Sunday, August 27, 2006

Attempting to Learn Thai...

Ok, while this isn't a real update, I want to start documenting my progress learning Thai. After a bad experience at a different school, on Wednesday August 23rd, I started Thai classes at American University Alumni Association (AUA). They use a "natural" method which basically involves watching and listening to two teachers interact (i.e. clown around and have conversations about bodily functions and other easy to understand topics). You don't speak in Thai during class, and they ask you also not to speak Thai outside of class either. In fact, classes do not start to encorporate speaking until you have reached level 5, which is supposed to take 600-1000 hours.

Yes, that is a lot of time. If I attend 5 hours a day, 5 days a week as I am hoping, it will still take at least 6 months to start speaking. Wow. Although my opinion might change, I don't think this is crazy. Here is why:

The idea with this method (technically called the Automatic Language Growth Method) is to allow your brain to get around a new language naturally, in the same way that children learn their native language. I don't know if adults can learn exactly like children, but waiting for a long time to speak does has some very clear advantages.

First, you aren't handicapped by hearing yourself, and other beginning students, butcher Thai pronunciations. Think about it. If you attend a typical language class, a great deal of the speaking done is done by students trying to repeat what the teacher says. Yes, you hear the teacher, but you also hear terrible, and downright incorrect, pronunciations over, and over, and over. The same applies to self-study. If you practice speaking at home, the "Thai" speaker that your brain will hear the most is you! And you don't say anything correctly! I can already notice this with "khorb khun khrap," which is (in poor Romanization, anyway) Thai for "thank you." I've definitely heard myself say this phrase more than I have heard Thai speakers say it... I say it when I buy food, when a door is held for me, etc. So the default pronunciation of this phrase stored in my brain is the pronunciation I have come up with... which is, of course, terribly inaccurate.

Second, since students don't talk, there is more "airtime" for the teachers to speak in Thai, and thus for the students to hear Thai. On a related note, the teachers aren't forced to slow down and say words in an artificial manner so that students can attempt to repeat them... so not only are we hearing more Thai/class, it is also correct, naturally spoken Thai.

If someone just wants to learn some "survival" Thai to order food, get around town, etc. this is not going to be an efficient method. But it really makes sense to me, if you are serious about becoming fluent in a language, to invest some time upfront into developing listening skills, and allowing your brain to default to correct pronunciations.

The end result of this method is supposedly that, after all this listening, speaking starts to occur naturally, as it would with children. If you want to express something, the words and phrases will start to just "be there." Or so they say. We'll see. There are definitely articles out there that advise against ALG, but it certainly isn't crazy and it makes a great deal of sense to me.

Anyway, here is what I want to document:

August 27th, 2006
Months in Thailand: 2.0
Hours at AUA: 15
Previous "study": 6 crappy lessons at another school; some very minimal self-study

Although it is a very subtle difference, and I still have NO idea what anyone is saying, I noticed today that Thai is beginning to sound more like string of words than completely unbroken garble. I'm sure that AUA has helped this a bit, but I just started there and so I think it likely has as much to do with other exposure, the result of having been here two months.

When I started at AUA I also started leaving Thai TV on in my apartment sometimes. I don't usually actively watch, but I figure that hearing more Thai can't hurt. Thai commercials are also pretty funny to watch... not that I can understand whatever they are saying.

Ok, that's it for now. I'll try to make a "real" post soon.


Blogger O.Shane said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:04 AM  
Blogger O.Shane said...

Secondary language acquisition changes at about age 12. So, after this age, your brain will never be able to assimilate a new language as easily, and in fact, if I remember from my Cornell LING 101 class correctly, the new language is stored in a different part of the brain, i.e. the second language brain center (whereas if you had learned it before this time, it would be stored as a primary language, whatever that means). *Nevertheless*, I intuitively think this AUA method will be excellent for second language learning for the reasons you articulated in your post, Dan. Please keep us all apprised as to how it goes, because if it works, I'll enroll in something similar for the languages I'd like to master.

5:05 AM  

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