By Dr. J. Marvin Brown
Learning Languages Like Children
In 1984, the American University Language Center in Bangkok started using a new approach to teach the Thai language. The method is called ‘The Listening Approach’. In more recent years it’s become known as ‘Automatic Language Growth’. The method says that any attempt to speak (or even think about language), before automatic speaking comes, will cause damage and limit final results! In other words, the method uses a very long "silent period". During the "silent period", students focus only on listening. After 6 - 12 months of intensive listening, students begin to speak spontaneously and naturally-- without effort and without thinking!
ONE - THE CHILD’S SECRET
Everyone knows that when people move to a new country the children will eventually speak the language natively and the adults won’t. The normal explanation is that children have a special ‘talent’ that they lose as they grow up. Teachers said that for adults, languages should be taught and studied instead of learned naturally. But are we any better with present language teaching? Why, for example, do adults in Central Africa do better when they move to a new language community than our modern students do? Could it be that early teachers were mistaken? Maybe adults can do what children do. Maybe it’s just adult behavior (not lack of talent) that prevents them from succeeding. THE MISTAKE – Children can do something that adults cannot. THE UNASKED QUESTION – What would happen if an adult were to just listen for a year without speaking? OUR ANSWER – Both adults and children can do it right, but only adults can do it wrong. Imagine a 4 year-old child and an adult reacting to somebody talking to them in a foreign language. The child most often just listens, while the adult usually tries to talk back. Now imagine that ‘not trying to speak’ was the child’s secret. It makes sense that listening to things that are always right...