The Audio Lingual Method

In 1942 the US Army Specialised Training Program (ASTP) was set up to train its students to attain conversational fluency in a variety of languages.  It became known as the Army Method and was based on intensive contact with the target language rather than a methodological basis (in this way it was similar to the Direct Method).  It also consisted of an intensive oral based approach. The Army Method was the foundation of what was to become known as Audiolingualism.   As American linguist William Moulton said ‘ language is a set of habits, teach the language, not about the language’ (quoted in Rivers, 1964).  Audiolingualism was also based on the behavioural psychology view that there are 3 crucial elements in learning; stimulus – which serves to elicit a behaviour; a response triggered by stimulus and reinforcement which makes the behaviour a habit.

The learning principles of this method include:

  • second language learning is basically a process of habit formation. Good habits are formed by giving correct responses rather than making mistakes.
  • memorising dialogues and performing pattern drills reduce the chance of mistakes being made
  • language skills are learned more effectively if the items to be learned in the L2 are presented in spoken form before they are seen in written form
  • aural-oral training is needed to provide the foundation for the development of other language skills
  • explanation of rules are not given until students have practised a pattern in a variety of contexts.  Therefore the approach to grammar teaching is inductive rather than deductive.

Audiolingualism stayed faithful to the Direct Method belief in the primacy of speech but was even more strict in its rejection of grammar teaching.  As mentioned, it derived its theoretical base from behaviourist psychology, which considered language is simply a form of behaviour to be learned through the formation of correct habits. Habit formation was a process in which the application of grammatical rules played no part.  The syllabus consisted of a graded list of sentence patterns which formed the basis of pattern-practice drills – this being the main feature of the Audio Lingual Method. Various kinds of drill are used. Brooks (1964) includes the following:

  • Repetition: The student repeats an utterance aloud as soon as he has heard it.  He does this without looking at the printed text.  The utterance must be brief enough to be retained by the ear.  Sound is as important as form and order.
  • Example: I used to know him (student repeats; I used to know him) – I used to know him years ago (student repeats; I used to know him years ago)
  • Inflection: One word in an utterance appears in another form when repeated.
  • Example: I bought the ticket – I bought the tickets/ I called the man – I called the men.
  • Transposition: A change in word order is necessary when a word is added.
  • Example: I’m hungry/ (so). – So am I    I’ll never do it again (neither).  Neither will I

Learner Role:

  • Learners react by responding to stimuli
  • no control over style, pace, content

Teacher Role:

  • Teacher is central and active (similiar to Situational Language Teaching)
  • Teacher dominates (teacher centered class)
  • Teacher models the language and corrects students performance
  • Directs oral drilling and responses

The Audio Lingual Method started to decline when confronted by the changing linguistic theories in American linguistics in the 1960s.  Noam Chomsky was influential in this and rejected the Behaviourist theory.  Chomsky  argued that human brains have a language acquisition device (LAD), an innate mechanism or process that allows children to develop language skills. According to this view, all children are born with a universal grammar, which makes them receptive to the common features of all languages. Because of this hard-wired background in grammar, children easily pick up a language when they are exposed to its particular grammar.

All notes adapted from ‘ Approaches and Methodologies in Language Teaching’ Richards/Rodgers, Cambridge University Press


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