The Story of Al

(A short story)

Hua Hin is a rather small, tourist town located on the Gulf of Siam in Thailand. One day, while walking down a street there I met a man named Al. (Al is not his real name) As I passed by, I heard the common greeting in Thailand of, “Hello! How are you?” (This greeting though common, is much less common than the popular greeting of, “Hey You!” The Thai are very friendly and they like foreigners so they have translated the very polite greeting of ‘Khun Khrap’ to ‘Hey You!’ It’s always a cause of shock and embarrassment when the Thai learn that ‘Hey You!’ is reasonably rude. Perhaps this is one reason to be in favor of the ALG method of learning a language.)

Greeting me as he did was cause to stop for a chat. After talking for about 5 minutes I asked Al, “So, where did you learn English? You speak very well.” Al answered, “I learned in Thai school. Thai schools are very good.”

I had taught English in Thai schools from time to time and was in contact with Thai children of all ages but I’d never met anyone who could even come close to Al’s ability. Then he said, “And I studied at AUA. AUA is a very well-known English school with which I am also connected. Why have I never met students at AUA who speak like this man? After a few more minutes and a simple guess on my part, I asked Al, “So tell me, how long did you live abroad?” With that Al grinned and said, “I lived in New York for 19 years.”

Why is it that we attribute ‘language learning’ to classes taken? Is this the key to our becoming fluent?

All over the world students continue to study. Practice, practice, practice, perpetuating the belief that practicing English will somehow enable them to communicate in English but failure is the general rule! In the short term there is advancement. In the long term, often nothing is gained. Is it possible that the ‘study’ we do isn’t nearly as much help as we tend to think? Is it possible that we gain much more from our ‘experiences’ than we’ve really ever imagined?

Many people tell of having met folks such as Al who have moved abroad as adults and have become quite fluent in another language. Some of them have had formal language study. Many have not! Our own informal studies and years of observations seem to indicate that those who don’t begin with formal study actually have the potential to achieve greater fluency!