How much do you want to borrow?


Why should I wait to try speaking?

Why not learn to read and write from the start?

Surely if I was to learn a few vocabulary words it would help me advance more quickly.

These are all commonly expressed ideas – and with anything so complex as learning a new language, the answers are not simple.

The comment was made on our YouTube site, “…for those who already have significant experience in learning numerous languages, however, prohibiting speaking at the early stages is not necessary…”

This view is the common view and at first, might seem to make sense; that is if we wish to ignore the fact that adults, who are the only ones who think this way, are terrible language learners, even when they’ve learned several languages already, and that young children who never ‘try’ speaking before they’re ready, achieve perfection regularly and in a comparably short amount of time.)

So what’s the point? Simply stated, it is this: One cannot speak a new language early in the game without borrowing from another language that’s already inside her head.  This sort of transfer is what young children cannot yet do – and it’s the reason that their language acquisition is perfect.

You want to speak without first listening enough? (more in a minute on how much is enough.)  You must borrow the sounds (phonemes) from another language.  You must borrow the words (vocabulary) from another language, and you must borrow the grammar from another language.  This begs the question as to which language you will actually be speaking!  You’ve borrowed (translated) the sounds, vocabulary and grammar from another language!  No wonder adults are such miserable language learners!

And somewhere wrapped up in all of this, is the culture or the way that a group of people are making sense of their world.  You must borrow that too – and here’s where a multitude of problems arise.  You may actually think that you’re saying one thing, but due to the culture point, what people are hearing is something quite different.

So what alternatives do we have?  Do what the children do.  They look.  They listen.  They guess about the things happening around them.  And in about 1 year, they start to speak – a little at first, they ‘know’ what they’re trying to say.  They’re not trying to say something in order to know it!  (This means they’re saying things from what’s in their heads already rather than saying something so that it will get into their heads)

We can observe young children listening for about 1 year of living with peers, family, etc., and then they start speaking.  What about an adult – takes longer right?  Wrong.

Adults are NOT slower – we don’t take longer to acquire a language.  That only pertains to study – which generally takes forever and still we’ll have a difficult time remembering.  Years ago, when I was operating the Raakgaew English School, parents would bring in their children to sign them up for class.  When I said that it would take about 1 year of regular input, before the child was going to be ready to speak, the parents would say, “Children learn so quickly!”.  Then, as we talked, parents would ask about the adult program.  When I said that it would take about 1 year of regular input, before they were going to be ready to speak, they would say, “Such a long time!”

In truth, all other things being equal, adults can acquire language faster than children, because we can guess better.  But our desire to study gets in the way, and we ruin it all by trying to say, remember, read, practice, and all the other adult type stuff that children don’t have the time for.

Our observation is this: Once you borrow, you never pay back.  When I was a student of Thai over 20 years ago, I borrowed a couple of sounds that I hadn’t listened to in the Thai context enough to ‘know’ them yet.  To this day, these two sounds cause me trouble in both listening and speaking.  Why?  because I borrowed them from English, and once that ‘pathway’ is created in my brain, it’s not going to be undone.  What can I do?  Live with it.

So what needs to happen?  Don’t imagine that I’m proposing that the only way is to enroll in our program!  The key is that you must gain understandable experience in which the language is used.  Exposure to the language, (experience) is the primary key. If you’re living in a society where the language you wish to acquire is used, there are many ways to gain such experience.  The most difficult part is for you to deal with what’s going on inside of you.  If we use young children as our guides, we can answer the question of what do they do?  They look.  They listen, and they guess.

So… what about you? How much do you want to borrow?


I am half thinking of going to AUA at some point, and I wondered if it would be detrimental in your view to study say an Assimil book beforehand, provided I did not try to mimic the sounds? This might give me a headstart without “borrowing” any phonemes from my mother tongue??

thank you,



As usual, my recommendations depend on your goals. Before deciding on what you should be doing to get somewhere, you’ll probably want to think about where it is you want to arrive. Most of our students are not highly interested in becoming fluent, or else they don’t believe that it’s possible anyway so find it difficult to even make the attempt. At the same time, our program is most ideal for the person who wishes to become native in their usage of Thai. That means that the people who end up being most satisfied here are those who want to become fluent from the start. Those who didn’t really concern themselves with this at the beginning, are often the most dissatisfied. They start our wanting what is called “survival Thai” (something that I think doesn’t really exist because all the words you learn in a simple Thai course like that are generally the words Thais already know anyway) but after arriving at say 30% fluency, ‘feel’ the 70% they don’t have, and so want more. By the time a person has reached 60% fluency through typical adult language study means, he is often unable to advance, but generally doesn’t know why. That’s when all of the ridiculous things that people say start – such as our tongues get hard, or we are tone deaf, or children learn easier than adults. By then, we too can’t be of much help. He has already established neural pathways that generally aren’t going to be undone. By identifying your end goal at the very outset, you can do the things required to arrive there.

The second part of my answer is directed toward programs such as Assimil. They have come away from teaching grammar and focusing a student on the structure of language. The question is what do they focus your attention on?


To our way of thinking, the more a student focuses on happenings, and the less he focuses on language, the more fluent he will become. Happenings are the building blocks of language (and a whole lot of other brainside things). If you build language through happenings, you will become fluent. If you build it in any other way, you are using adult abilities which young children don’t yet possess. This will enable you to begin speaking sooner than the young child, AND you will limit the quality of the end product. How little or how much depends on what you do and when you do it.

In the end, you must answer the question – “What will I gain by using this program or material?” While it’s not a very popular question, we would also ask – “What will this benefit cost me?” There is always a cost involved. In the ALG program, we offer higher levels of fluency than you’re going to find elsewhere. The cost is that you won’t be speaking very soon, though overall, the program doesn’t take any longer than other full programs. With a more traditional approach, you will be speaking sooner. What will this cost you? Non-native language use as seen by adults all over the world.