WOT Study Group for the Optimization of Language Teaching - KATHO Polytechnic

Marvin Brown's Approach

Lt Hasanbey and Lt Vedat,

We have been developing our version of Krashen's Natural Language Acquisition theory for 11 years now with considerable success. We noticed that Krashen's method was not getting the success it should have been getting, and we made changes. Here is the path we took starting from Krashen.

  1. We started with his CI (comprehensible input). The idea was right but only for certain kinds of input.
  2. Krashen expanded his meaning of CI to "Understanding Messages". The word 'message' is too broad. We narrowed it down to 'happening'. Happenings always have constituent parts like 'what', 'when', 'where', 'why', 'how'. Happenings are the minimal units of natural language acquisition.
  3. Krashen spoke of a 'silent period' of at least 10 hours. Here was his biggest mistake. We upped the silent period to the duration of the course, or at least the first 1000 hours. If he really believed that 'natural language acquisition comes through understanding messages (happenings) and IN NO OTHER WAY', then why was he wasting time on students' speaking? We started out thinking students' speaking was just a waste of time, but we soon found out that it was downright harmful. This was the thing that was giving Krashen's students bad pronunciation.
  4. He was probably using students' speaking as the only possible way of getting instances of language interaction (and the biggest use of natural language is 'interaction'). We took care of interaction by using two teachers. We also constant interaction between teachers and students, but students could only answer with gestures (head nods and pointing), and when necessary occasional words in a common language (for our teaching of Thai, the teachers would always be speaking Thai and the students could use English when necessary). From this we developed the concept of 'cross talking', and the students were advised to 'cross talk' in all of their daily dealings outside of class as well as inside. The results showed that MOST of the students who didn't try to speak Thai ended up good and ALL of those who did ended up bad.
  5. We thought that the reason students who ended up bad even though they refrained from speaking was because they were THINKING about the language as they listened to it. For example, they would hear the word for 'rice' and think 'that sounds just like 'cow'.' By thinking this, they were recording the sound of 'cow' for the Thai word for 'rice' instead of recording a bare echo in their heads. The solution was that we had to make the teachers' activities so interesting that the students forgot that it was all in Thai. We had to constantly offer up things that made them laugh, made them mad, kept them in suspense, titillated their sexual fantasies, etc.

So here's our method.

Two teachers have got to not only keep the students understanding (right from day 1, when they don't know a word of Thai), but they have to keep them on the edge of their seats in anticipation of the next move (or sentence). And the students have got to accept the fact that they're not going to be able to go around the streets showing off their Thai.

How difficult has this turned out to be? We have to choose teacher candidates who are born entertainers (our best source has been 'guides'), and we have to give them 2 full years of training. As difficult as it is to get good teachers, it is even more difficult to get good students. The 'drive to show off' is our biggest enemy.

Our results are clear: Those who do it RIGHT ENOUGH and for a LONG ENOUGH period of time end up near native. But the number of successes is fairly small. Most of our students come for a month or two, and ‘long enough' means a year and a half. And most of those who stay as long as a year can't resist showing off in the streets. So there we are. We're looking all over the world for students who will do it right enough, long enough. And we're offering free tuition to people dedicated to doing this. If, far example, the two of you (or others like you) were ready, willing, and able to do our course right enough and long enough, we would give you free tuition for the full year and a half. You would become trained teachers of our method (both in techniques and knowledge for material preparation) as well as becoming fluent speakers of an exotic language, and we would not only increase our evidence of success but also export our methodology abroad.

But notice this. I'm not interested in teaching English by our method. Not here or anywhere else. And the reason is that most adults in the world who want to learn English are already damaged (they didn't get a full year of listening and understanding happenings in English without saying a word of English before they started to learn English) and I wouldn't be able to get near-native results, like I can by teaching Thai. I'm not saying that the Natural Approach wouldn't get better results with these damaged students than the Structural Approach. I'm saying that the results could never be spectacular (like I can get teaching THAI to undamaged students). You didn't say whether you were using the Natural Approach to teach English or Turkish, but I'm sure it's English.

What we would really like to do is to give free tuition for our full course to two born entertainers who want to learn how to use our method and then go back and teach TURKISH by our natural approach. The best way they could possibly learn how to teach by our methods is to go through the entire course. They would not only learn all the techniques, but they would also learn how to generate materials without end. In fact, they could end up better than our own teachers. After all, our teachers have never been through it and thus can't feel the students' needs. Anyway, our scholarship is open to both types of teachers (English and Turkish).

I am now partially retired and am spending 9 months a year in the States and 3 months a year in Bangkok (I'm here now until February 29). I have managed to get the person who first succeeded with our Natural Approach at learning Thai to help me part time. His name is David Long. He took our course for a year in 87-88 and has been in Thailand ever since. His Thai long since passed up mine (and I'm a PhD Thai linguist who has lived in Thailand since 1953!).

Marv, Monday, 28 April 1997


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