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The Audio-Lingual Method

Updated on January 20, 2017

1. Introduction

Until the Second World War, Grammar Translation Method and Direct Method could serve well to United States. But with the war, the US government felt the necessity of the personnel who were fluent in some European and other languages. So it was necessary to create a new training programme. The universities in the country were entrusted to develop language programs for military staff. The Army Method was established in 1942. This method was used for the army for about two years but then was discussed for ten years or so.

After the war, because America became an international power in the world, there was a growing demand for teaching English. For example, the students that came to America to attend universities had to learn English at first so that they could begin their studies. Many reasons like this caused an emergence of an approach to second language learning.

The University of Michigan and some other universities, like Georgetown and American Universities, worked to supply a remedy for the lack of the approach that was needed. All their studies led to the foundation of the so-called Oral Approach which advocated aural training first, then pronunciation training, speaking, reading and writing. Although the method lacked pedagogy, it was widely used at that time. Then the theory came to be known as Audiolingualism.

Though the method fell from favor in the 1970s, it’s still used today.

2. Teaching


Brooks says that the teacher should adopt the following procedure:

  • The modeling of all learnings by the teacher.
  • The subordination of the mother tongue to the second language by rendering English inactive while the new language is being learned.
  • The early and continued training of the ear and tongue without recourse to graphic symbols.
  • The gradual substitution of graphic symbols for sounds after sounds are thoroughly known.
  • The summarizing of the main principles of structure for the student’s use when the structures are already familiar, especially when they differ from those of mother tongue.
  • The shortening of time span between a performance and the pronouncement of its rightness or wrongness, without interrupting the response. This enhances the factor of reinforcement in learning.
  • The minimizing of vocabulary until all common structures have been learned.
  • The study of vocabulary only in context.
  • Sustained practice in the use oh the language only in the molecular form of speaker-hearer situation.
  • Practice in translation only as a literary exercise at an advanced level.

(Brooks 1964: 142)

2.2. Principle

To tell a little about the Audio Lingual Method’s principles; the first thing to say is language occur naturally, that’s why the teacher introduces a dialogue in the beginning of the lesson. The native language and the target language have different linguistic systems so they must be kept separate so the native language isn’t used in the classroom environment. One of teacher’s major mission is to be a good model to students. Language learning is seen as a habit formation and repetition is said to make the habit stronger. Because errors may cause the formation of bad habits, they should be prevented. To help students develop correct habits, positive reinforcement can be used.

Students are expected to response both verbal and nonverbal stimuli. There is no need to memorize grammar rules, since second language acquisition is same with the acquisition of native language. And lastly, speech is thought to be more basic than written form so the natural order of skills is followed.

3. Scholars

3.1. Charles Fries

1887-1967 Linguist, born in Reading, Pennsylvania, USA. He taught at the University of Michigan, where he developed programmes in both theoretical and applied linguistics. He and his wife, Agnes Carswell, developed the university's English Language Institute (1941), which pioneered methods and materials for teaching English to foreigners. Among his many books are dictionaries of Early and Middle English.

3.2. Burrhus Frederic Skinner

1904-1990 was a highly influential American psychologist, author, inventor, advocate for social reform and poet.[He was the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University from 1958 until his retirement in 1974.He invented the operant conditioning chamber, innovated his own philosophy of science called Radical Behaviorism, and founded his own school of experimental research psychology – the experimental analysis of behavior. His analysis of human behavior culminated in his work Verbal Behavior, which has recently seen enormous increase in interest experimentally and in applied settings. He discovered and advanced the rate of response as a dependent variable in psychological research. He invented the cumulative recorder to measure rate of responding as part of his highly influential work on schedules of reinforcement. In a recent survey, Skinner was listed as the most influential psychologist of the 20th century. He was a prolific author, publishing 21 books and 180 articles.

Skinner didn’t directly study for the audio lingual method. But, some principles from behavioral psychology were taken in the method’s development.

Also, due to the conditions of that time, many scholars and universities made studies for the method.

4. Role of the Teacher and the Learner

4.1. Teacher’s Roles

Because it’s a teacher-centered method, like Situational Language Teaching, the teacher is active. We may associate the teacher with an orchestra leader; directing and controlling students’ behaviors and progress and also the direction and speed of learning. S/he models the language, observes and when necessary corrects the learners’ performance. In this method, learning the language effectively can be achieved through the active interaction between the teacher and the learners.

In a situation of a failure, before blaming the method, we should question if the teacher provides sufficient practice or not. As said before, because the method is teacher-centered, success or failure mostly depends on the teacher’s efficiency.

Brooks summarized teacher’s role in audio lingual method as following:

  1. Introduce, sustain and harmonize the learning of the four skills in this order: listening, speaking, reading and writing.
  2. Use – and not use- English in the classroom.
  3. Model the various types of language behavior that the student is to learn.
  4. Teach spoken language in dialogue form.
  5. Direct choral response by all or parts of the class.
  6. Teach the use of structure through pattern practice.
  7. Guide the student in choosing and learning vocabulary.
  8. Show how words relate to meaning in the target language.
  9. Get the individual student to talk.
  10. Reward trials by the student in such a way that learning is reinforced.
  11. Teach a story and other literary forms.
  12. Establish and maintain a cultural island.
  13. Formalize on the first day the rules according to which the language class is to be conducted and enforce them.

( Brooks 1964: 143)

4.2. Learner’s Roles

Learners are expected to produce correct responses by being directed by the teacher. They are imitators of their model (the teacher or the supplied model speaker). Because they are not much active, they have little control over the speed or the style of their learning. They don’t really understand the meaning of the dialogues at the first lessons, but in time, by listening to their teacher, imitating him/ her correctly; they get better.

5. Techniques

Here there are some techniques that can be used in the Audio Lingual Method:

5.1. Dialog memorization

It’s generally used in the beginning of the lesson. Students memorize the dialogue and then practice the patterns that are included in it.

5.2. Expansion drill

It’s used when students have trouble with the long lines. It is also used to make students pay attention to new information.

5.3. Repetition drill

It is used to teach the lines of the dialogue.

5.4. Single-slot and Multiple-slot substitution drills

The students repeat the line the teacher says according to the cues s/he has given.

5.5. Use of minimal pairs

The teacher works with the pair of words that only differ in one sound.

Also chain drill, transformation drill, question-answer drill and grammar games can be used to enhance learning.

6. The Decline of the Method

The method lived its golden age in the 1960s. It was applied to teaching of foreign languages in US and also teaching of English as a second or foreign language. But after a time, two major criticisms emerged. The first one was that the theoretical foundations of the method was said to be unsound and the second was that practical results fell short of expectations. Learners couldn’t transfer what they learn in the classroom to real life and most of them said that they found the method’s procedures very boring.

The theoretical criticism mostly emerged from Noam Chomsky’s studies. Chomsky rejected both structuralist approach and behaviorist theory.

Language is not a habit structure. Ordinary linguistic behavior characteristically involves innovation, formation of new sentences and patterns in accordance with rules of great abstractness and intricacy.

(Chomsky 1966: 153)

Chomsky’s studies can be named as revolutions for that time and these innovations made the linguists and psychologists focus on the mental properties people bring to language learning. Chomsky also argued the idea that learning a language is similar to any other kind of learning because much of human language use is not imitated behavior but is created with the underlying rules.

Chomsky’s new theory, cognitive code learning, was seen as an alternative to audio lingual method but for a long time no effective method was emerged. In the 1970s, some methods appeared; The Silent Way, Total Physical Response and Counseling-Learning and as the time passed new approaches and methods were created…



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