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Historical Background

Richards and Rodgers (2001) provide one of the most thorough descriptions of the historical background of the Audio-lingual Method, from which the following information has largely been drawn.

Audiolingualism came about as a result of a number of developments in linguistics, psychology, and politics. In the 1940s, linguists at the University of Michigan and other universities were engaged in developing materials for teaching English to foreign students studying in the U.S. Their approach, based on structural linguistics, relied on a contrastive analysis of the students' native language and the target language, which they believed would identify potential problems in language learning. Lessons consisted of intensive oral drilling of grammatical patterns and pronunciation. The approach became known variously as the Oral Approach, the Aural-Oral Approach, or the Structural Approach.

At approximately the same time, the United States was drawn into World War II and needed personnel who were fluent in foreign languages. Upon finding a lack of Americans with sufficient language skills, in 1942 the U.S. government developed the Army Specialized Training Program, an oral-based program based on intensive drilling and study. The success of this program convinced a number of prominent linguists of the value of an intensive oral approach to language learning. Most American schools and universities, however, continued to employ the Grammar-Translation Method or the Reading Method well into the 1950s.

In 1957 Russia launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, causing the U.S. government to become concerned about Americans' isolation from scientific advances in foreign countries due to their lack of proficiency in foreign languages. The National Defense Education Act of 1958 provided funds for developing foreign language teaching materials and training teachers, and language teaching specialists set about developing new teaching methods. They drew upon the earlier Structural Approach and the Army program, as well as on principles of behaviorist psychology. The new approach, which Yale professor Nelson Brooks dubbed audio-lingual (Brooks, 1964, p. 263), claimed to have transformed language teaching into a science.

The Audiolingual Method was widely adopted in the U.S. and Canada and served as the principal approach to foreign language teaching in the 1960s. The method's decline in the late 1960s and early 1970s was brought about by two factors. First, linguist Noam Chomsky questioned the theoretical basis for the method, particularly the assumption that external conditioning could account for all language learning (Chomsky, 1959). Second, some language teachers and students experienced frustration with the method's avoidance of grammar explanations, its heavy emphasis on rote memorization and drilling, and its failure to produce conversational ability in the foreign language (Hadley, 2001). These developments led to the eventual abandonment of the method, although some of its practices, such as dialogue learning and pattern drills, continue to be used in some foreign language programs.

Date: 2015-12-11; view: 458

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