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.

1 comment:

Aaron Handel said...

I also learned Thai through AUA books and tapes, 30 years ago. It's still some of the best material available for learning Thai. The book that I wrote uses a similar method.

Thai Language Course, 4th Edition, Tiger Press


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