Why ‘Speaking’ is Harmful?
(For students of the ALG Program)
As a long time student of ALG, I understand the problems with studying a language using this approach. Perhaps the greatest difficulty has to do with this matter of restraining from speaking. Continually, during our years in ‘school’ we have seen that those who ‘try’ the hardest, do the best. In real life, is this true? How many of those elected, “Most Likely to Succeed” end up being the most successful? Are good test scores the best standard for judging who has the greatest ability? In language learning, a common complaint is that those who do well on tests, can’t use the language at all, and those who can use the language quite well, don’t test well at all.
With ALG, we don’t want you to ‘TRY’ to learn at all! With language learning, ‘trying to learn’ creates a negative result, which only a select few (statistically, less than 5%) ever overcome enough to actually use the language! Babies don’t ‘try’ to learn their native language yet they are the most accomplished language learners of all.
The policy of the ALG Program for its students is, “Don’t speak the language during the first 4 levels of study.” This doesn’t only apply to the time the student spends at in the classroom, but extends to everyday life as well.
The following are questions that are commonly asked.
- Why does ALG have this policy?
- Isn’t practice necessary?
- Won’t practice speaking speed up my language ability?
- Is it possible to NOT speak?
- What are we supposed to do when asked a question?
- When will I start to speak?
Why does the ALG Program have such a policy?
All of the evidence we have gathered during the past several decades shows that those students who remain silent, refusing the temptation to ‘try to speak’, excel, whereas those students who ‘try to speak’ set limits on their ability to both learn and to use the language. Those limits evidently remain with the student throughout life.
The degree to which the student lives by this policy, is the degree to which that student excels. We have never seen a single exception to this rule!
Isn’t practice necessary?
In order to answer this question, we need to look at what takes place when a person tries to say something in a new language. Perhaps the best place to go for an illustration is to Thai society and English learning.
Probably, the first thing to occur when a student comes to a new word, is they attempt to translate the word, or find the closest thing to it in their native tongue. The word from the new language is then forced into the mold of the student’s native language. It doesn’t fit, but once it is learned that way, that same pattern or mold is always used thereafter. For an example of this, look at what happens when a Thai wants to say, “You should go with me.” Because they learned by first forcing English into the mold of Thai, the sentence comes out, “You should to go with me.” The grammatical rules of Thai and the meanings of Thai words have been directly imposed on the English.
In this particular case the meaning is clear, but it is still easy to see why misunderstanding is so common and why communicating can be so awkward.
When a Thai student of English comes to the word, ‘hospital’ what happens? The sounds are changed from the English pronunciation, ho¢s-pi-tal, to the Thai pronunciation, hos-pi-to¢n. The word is forced into the phonetic system of the Thai language. This is done with each and every new word.
We now have a word that to the native English speaker, is unintelligible. Likewise, when the Thai person hears the native English speaker say hospital, he has no idea what is being said. Only when the word is deliberately mispronounced, is it understood. In order then to use English, the whole basis for nearly every incorrectly formed word must first be replaced with the correct pronunciation. This rarely if ever, happens, although this is the very thing makes up the majority of the time spent, trying to learn English. What is true with one word, is only compounded many times over with an entirelanguage. A language is much more than simply putting words together in grammatical ways.
Only by eliminating practice altogether, can this problem be overcome. If during acquisition, a language is never forced into the grammatical, phonetic and definition molds of another language, but are rather learned through experiences in the context of native speech, then when it is ‘called upon’ to be used, it will be used correctly, both in context and pronunciation!
Won’t practice speaking speed up my language ability?
The fact is, practicing to speak actually slows down the learning process! Much of the problem here is that we always want to guage our progress by equating it with speaking ability. Speaking is one of the last parts that emerge in language acquisition. This is clearly demonstrated by babies acquiring their mother tongue. If we set aside the desire to measure progress, it becomes easy to see the point here.
Let’s take the ‘hospital’ example a step further.
Student “A” learns the word ‘hospital’ by defining it and sounding it out by reference to his own language. He begins speaking the word immediately as ‘hospiton’. He practices and practices it and what he ends up with is a word that to himself, sounds like “hospital”. He has heard the word spoken correctly (though out of context) maybe as little as 2% of the time. The rest of his input has been from himself and other students who have all been saying it ‘wrong’. Every time he wants to use that word, he must mentally go through the translation and transliteration process. There is no other way to recall it. It always is mispronounced as ‘hospiton’ amidst hesitant and accented speech.
Student “B” learns the word ‘hospital’ only from hearing the word in meaningful situations and experiences, and always from a native speaker. The only thing required for him to be able to use the word is having the chance to experience it enough times until the sound and meaning becomes clear. It doesn’t matter that the phonics of his native language don’t allow for a word like ‘hospital’. Because he learned the word from hearing it in context, spoken correctly every time, when he has the thought that requires the word ‘hospital’, he says ‘hospital’ and never needs to translate at all! He pronounces it like the native speaker.
Thinking about the word during the learning process, slows down the natural ability of the mind to assimilate it. Trying to speak the word, creates a further problem by adding thinking and translation to the process required to use it later.
Is it possible to NOT speak?
Using Thailand as an example, people here are shocked at how little English they are able to use. The immediate reaction is to think, “I must learn some Thai.” After learning some Thai, they try to use it everywhere. This can be gratifying, but seldom does it help the Thai person understand you. In many cases, it creates a problem as you think you’re being understood, and the Thai person is too polite to tell you he hasn’t a clue as to what you’re saying, even though he says you speak ‘wonderful’ Thai. We probably all have personal examples of this.
The average high school Thai graduate has spent an more than 1000 hours studying English. It would seem absurd to think that after only a few hours of studying Thai, a foreigner would do better communicating in Thai that they could do in English!
What are we supposed to do when someone asks us a question?
One of the benefits of our program is that your understanding of each new experience is high from the very first day.
Normally, questions that are asked can be answered simply.
If the question requires more than a simple answer, you probably don’t have the ability to answer in the language you’re learning anyway.
Don’t try. If the word isn’t there immediately, answer it in your native tongue.
If you understand what you hear you will be able to communicate. It’s amazing how easy ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ are in just about any language!
It is the ability to communicate that is your goal in language learning and this, above all else, is what is offered by the ALG Program.
When will I start to speak?
Without doubt, this is the most often asked question. This is also a question that a baby or young child never asks. The easiest answer is, “When you’re ready.” Each person will be little different but overall, when a student has acquired between 60% and 70% of the new language the phonemes of the new language are firmly set.
After that, it is simply a question of whether or not the word is ‘there’ when you need it or not.
If it’s not, don’t worry about it. Use what’s there. You’ll be amazed at how well it will work for you.
When a student begins speaking, it isn’t that the language will immediately come out perfect, but that he doesn’t have to ‘remember’ anything at all.
He will simply think the thought and the words will be there. This is exactly how your native language works for you.
The key is that because the student is drawing only from the input of Thai teachers, those things he says will correct themselves in just a short while. The important thing is that the correct image is what you are drawing the words from.
In short, if you can put off the desire to speak, you wlll reap great benefits in your ability to use the language.