Monday, 7 February 2011

Dutch is the Silent Way

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It took me sometime to realise this but at the moment Dutch needs to be the number one language priority. Put simply, I live in the Netherlands and knowing Dutch would make my life a lot easier. It's also easy to find Dutch speakers here.

Dutch the Silent Way.

For the past two years I've been fascinated by the completely different approach taken by ALG(there's a more informative page somewhere - tb updated later) towards teaching a foreign language. Here are five videos with David Long, the Head of ALG Thai Language, explaining their approach.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

They are each about ten minutes long so if you haven't the time to view them here's the basics of ALG's approach.

• You don't speak until you feel the words are ready to 'pop'. For Europeans learning Thai this could be up to 800 hours. A rough estimate for English to Dutch will be a lot shorter (perhaps 150 hrs).
• To learn to speak, the key is not speaking but understandable input.
• Two teachers in the class - this way you get the genuine spoken language.
• Classes are based on different activities that use visual aids, actions, games and interactions to help comprehension. There's no focus on grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation, activities that you might get in a 'traditional' language school
• They are aiming to teach you like children. They believe that children can not go wrong with learning a language but adults can. Most adults, especially in the Western world have gone through the education system. Here, the practice makes perfect attitude develops. So this approach is used, for adults, to learn languages. At ALG, they believe this causes too much stress and inhibits language learning.
• There order of learning is; understandable input (listening to easily understood situations), speaking (starts after 800 hrs for a Western), reading (starts after a 1,000 hrs?) , writing.

Unfortunately, the opportunity to take classes for this approach to learning a language only seems to exist in Thailand. So how can I use this approach?
I’ve got lots of experience teaching children. The approach used lots of games, competitions, songs and in general worked towards making the classes’ fun. Also ALG have lots of example classes on the net. From those videos, the overall general principle I can gather is ‘talk about the things you can see and feel’ and not abstract ‘adult’ topics.

For me, this is an experiment. To see if I can apply the ALG method as an individual. Also to experience how this way of learning feels.

My current approach will be:

• Watch TV, especially children’s TV as that’s easier to understand.
• Use crosstalk. (This is where I speak English and the other people speak Dutch. For more complicated language, drawings etc can be used to help with comprehension )
• Short Videos – People are instructed to talk about a topic – ‘Your Family’, ‘life Story’ ‘Games I Enjoyed when I was a Kid’ etc
• Picture Book - get people to describe the pictures.
• Talking tour – where people take me on a ‘guided tour’ of a place. They talk about the things that we pass, see, can touch and feel.
• Popular songs
• TPR (Total Physical Response – a Dutch person will speak about the action they are doing e.g. I’m brushing my teeth. I will copy. It’s a bit like training a dog and very effective. Used with enough baby steps, the student can understand fairly complicated language quiet quickly.
• Hang out with Dutch people and listen in on their conversations.

For me, the hardest part will be to get comprehensible conversational input from Dutch speakers. Any suggestions?

And do you have any suggestions for other activities I can do to help me with this approach?

I will be contacting David Long from ALG and other leading language experts on the web, to see if they have suggestions for other activities I could do and which areas to concentrate on most.

Thanks, next time some cool links for English language learners. You’re going to love these!

1 comment:

  1. I'm trying to do this with Spanish. I watch a lot of telenovelas, and I try to not to translate in my head as I watch as much as possible. I can sort of work myself, to some degree, into a point where I'm just listening for context, and not for words, phrases, or any aspect of the language. TV seems especially suited for this kind of engagement, as it constantly breaks your attention everytime there's a frame change.