Wednesday, May 31, 2006

In my search for "comprehensible input", I have been delighted to find excellent Thai language audio resources at The link labeled "Listen" navigates to dialogs, essays, and stories written and read by primary school students.

I'm currently listening to the story called "Red Boat". As I repeatedly listen over time, it is becoming more and more comprehensible, reminding me of the way features used to slowly appear in old Polaroid photographs. At first, I thought I would need to work to "make" this process happen, but it doesn't seem to be necessary. I listen over and over, between watching Thai DVDs and listening to my Thai wife speak, and the stream of nonsense is starting to acquire meaning. Even if some of the story is beyond my "i+1" level at any given time, parts of the narrative are always at the proper level. This method turns everything I thought I knew about language study on its head.

I am studying Thai language once a week at the Buddhist temple near my house. It's great to meet other friendly farang who are interested in learning Thai, and to chat with the monks and Thai people who stop by the temple. I have some interest in Buddhism and Eastern philosophy, and it's wonderful to keep in touch with Buddhism as I study Thai.

The temple lessons emphasize reading and writing, which is very helpful to me. However, there is also a tendency to want to build vocabulary through translation and memorization. Since study is entirely self-directed, I may start to de-emphasize memorization for myself. Words and phrases acquired through translation and memorization are different from words acquired naturally through listening. Memorized words tend not to "stick", and there is often little internalized context for how to use them correctly. Words and phrases that I have acquired slowly through listening are "just there", along with their usage.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I have no formal training in linguistics, but I have been very interested to read about Stephen Krashen's research in second language acquisition. Krashen explains his comprehension hypothesis as follows.

"It hypothesizes that 'skills,' or mastery of the components of language, is the result of one particular aspect of language use, comprehensible input. It claims that grammatical competence and vocabulary knowledge are the result of listening and reading, and that writing style and much of spelling competence is the result of reading. "

I have been finding this idea more and more persuasive. Recently, I have been compiling and using comprehensible audio at what Krashen describes as level i+1, where i represents my current linguistic ability, and 1 represents a small supplementation. As I practice hearing Thai at this level, my vocabulary and grammar grow in a way that's completely different from a memorization approach.

My son has a number of Pixar and Dreamworks movies in Thai, and I have been practicing by watching them with him. They are very good, because I can rely on visual cues so that I am never completely lost. Upon repeated viewing, I notice vocabulary and grammar growing from the "inside out". Words and phrases that initially sounded like a random stream of syllables are becoming more and more comprehensible. Words and phrases I acquire in this way are available to me in a much more natural way than whatever I have learned through memorization and translation.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Welcome to My Thai Language Blog!

My most recent trip to Thailand opened my mind in unexpected ways to many aspects of Thai identity and culture. The most interesting aspect for me was my experience studying the language.

During graduate school ten years ago, I took a Thai language class based in part on the American University Alumni Association (AUA) books and tapes. I was very impressed with the unconventional methodology of the AUA materials. For example, grammar and pronunciation skills were taught through substitution word games and rhythmic drills. I enjoyed the AUA tapes, and I played them continuously in my car. My pronunciation became pretty good, and I found it easy to recognize and produce most Thai phonemes, but my vocabulary lagged behind. My Thai wife was very good at English and determined to practice as as much as possible at home, so after mastering a few of the AUA tapes, I stopped following the series and moved on to other hobbies.

Last month, I traveled to Thailand with my family. I had the opportunity to attend the AUA language school and resume my acquisition of Thai. The first thing I realized is that AUA has completely changed its teaching philosophy from the old books and tapes. The "new" AUA program is called Automatic Language Growth (ALG). It is based on modern research into language acquisition, which suggests that listening skills form the basis of speech in a second language, much as they do in a first language. The approach maintains that, if listening comprehension is taught first, while speaking is delayed until a solid foundation is established, long-term fluency benefits. It was interesting to me that J. Marvin Brown, who created the original AUA books and tapes, was also the initiator of this radical change in approach.

The more I learn about modern thinking in second language acquisition, and the more I reflect on my own experience, the more I am convinced of the wisdom of the ALG approach.

I find myself with an unusual set of Thai language skills. My pronunciation is good, but my vocabulary is weak. My writing is good, my reading is okay, and my listening needs a lot of work. I still enjoy AUA's tapes and books. On my recent trip, I purchased all of the AUA books from the bookstore at the school. I had to purchase the recordings from Cornell University, since AUA has changed its philosophy and no longer offers its old tapes or CDs. I am using my AUA CDs to resume grammar and pronunciation practice where I left off years ago, but since I'm more and more convinced of the preeminent importance of listening, I am spending most of my time doing that.

Thanks for stopping by my blog! If you are studying Thai or any other language, it would be great to hear from you. You can leave a comment here or email scottimig at hotmail dot com.
My most recent trip to Thailand opened my mind in unexpected ways to many aspects of Thai identity and culture. The most interesting aspect for me was my experience studying the language. more...

(This post is a stub to avoid broken links. The original post can be found here.)