The Audio-lingual Teaching Method

With the outbreak of World War II armies needed to become orally proficient in the languages of their allies and enemies as quickly as possible. This teaching technique was initially called the Army Method, and was the first to be based on linguistic theory and behavioral psychology.

Timeline showing the popularity of the Audio-lingual method
View large version with all methods

Explanation

Based on Skinner’s Behaviorism theory, it assumed that a human being can be trained using a system of reinforcement. Correct behaviour receives positive feedback, while errors receive negative feedback.

This approach to learning is similar to the Direct Method, in that the lesson takes place entirely in the target language.

Emphasis is on the acquisition of patterns in common everyday dialogue.

The Audio-lingual Method was widely used in the 1950s and 1960s, and the emphasis was not on the understanding of words, but rather on the acquisition of structures and patterns in common everyday dialogue.

These patterns are elicited, repeated and tested until the responses given by the student in the foreign language are automatic.

Some characteristics of this method are:

  • Drills are used to teach structural patterns
  • Set phrases are memorised with a focus on intonation
  • Grammatical explanations are kept to a minimum
  • Vocabulary is taught in context
  • Audio-visual aids are used
  • Focus is on pronunciation
  • Correct responses are positively reinforced immediately

Modern Usage

The Audio-lingual Method is still in use today, though normally as a part of individual lessons rather than as the foundation of the course. These types of lessons can be popular as they are relatively simple, from the teacher’s point of view, and the learner always knows what to expect.

Some of the most famous supporters of this method were Giorgio Shenker, who promoted guided self learning with the Shenker method in Italy, and Robin Callan, who created the Callan method.

Developments & Problems

This extensive memorization, repetition and over-learning of patterns was the key to the method’s success, as students could often see immediate results, but it was also its weakness.

It was discovered that language was not acquired through a process of habit formation.

The method’s insistence on repetition and memorization of standard phrases ignored the role of context and knowledge in language learning. As the study of linguistics developed, it was discovered that language was not acquired through a process of habit formation, and that errors were not necessarily bad.

It was also claimed that the methodology did not deliver an improvement in communicative ability that lasted over the long term.

Summary

When – 1950 to 1970, some sporadic or selective use today
Focus – Sentence and sound patterns
Characteristics – Listening and speaking drills and pattern practice only in English
Supporters – B.F. Skinner, Leonard Bloomfield, Robin Callan

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  • Phazha Nelson

    how beneficial can this method be when used to teach junior school students?

    • http://www.tjtaylor.net/english/ Alex Taylor – TJ Taylor

      I wouldn’t use the AL method as a complete package, but pick some of its techniques to use along with techniques from other methods.

      I expect you probably have a large class of 20+ students, so for example the drills can be very useful, and are often effective in the short term for beginners.

      However, I’d recommend also reading this article: http://blog.tjtaylor.net/method-principled-eclecticism/

  • Huynh Tham

    can you tell me what i should say when teacher ask me that : ” for the Reading, Listening,Speaking and Writing we shoul use which method ? ” thanks

    • http://www.tjtaylor.net/english/ Alex Taylor – TJ Taylor

      I would hope that the teacher already knows which method to use 🙂 Depending on how much you know about the various teaching methods, I would recommend starting with the overview page here http://blog.tjtaylor.net/teaching-methods , then continuing with the page explaining Principled Eclecticism.

  • pidul

    1. Some
    people believe that knowledge of a first and second language can be helpful to learners who are trying to
    learn a third language . what would an audio-lingual method teacher say about
    this ? why ?

    • http://www.tjtaylor.net/english/ Alex Taylor – TJ Taylor

      That’s a very good question!
      In my opinion the audio-lingual method teacher would say that it’s irrelevant how many other languages the learner knows – with the exception perhaps of languages that have similar sounds to the language being learned, as this would help with clear pronunciation.
      Through repetition and memorization, the AL method teaches language out of context, which is one of its weaknesses.

  • sarah

    can you please help me answering this question
    despite the proliferation of teaching methods and approaches recent theorists are adamant that only teacher’s prospection may help cope with the tasks to be conducted in the classroom. discuss in relation to the theories on english language teaching

  • Mohamed Alzerk

    One of the main problems multilingual learners
    fall in is that of “interference”. Learning another language may seem a
    little bit difficult because learners already have well-established linguistic
    repertoires in their minds about languages they have learned .So, learning another
    language results in a kind of confusion especially if the languages are
    different in terms of Grammar.