Something drew my attention when I was in Japan. Some people I met had a curious accent, something that was not the typical accent of a Japanese person. I had encountered it before, so this is by no means exclusive to Japan, but I had never realized what it meant in terms of language acquisition, or tried to reason why such a thing happened.
Before I get into this any further, let me clarify why I decided to write about accent. People shouldn’t be discriminated or embarrassed based on having an accent. Many of us simply learned a foreign language the way we were told to, and it had the results it had. Even my own accent is not perfect when speaking foreign languages, and neither am I arguing that by following my methods you’ll end up being indistinguishable from a native speaker. This post is not meant to embarrass or criticize anybody. Still, pronunciation is an important part of making ourselves understood by other speakers of the language, and having clearer pronunciation will always be better for communication, and to put less strain on the people listening to us. But the main reason I want to discuss accent is that finding out why accents happen can give us a lot of insight into the process of language acquisition.
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.
This is the second post in a series about the AUA school in Bangkok. In this post I talk about what the classes were like at each level, and about my improvement. If you haven’t read the first part you can read it here: In Search Of The Dream School (AUA 1/3).
My first time attending the Thai program at AUA was on a Saturday. On Saturdays there were always fewer students than on weekdays, so it was relatively calm. I went to the office and was given my first free hour (actually 50 minutes). There was no real introduction to explain the method and why this school is different than other schools. I don’t know how I felt about it at that time, but over the period I spent studying there I became more and more convinced that it would be better to have a proper introduction. I saw that many students misunderstood the goal of the school and didn’t make the most of the lessons.
Between 2015 and 2016, despite having no interest in learning the Thai language, I spent 1 year in Bangkok with the sole purpose of attending 1200 hours of the Thai language course at the AUA language school. In this post I explain why.
What drew me to AUA was its method. At AUA there’s no books, no homework, no dictionaries, no taking notes, no translation, and no speaking practice. There are also no exams, no explicit grammar instruction, and no rigid syllabus.
This is going to be a very short post in contrast to most of my posts. Today I just wanted to share a very concise definition of the ALG method, invented by Dr. Marvin Brown and used at the AUA school in Bangkok to teach Thai. This definition was taken from the book “The Listening Approach“.
Two teachers talk to the class and to each other as they do things in clear close view of the students. There are no books. What they do and say must be both comprehensible and interesting. (In Krashen’s terms, the teachers provide comprehensible input.) The students sometimes participate and sometimes do not, but they always look, listen, and try to understand what is going on, with as little conscious attention on the language as possible. This means not only that they don’t take notes or try to remember sounds, words, or patterns; it also means that they don’t speak—not until words and phrases come to them without their conscious attention. This may take several hundred hours.
The rationale for this method and the story of the creator can be found in his book “From the Outside In: The Secret to Automatic Language Growth“.
Today I’m here to debunk a myth (again). This is one particularly important myth to debunk, since it’s the main pillar of traditional language education.
Let’s get started.
The myth is that language can somehow be transferred from the brains of a speaker to the brains of a learner by explaining the grammar and the vocabulary. However, in this post we’re going to see how that doesn’t make a lot of sense.
To do that, first we have to explain what language is.
There’s a big misconception that seems to be common among language teachers and learners alike: the nature of words. In this post I try to clear up the confusion that 99% of language learners and language methods seem to have.