How It Works
A technical comparison of
Free English Now and ESL.
Article Summary: Human speech uses a closed-loop control system. Speech is controlled in the mind by feedback from hearing and mouth position as much as it is from memory. In order to produce fluent speech, language instruction for adults learning a second language must simultaneously retrain the entire feedback chain used by the mind.
By using methodology restricted to open-loop control which emphasizes memory alone without simultaneous training of all senses, English as a Second Language (ESL) or English as a Foreign Language (EFL) instruction fails to effectively teach English as a second language to adult learners.
In order to teach adults to speak a new language fluently, we must understand how the human mind produces speech in order to design an effective language instruction program.
However, before looking at speech, I want to draw an analogy from machine control because the analogy closely parallels neurological responses in spoken language.
Open-loop machine control
Wikipedia describes an open-loop control system as follows:
An open-loop controller, also called a non-feedback controller, is a type of controller which computes its input into a system using only the current state . . .of the system. A characteristic of the open-loop controller is that it does not use feedback to determine if its input has achieved the desired goal. This means that the system does not observe the output of the processes that it is controlling. Consequently, a true open-loop system . . . cannot correct any errors that it could make.
For example, a sprinkler system, programmed to turn on at set times could be an example of an open-loop system if it does not measure soil moisture as a form of feedback. Even if rain was pouring down on the lawn, the sprinkler system would activate on schedule, wasting water.
Figure 1 shows an open-loop control system. The control may be a simple switch or it could be a combination of a switch and a timer. Yet, all it can do is turn the machine on. It cannot respond to anything the machine is doing.
Closed-loop machine control
Wikipedia then describes closed-loop control in the following paragraph:
To avoid the problems of the open-loop controller, control theory introduces feedback. A closed-loop controller uses feedback to control states or outputs of a dynamical system. Its name comes from the information path in the system: process inputs (e.g. voltage applied to a motor) have an effect on the process outputs (e.g. velocity...of the motor), which is measured with sensors and processed by the controller; the result (the control signal) is used as input to the process, closing the loop.
Wikipedia's definition of a closed-loop system subsequently becomes too technical to use in this article. However, as Wikipedia suggested above, a sprinkler incorporating a soil moisture sensor would be a simple closed-loop system. The sprinkler system would have both a timer and a control valve. Either could operate independently, and either could shut the water off, but both would need to be open for the sprinkler to operate. The arrangement would look like this:
If the soil is already moist, the sprinkler will remain off whether or not the timer is open. When the moisture probe senses dry soil, the valve is opened. However, after the sprinkler is on, if the soil becomes moist enough, the valve will close even if the timer is still open. Thus, the sprinkler uses feedback from its own operation to control itself.
Figure 3 shows a simple closed-loop machine control.
Notice that Figure 3 also shows a calibration function. Irrespective of whether it is a soil moisture sensor on a sprinkler, or a counter on a machine, there must be some way of setting the control so that it will respond in a predetermined way. In a machine application, the calibration function could be a counter which is set so that the machine will produce a certain number of finished parts.
Human speech is a closed-loop system
Human speech is a complex learned skill and is dependent on a number of memory and neurological functions. Speech is a closed-loop system because sensors within the system itself give feedback to the control portion of the system. The control then corrects and coordinates ongoing speech. In this case, the mind is in control of the closed-loop system, the mouth produces the desired product (speech), and auditory feedback from the ears and feedback from the nerve sensors in the mouth allow the mind to coordinate the speech process in real time.
The inter-relationship of these functions is shown in the table below. The meaning of specialized words is given below the table.
The Organ or Sense Primary Function(s) Comments
The mind provides:
partial syntax control
calibration by the speaker to give meaning to the sounds
The mind is the storage bank for vocabulary. Memory is also involved in structuring syntax. The mind also uses both auditory and proprioceptive feedback to monitor and calibrate speech in real time. The mouth and related organs provide:
proprioceptive feedback to the mind in real time which regulates pronunciation and provides partial syntax control
The proprioceptive sense is involved in both pronunciation and syntax feedback. It is essential for speech control. Hearing provides:
auditory feedback to the mind in real time
Auditory and proprioceptive feedback are combined in the mind for essential speech control.
Table 1: The three components of human speech and their primary functions.
Proprioceptive. Human speech would be impossible without the proprioceptive sense. (Proprioceptive refers to the sense within the organism itself which detects or controls the movement and location of the muscles, tendons, and joints which are used to create speech.) Our mouth, vocal cords, diaphragm, and lungs incorporate thousands of nerve sensors which the brain uses to control the movement and position of these same organs — the mouth, vocal cords, diaphragm, and lungs. Imagine the complexity of pronouncing even a single word with the need to coordinate the tongue, breath control, and jaw muscles. Now multiply this complexity exponentially as sentences are constructed in rapid succession during normal speech.
Real time. Unlike an open-loop control system, a closed-loop control system monitors feedback and corrects the process as the machine is running. The reciprocal path between the control, the feedback sensors and the process itself is instantaneous. That is, information is not stored for later use. Rather, it is used instantaneously as the sensors detect it. In this article, I use the term simultaneous to indicate real time feedback during language instruction.
Calibration. In human speech, the mind must constantly monitor the feedback information from both the speaker's own hearing and the proprioceptive senses so that the mind can control muscles to create the desired sounds. Thus, the speaker is constantly "calibrating" the feedback to control speech. To change a tense, the speaker may change "run" to "ran," or change the person from "he" to "she," and so on. These "word" changes are achieved by precise control of the muscles used to produce speech.
Thus, in Figure 4, human speech is represented as the interplay between the mind, the mouth and its related organs (represented in the figure by the tongue), two feedback systems, and conscious calibration as the speaker constructs each sentence. In addition, calibration is continuously taking place within the control center—the mind. However, it is acting on feedback from hearing and the proprioceptive senses, so I am showing calibration as acting on the source of the feedback.
When children learn their first language, their natural ability to hear and mimic adult speech builds complex proprioceptive response patterns. A French-speaking child learns to make nasal sounds. An English-speaking child learns to put his tongue between his teeth and make the "th" sound. A Chinese-speaking child learns to mimic the important tones which change the meaning of words. Each of these unique sounds requires learned muscle control within the mouth.
I make no apology for the intricacy of this explanation. The neurological feedback and resulting control of the muscles involved in speech is extremely complex. The mind is involved in a far greater task than simply remembering vocabulary and organizing words into meaningful sentences.
When a new language is being studied, all of its unique sounds and syntax must be learned. This is not merely a memory function. Each of these new sounds and syntax patterns require retraining of the entire mind, proprioceptive feedback, and auditory feedback chain involved in speech.
Even syntax is dependent on the proprioceptive sense. The statement, "This is a book," feels different to the nerve receptors in the mouth than the question, "Is this a book?" We can certainly understand that memory is involved in using correct grammar. Just as importantly, however, is the observation that proprioceptive feedback demands that a question must evoke a different sequence of feedback than does a statement. This is why I have identified partial syntax control in Table 1 as being a shared function of both the mind (memory) and the mouth (as a proprioceptive sense).
If you doubt that the proprioceptive sense is an important part of speech, try this experiment. Read a sentence or two of this article entirely in your mind without moving your lips. You may even speed read it. Now read the same sentences "silently" by moving your lips but making no sound. Your mind responds to the first as simple information which is primarily a memory function. However, your mind will respond to the latter as speech because of the proprioceptive feedback from your mouth. The latter is not just cognitive—your mind responds to it as speech which transcends mere mental activity.
Did you also notice a difference in your mental intensity between the two readings? The first would be the mental activity required of a student doing a written ESL assignment. The second would be the mental activity required of a student studying English with spoken drills. The effectiveness of language learning is in direct proportion to the student's mental involvement.
The best way to teach a second language
Two skill areas must be emphasized while teaching an adult a new language. The first is memory (which is involved in both vocabulary and syntax) and the second is the proprioceptive responses (which is involved in both pronunciation and syntax).
Simple vocabulary-related memory skills may probably be learned with equal effectiveness by using either verbal or visual training methods. That is, either by a verbal drill or a written exercise.
However, it is impossible to train the important proprioceptive sense without involving students' hearing and voices at full speaking volume. Thus, in my opinion, it is a waste of the students' time to introduce written assignments for the purpose of teaching spoken English.
Surprisingly, it will take far less time for a student to learn both fluent spoken English and excellent English grammar using only spoken English instruction than it will to incorporate written grammar instruction into the lessons before a moderate level of fluency is attained. This does not mean, however, that grammar is not a necessary part of spoken English instruction. It is impossible to speak a language without correct use of its grammar. My statement simply means that the best way to learn English grammar is through spoken language exercises. See the article Grammar and writing in spoken language study.
Inasmuch as spoken language involves multiple components cooperating with each other in real time, it is mandatory that effective spoken language instruction simultaneously trains all of the components of speech. This is shown in Figure 5.
It is the important area of the proprioceptive sense which has been most overlooked in current ESL teaching methodology. When any student over approximately the age of 12 attempts to learn a new language, his or her proprioceptive response patterns must be consciously retrained for all of the new sounds and syntax of that language.
Further, to properly train the proprioceptive sense of the mouth, the combined feedback from the mouth and hearing must be simultaneously processed in the mind. Said simply, the student must speak out loud for optimum language learning.
Without simultaneous involvement of all components of speech, it is impossible to effectively retrain students' proprioceptive sense to accommodate a new language. Yet, this is exactly what ESL has traditionally done by introducing grammar, listening, writing, and reading as segregated activities. It is not surprising that it takes ESL students so long to learn to speak fluent English. This is particularly true when the instruction is done outside an English-speaking culture. (Students living in a country in which "trade English" is used may have even more difficulty learning to speak correct English with ESL instruction because they must retrain their familiarity with the broken English they already speak.)
ESL instruction has hindered language learning by segregating individual areas of study. This segregation is represented in Figure 6. ESL training has not only isolated proprioceptive training areas so that it prevents simultaneous skill development, it has substituted visual memory training in its place by using written assignments. ESL teaches English as though spoken language was an open-loop system. In so doing, gaining language fluency requires far more study time, pronunciation is often faulty, and English grammar becomes more difficult to learn.
Using Free English Now
In contrast to ESL instruction, Free English Now teaches all vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and verb tenses using spoken English exercises. With this method, English grammar is learned faster and better, but these grammar lessons do not add instruction time because students learn to speak as they study grammar. Because this method teaches all components of spoken English simultaneously, students learn to speak English in half the time it would require with ESL courses. (They probably learn even faster when they live outside of an English-speaking country.)
When using Free English Now, all verb tenses and agreement of person is learned as spoken English. As a result, students learn to speak naturally, using every form of the English verb correctly.
ESL traditionally teaches English as though speech is primarily a function of memory. Consequently, ESL instruction has emphasized non-verbal (written) studies of grammar, writing, reading, and listening. All of these activities may increase recall memory for written examinations such as TOEFL, but they have little benefit in teaching a student to speak English.
The only way English can be effectively learned as a spoken language is by using spoken English as the method of instruction. All ESL lessons should be verbal, with the student speaking at full voice volume for the entire study period.
Free English Now was designed to simultaneously train all proprioceptive senses. For this reason, a student can learn to speak English in half the time it would require when using an ESL curriculum.
 Some researchers think human speech is an open-loop system. However, it has been shown that the human brain does many things using both open- and closed-loop control. As suggested in this article, spoken English learning would be improved using spoken English study irrespective of whether speech control is open- or closed-loop.