstalk. I didn’t know much about it before moving to Bangkok, but I’m glad I discovered its existence. It’s helped me considerably with my language learning, and it’s expanded my idea of what ALG is and how it can be used. My experience doing Crosstalk is probably one of the things that I’ve been able to leverage the most when making my Spanish videos.

There are of course some limitations to what I learned, and things that I felt were still left unanswered after my stay. For one thing, I only tried the method on myself, and in the future I’m aware that I’ll need to learn more about how the method works for different people, and whether there’s a way to make it work for everybody.

I’d like to go back to what I mentioned before about educating the students about the method. I believe that if the method really works so much better, having a (possibly separate) school with fewer but more committed students would allow us to learn much more about how to really get the method to work and about what its real potential is. Also, if the method really works that much better, it would help the school in the long term thanks to its good results and the publicity that comes from there. That way, people that are skeptical would become convinced that a better approach to language learning is possible.

There is one big doubt about the method that I was left with. That doubt is about the feasibility in practice of following the principles of ALG completely, even by someone who is fully committed to it. In his book “From the Outside In“, Marvin Brown explains how analyzing the language in his head prevented him from acquiring Teochew Chinese. As a career linguist, he couldn’t keep himself from analyzing a lot of the features of the language while he was listening to it. In my case, I wouldn’t say it affected me as much as it affected him. After all, I’m not a linguist and I did acquire quite a bit of Thai. But I also can’t say that I didn’t analyze the language I was hearing at all. And if someone that’s so motivated that will go to live abroad for 1 year to try a method on himself can’t keep himself from analyzing, what can we expect from the majority of language learners? AUA tries to reduce this by playing engaging games and telling interesting stories, but of course not all of the classes manage to be captivating 100% of the time for all of the students. There may be a solution to keep learners from analyzing and thinking about the language, but I don’t think we have found it yet.

Another thing that is also missing is more data that would help us give better input to learners. There is quite a bit of research comparing Comprehensible Input to other methods of language learning, but there doesn’t seem to be much research about what’s the best way to provide input. Is it better to listen to slow speech? Is it better to listen to interesting fiction or to personal stories? Is it better to simplify the vocabulary? Can something be done to help with understanding and acquisition of more abstract words? Many questions still remain.

Let me know if you have any questions or would like more detail about the classes at AUA or my experience there.

Thanks for reading until the end!

First part: In Search Of The Dream School (AUA 1/3)
Second part: Studying At The Dream School (AUA 2/3)

23 thoughts on “Did I Find The Dream School? (AUA 3/3)

  1. This is very helpful, Pablo. I appreciate the comments about improvements and the strength you had to follow the ALG method without yielding to desire to practice speaking. I have to admit that I find it a bit disheartening that you spent 1,000 hours in acquisition that is, for the most part, a huge improvement over the kinds of teaching one typically finds, and that you don’t feel yourself to be more comfortable in the language. You spent close to the equivalent of eight years’ worth of US language classes (if daily), so on the other hand, I feel better about how much our students do acquire. I’ll be interested on your thoughts if you have had a chance to attend any of the week-long TPRS classes, anywhere in the world. Of course, a week can’t compare to 1000 hours, but still…

    I also appreciate the point about student dissatisfaction and understanding of progress. It feels a bit unfair to give students assessments, especially if one is trying not to target particular phrases or structures. And telling them how well they are paying attention and participating still does not give them an idea as to how well they are progressing overall. I believe that the Focal Skills folks let students take an exam on listening several times, and they could move from one module to the next if they achieved a certain score. That might be something AUA could institute.

    Very interesting! Thank you for taking the time to write about it. You are a true seeker for language!


    1. Thank you for your message MJ. It is true that I would have liked by that point to be better at it, but you have to put things into perspective. Thai takes a lot more time to learn than Spanish or French. You barely have any cognates, and the cultural difference also makes it slower to learn.
      My expectations are also very high, since I want to reach the point of being able to understand any TV show or movie, and being able to understand full speed conversation between native speakers.
      Maybe I didn’t make a good job of explaining how good at it I was. Even before the end of my stay I was able to have one-on-one conversations with my friends (who are not teachers) in which I spoke English and my friends spoke Thai, and I didn’t have any problem understanding them speak 100% in Thai at normal pace.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s admirable comprehension, to be sure. But I’m sure the next question won’t surprise you… What about speaking in Thai? I think most students wouldn’t feel quite complete at receptive bilingualism. Do you think comfort speaking would come naturally after even more input, or would it take some conscious effort?


      2. Sure, most people want to learn a language to be able to speak it. What I’ve found is that after more than a year of leaving Thailand and focusing on listening to media and doing Crosstalk with my Thai friend, I am able to hold conversations in Thai when I visit Thailand or when I go to a Thai restaurant.
        I’m really taking it to the extreme, because for me learning Thai is an experiment, and that’s why I’m trying to keep myself from speaking much until I get to a good level, but most people will probably want to start speaking earlier.
        About it taking a conscious effort to start speaking, I’m not sure of that. What I’ve seen is that the grammar and the vocabulary that I’m used to comes out without much effort.
        I’m sure at least the pronunciation needs to be practiced until you build your muscle memory and the sound coming out of your mouth matches the sound of the language in your head. My best guess right now is that that shouldn’t take more than a handful of speaking hours, though.


  2. Thank you so much for your blog and videos. I have seen such an improvement in my Spanish over the last month since finding your channel. (I’ve only been learning for about two months in total, so still early days) My children are loving it too. My three year old particularly enjoys the ones with fire and chocolate! And often shouts fun sounding Spanish words you say back to you.

    I have 4 young children and have found it fascinating to see how from birth, through simple, mindful and intuitive interactions, they have acquired English. First listening and understanding then speaking and experimenting with the rules they have deduced. It obviously works, so I was so pleased to find your channel.

    Although I’m feeling very proud of myself the credit really goes to you. Thanks to you we are all on a much more positive and enjoyable language learning trip. We love visiting Barcelona and can’t wait to practice what we’ve learned when we next visit.

    I have subscribed on patron and will share your link with friends and family.

    Huge thanks and best wishes from us all.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Did you test your hypothesis “that after I start speaking, my production of sounds should start matching my mental image pretty quickly, maybe after just a few hours of speaking”?


    1. Thanks for your message Kevin. I recorded myself right before starting speaking and I’m planning on recording myself after a few weeks of practicing speaking and I’ll publish both videos and my conclusions in a future post, hopefully not far in the future.


  4. I’m really interested in trying to apply this method to myself, but the biggest challenge seems to be creating the environment at home. The most simple form of input that occurs to me is watching TV shows for very young children (such as Peppa pig), but compared to your superbeginner spanish videos, these are already too difficult, a bit like how you described some of your beginner classes not being as accessible as the others. It’s very difficult to find anything between 0 and Peppa Pig for most languages.


    1. I agree. That’s why I’m making my videos. The only thing I ever found that was easier than Peppa Pig is Pocoyo. You can try watching that if it’s available in the language you are learning. Peppa Pig was still somewhat useful for me when I started learning Chinese, and I would pick up words here and there, even if the process could certaintly have been faster if I had had access to more comprehensible content.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Sir, I’m trying out an ALG-ish approach to acquire Mandarin Chinese. My approach consists of daily cross talk supplemented by listening or watching media in any spare time I have available. I have also used the mimic method pronunciation and listening training system, which I think has reduced the filtering of my native language of English.

    I just wanted to make a general observation about our motivation for learning a language. Personally, I don’t have time for a five year language acquisition experiment – nor the spare time to attend 1000s of hours of classes – infact, I know of nobody who does. I just wondered at what point do we move from a focus on perfection (native like accent etc) to connection (interacting in real world engagement). Maybe this is a more philosophical point, but is it better to spend 1 year on acquisition and 4 years having real relationships with people in the target language, or, 4 years acquisition and only 1 year of genuine contact. It seems to me, the more “natural” response would be the former. Obviously, Mandarin and Thai – for example – have less margin for error than some other languages, so good acquisition is important, but I just wondered what you see as the tipping point, and where this intersects with your motivation. In my case , i have 8 months before I will be living with a Mandarin only speaking family. For me it is imperative to be able to understand and atleast offer simple replies in order to connect with these people. So, I plan to begin speaking one month before I arrive and activate whatever I have acquired. For me, atleast, forming these connections is what language is about, and I just wondered where you thought langauge learning and motivation intersect with our approach and to what degree they impinge on each other.

    Thank you for your blog, I enjoy reading your content.


    1. It’s all a balance of priorities and of course most people don’t need to go to the lengths that I went to. I think shutting up and listening is important for getting a good accent and natural grammar, but interacting with people is also a very good way of getting input. I do personally feel that I remember words more easily when they’ve been said to me in during a conversation, so after a reasonable amount of input I do think the fastest way to continue learning is to have plenty of interactions with people. Your pronunciation is probably not going to be too butchered if you listened to a few hundreds of hours.
      Also please realise that there hasn’t been any “5 year experiment”. After 1 year in Thailand I spent 2 in Spain learning at a considerably lower pace, and after the first 1st year I would have been okay for my daily needs around the city, and even phone calls.
      About “activating” your speaking, I haven’t really experienced activation being a thing. The first time I went to study abroad I started speaking English daily without really having practiced speaking before. The same happened a couple of months ago when I started speaking Thai daily and not keeping myself from using it. The words and sentence forms that I know well come out easily, without really having had to practice saying them before. Naturally you’re always going to be able to understand many more words that you can say, the same is true for your mother tongue and I think it’s unavoidable.
      Let me know if something was unclear or you have any other questions.


  6. Thank you for your reply, and perhaps my comments weren’t as clear as I would have hoped. I think your blog raises some very interesting questions about language acquition (as does your fellow ALG blogger ‘ Beyond Language Learning’), I simply wanted to look a language more broadly, and not strictly linguistically.

    I think, for most people, cross talk is the most powerful and readily available technique. It also has the advantage of applying to many people who may have partners or friends with a different language background. I hope to use cross talk – and eventually extensive reading – to go all the way to fluency in Mandarin Chinese. Incidentally, and i think this relates directly to cross talk, your point – in your article ‘The 10 commandments of language acquisition’ that the language learning journey should be fun, where you state:

    I’ll tell you one secret: While it’s great to learn a foreign language because of all the things that you can do with it, there’s no big reward at the end. By the point you reach mastery, you’ve grown so used to the language and have made such gradual progress that it all seems kind of obvious and you take it for granted. It’s even hard to remember what it felt at the beginning to not understand the language at all. Therefore, it’s better to have fun the whole way than to suffer and push through it in hopes of a big reward at the end, because it never comes.

    The psychology behind this point hit me like lightening. No longer do I think about trying to quickly acquire a difficult langauge ie 3 months or 3 years, instead, i now think to myself that I’m going to have a daily conversation with someone interesting in Chinese/English and to listen/watch interesting Chinese content daily. I think I’m on track to have acquired 800 hours on listening (with varying levels of comprehension) by the time I really start speaking. Language learning seems so simple now, and fun. I don’t need to generate motivation because each conversation offers a new avenue of interest. I have already noticed the phenomenon you mention whereby, I hear or feel the mental image of Chinese in my mind and I can notice the ‘gap’ between my speaking and this image ( when I do rarely speak) – it is a very unusual feeling- like I’m watching myself or that there is a seperate part of me observing my speech. Nevertheless, I think cross talk hold huge potential: it’s largely free, fun, incredibly effective, and natural.

    Thank you for the wonderful content.


    1. Definitely. I think crosstalk is great, and for now I believe it’s the fastest and most efficient way to become really fluent at a language. Of course it’s not going to work for everyone, depending on your access to native speakers of the language and how comfortable you are meeting and interacting with other people, and that’s why I’m not (yet?) a full-time crosstalk advocate, but it’s my first choice of activity to learn a language when it’s available.


    2. Do you have a blog or a YouTube channel? The more people that do case studies on themselves, the more evidence up and coming language learners will have to show them “the light”. I think the way you write and how you explain things is very motivating and inspiring. If you don’t have any social media setup yet I definitely encourage you to do so for all of us! 🙂


  7. Thanks for blog, very interesting! Love your videos too!! The only thing that I am not sure I understand is why a person should not start speaking ever in the language for such a long time. It is not how young humans actually learn a language. Babies immediately start playing around with the sounds of the their native language practicing and imitating – pretty much from birth! 9 months -2 years old they are starting to put together the sounds to form words and mini sentences- often mimicking words they have no clue what they mean, sometimes making very predictable mistakes mixing up different sounds. It is a human nature to want to make sounds and want to communicate in native or new language. So I feel like not doing so is not natural. Could the method used be better for adults to become fluent? probably! But, I feel like it is necessary otherwise why do babies and kids do it? (maybe some kids never make a sound and then one day utter a sentence, but that is not the norm) Babies love to hear themselves utter the sounds! So, if you want the learning to be like a kid learns you can’t separate the utterances from the receptive piece. This is coming from a mother watching her three kids learning english 🙂 And a speech language pathologist wanna-be.
    I think a good addition to the course would be possibly looking at how language sounds develop in a Thai baby and then have the second language learners maybe practice them in the same order.


    1. Thanks for your message Steph.
      Leaving the speaking for later on is to prevent having a bigger interference of your native language in the pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary usage of the language you are learning. This has been observed at AUA in their many students. It’s also my own experience when learning languages using different methods. There are also research papers that have started showing that, on average, extroverts (who on average speak more) have a worse accent when speaking a foreign language.

      I think we can only look so far into the babbling of children. Its function is hard enough to determine that there’s quite a big body of research just on it. I’m in no way an expert on this topic, but I think that saying that children are playing around with sounds of their native language from birth is quite an exaggeration. Babbling may be necessary to get used to coordinating the different muscles in the mouth, something that as adults we already know how to do well. By the time babies actually say their first word, they’ve already had exposure to thousands of hours of input, so you can see how far this is from the traditional “listen and repeat” approach.

      You can see a very clear example in children that move to another country when they are younger than 9. These children consistently learn the language of the country where they move to without a trace of a foreign accent. They also don’t go through a “babbling” phase in their new language. On the contrary, what they go through is a silent period of many months, sometimes a year or more, before they start speaking in the new language.

      I don’t think we have any basis to overthink this and believe that as adults we need to be given a guideline of sounds to practice in what order, when as humans we already have all the tools that we need to learn a foreign language well, and we only need to be given the chance to do it without being forced to produce.


  8. Hello Pablo,

    Thank you for this series of articles – your passion for languages is contagious! I will be going to Thailand in July and I plan on attending AUA and following much the same path you did.

    I would like to hear your opinion on some thoughts I’ve had on how someone might take your experience and improve on it to achieve conversational fluency in a shorter number of total days:

    1. Consuming some beginner comprehensible input in Thai prior to attending AUA. I found a Thai channel called ‘Comprehensible Thai’ that is very similar to your Dreaming Spanish channel, albeit quite a bit more rough around the edges. They have super beginner and beginner videos that presumably someone could watch before coming to AUA, especially if they are just stuck at home waiting to go to Thailand, as a way to account for the issue of ‘fluctuating difficulty’ in the beginner classes at AUA.

    2. Increased use of cross-talk. You mentioned only finding out about this part way through your trip, and I’m assuming you see it as valuable enough to say, shed an hour from your AUA schedule in exchange for a crosstalk opportunity. Building a revolving list of good people that would allow you to cross-talk several times a week, or perhaps even once a day, sounds like an efficient strategy.

    3. Consuming more Thai media, particularly at the intermediate level. It seems like this would address the lack of variety in vocabulary and “real life” situations you saw at the school.

    Obviously all of these things are probably things you would have otherwise done if you weren’t trying to conduct your learning as an ‘experiment’, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts and if you would add anything else to the list.



    1. Thanks for your message Tyler! Number 1 is certainly good and it’s great that this resource exists now. Number 2 is also great and I’d definitely do as much crosstalk as possible. I don’t believe number 3 is going to be a productive use of your time until you already understand the language quite well, I would say after 1500 hours of input or so.


    2. By the way, right now it seems unlikely that AUA will be continuing the Thai program in Bangkok. It seems like David Long is getting the teachers to do online classes, but I’m not sure how it’s going to turn out.
      Before you come to Thailand, make sure to learn about what the situation is. You should be able to see what the current situation is from these pages:



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