The Audiolingual Method

History

  • The Audiolingual Method is a further development from the Direct Method and the Coleman report.
  • Due to the War, a need arose for more oral communication , and so, in 1942, an Army Specialized Training Program was devised by five American universities. This was further developed by Charles Fries and from the mid 1950s, it was the American approach to ELT.
  • The method is similar to the Oral Approach developed around the same time but independently in the UK. It is based on a systematic linguistic comparison of English with other languages and on intense contact with the L2, rather than a pedagogical methodological grounding. It consists of a combination of linguistic theory, contrastive analysis, aural-oral procedures, and takes the principles of behaviorist psychology as a starting point for classroom practice: Language teaching is a science which follows the same principles of learning through conditioning.

Approach

  • The Audiolingual method is based on a theory of language which sees speech as the main component of language. In line with the structural linguistics ideas of the 1950s, the theory holds that elements of language are produced in lineal, rule-governed way, and that language can be exhaustively described in terms of morphology, syntax, phonetics. These linguistics levels are seen as systems within systems (e.g. phrase, clause, sentence).
  • The theory of learning behind the Audiolingual method is behaviourist theory and the specific principles of conditioning through stimuli, responses, and reinforcement as described by Skinner (1957). The underlying belief is that L2 mastery is achieved by acquiring a set of correct stimulus-response chains, and that grammar is learned inductively.

Design

  • Objectives – In the short-term, the Audiolngual method  aims to train listening comprehension, accurate pronunciation, the ability to respond quickly and accurately in speech situations. In the long-term, the goal is that learners can use the language as a native-speaker does, whereby reading and writing skills will be learnt dependent on the previously learnt oral skills.
  • The Syllabus  is structured according to linguistic structures, with a strong lexical syllabus component.
  • Classroom Activities include drills (e.g. transposition, replacement, completion), dialogues, and repetition of the teacher’s utterances.
  • Materials – There is usually no students’ textbook for beginners, but the teacher’s book has individual lesson plans with drills, dialogues etc, as well as audio recordings, audiovisual material, and ideas for language lab usage.

Evaluation

The Audiolingual method was most widespread in 1960s, used for ELT and MFL teaching in the USA. The method’s focus on grammatical accuracy remains important, even in methods and approaches developed later.

However, the method has been harshly criticised, particularly for its unsound theoretical basis in terms of language theory  and learning theory.

Many also criticise that the learners are often unable to transfer skills acquired to real communication situations. It is said that the method leads to “language like” behaviour, but not to real communicative competence. Chomsky, too, claims that the Audiolingual method teaches language as a habit, and not as an active skill.

Students also often complain that the procedure is repetitive and boring, sometimes even frustrating as they are rarely able to express their thoughts and meaning.

From the 1960s onward, the method fell out of favour.

 

 

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