Understanding a method of foreign language teaching requires a systematic approach that has levels of analysis and criteria at each level. Method of teaching is about how a theory is put into practice and it tells what skills and content to be taught and in what order content needs to be taught. It comprises three levels: approach, design and procedure.
Theories about the nature of language learning that serve as the source of practices and principles in language teaching.
The following questions reveal the background thoughts on the method:
· What is the theory of learning?
· What is the theory of teaching? (conception of the profession)
· What are the roles of teacher / learners?
· How are errors viewed and treated?
· What is the role of L1?
· What language skills are emphasized over others?
“...[it] specifies the relationship of theories of language and learning to both the form and function of instructional materials and activities in instructional settings.”
The questions include:
· What kind of syllabus is used?
· What are specific learning-teaching materials?
· What is the order of language skills to be taught?
· What is the learning-teaching environment like?
“...[it] comprises the classroom techniques and practices that are consequences of particular approaches and designs.”
The questions include:
· What typical / popular classroom techniques are employed?
· How does the teacher provide feedback? What are error correction techniques?
· What are the interaction types?
An Overview of
Language Learning approaches and Methods
The revolution in terms of language teaching methodology coincided with World War II, when America became aware that it needed people to learn foreign languages very quickly as part of its overall military operations. The "Army Method" was suddenly developed to build communicative competence in translators through very intensive language courses focusing on aural/oral skills. This in combination with some new ideas about language learning coming from the disciplines of descriptive linguistics and behavioral psychology went on to become what is known as the Audiolingual Method (ALM).
The goal of the Audiolingual Method was to enable students to speak and write in the target language; to make students able to use the target language automatically without stopping to think; to form new habits in the target language; and to create overall communicative competence in learners.
In other words, it was thought that the most effective way to create communicative competence was for students to "overlearn" the language being studied through extensive repetition and a variety of elaborate drills. The idea was to project the linguistic patterns of the language (based on the studies of structural linguists) into the minds of the learners in a way that made responses automatic and "habitual". To this end it was held that the language "habits" of the first language would constantly interfere, and the only way to overcome this problem was to facilitate the learning of a new set of "habits" appropriate linguistically to the language being studied.
Here is a summary of the key features of the Audiolingual Method, taken from Brown (1994:57) and adapted from Prator and Celce-Murcia (1979).
· Learning Theory:Learning is based on the principles of Behaviourism. Habit Formation is essential; therefore successful responses are immediately reinforced hoping that they will be repeated to form good habits. There is little or no grammatical explanation. Grammar is taught by inductive analogy rather than deductive explanation. So, rules are induced from examples. Explicit grammar rules are not given. Learning is inductive. Habit formation is actualized by means of repetitions and other mechanical drills.
· Language Theory: Language is based on descriptive linguistics. Every language is seen as its own unique system. The system is comprised of several different levels. (i.e. phonological, morphological, and syntactic). Structures are sequenced by means of contrastive analysis and taught one at a time. Structural patterns are taught using repetitive drills. Language is primarily for Oral Communication. Everyday speech and oral skills are important. Perfect pronunciation is required.
· Culture:Culture consists of everyday behaviour, and lifestyle of the target language community. Culture is presented in dialogues.
· Teacher’s Role:T is like an orchestra leader. S/he directs and controls the language behaviour of the students. T is a good model of the target language, especially for pronunciation and other oral skills. The differences between Sts’ L1 and L2 should be known by the teacher.
· Students’ Role:Sts are imitators of the teacher as perfect model of the target language or the native speakers in the audio recordings.
· Types of Interaction: T-St, ST- ST. Interactions are mostly initiated by the teacher.
· Vocabulary Teaching: Meaning is taught directly. L1 is prohibited because it may cause bad habit formations. Vocabulary is introduced through dialogues. Vocabulary is strictly limited and learned in context. Great importance is attached to pronunciation. There is dependence on mimicry, memorization of set phrases, and overlearning.
· Grammar Teaching: Explicit rules are not provided. Students induce the rules through examples and drills. Students acquire grammar by being exposed to patterns through mechanical drills.
· Materials:New material is presented in dialog form. There is much use of tapes, language labs, and visual aids.
· Syllabus: Grammar points and sentence patterns are given in the order of simplicity in a structural syllabus.
· Role of L1: Very little use of the mother tongue by teachers is permitted or in some variations, L1 is not allowed in the classroom at all. It may cause interference and bad habit formtion in L2.
· Evaluation: Discrete-point tests are used. Each item (question) should focus on only one point of the language at a time. E.g. distinguishing between words in a minimal pair. Appropriate verb form in a sentence.
· Error Correction: There is great effort to get students to produce error-free utterances. Errors are corrected by the teacher since errors may cause bad habit formation.
· Sts’ Feelings:There are no principles related to Sts’ feelings.
· Skills:Listening and speaking are emphasised. There is a natural order of skills. 1. Listening 2. Speaking 3. Reading 4. Writing
Larsen-Freeman, in her book Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching (1986:45-47) provides expanded descriptions of some common/typical techniques closely associated with the Audiolingual Method. The listing here is in summary form only.
· Dialog Memorization
(Students memorize an opening dialog using mimicry and applied role-playing)
· Backward Build-up (Expansion Drill)
(Teacher breaks a line into several parts, students repeat each part starting at the end of the sentence and "expanding" backwards through the sentence, adding each part in sequence)
· Repetition Drill
(Students repeat teacher's model as quickly and accurately as possible)
· Chain Drill
(Students ask and answer each other one-by-one in a circular chain around the classroom)
· Single Slot Substitution Drill
(Teacher states a line from the dialog, then uses a word or a phrase as a "cue" that students, when repeating the line, must substitute into the sentence in the correct place)
· Multiple-slot Substitution Drill
(Same as the Single Slot drill, except that there are multiple cues to be substituted into the line)
· Transformation Drill
(Teacher provides a sentence that must be turned into something else, for example a question to be turned into a statement, an active sentence to be turned into a negative statement, etc)
· Question-and-answer Drill
(Students should answer or ask questions very quickly)
· Use of Minimal Pairs
· (Using contrastive analysis, teacher selects a pair of words that sound identical except for a single sound that typically poses difficulty for the learners - students are to pronounce and differentiate the two words)
· Complete the Dialog
(Selected words are erased from a line in the dialog - students must find and insert)
· Grammar Games
(Various games designed to practice a grammar point in context, using lots of repetition)
Just as with the Direct Method, the Audiolingual Method represents a major step in language teaching methodology that was still aimed squarely at communicative competence. A teacher that can use the method well will generally be able to create what appear to be very "productive" students. The extensive and elaborate drills designed to facilitate over learning and good "language habit forming" were an innovative addition to the techniques used to practice language, and many of them are featured as essential parts of "communicative" methods that followed the Audiolingual Method.
The method's original appearance under the name "The Army Method" is apt, and from it one ought not to be surprised that the method is all about highly controlled practice involving extensive repetition aimed at "habit forming". If you can imagine a squad of new military recruits doing marching drills in the exercise yard, listening to the terse commands and repeating the movements in various combinations until they become second nature and do not need to be "thought about", then you have yourself an effective picture of how the Audiolingual Method essentially works and creates the desired result. The experts representing descriptive linguistics at that time can be seen as disseminating the patterns required to perform the various marching drills piece by piece, and the behavioral psychologists dictated the various ways for the drills to be repeated in order to create an effective habit-forming process.
The (however slightly simplified) picture presented above ought to also indicate to the modern, enlightened and eclectic language teacher the obvious ways in which the Audiolingual Method falls far short of the overall goal of creating sustainable long-term communicative competence in language learners. The linguistic principles upon which the theory was based emphasized surface forms of language and not the "deep structure". Cognitive principles aimed at explaining how learners learn and develop independent concepts were to change considerably in the period following the Audiolingual Method.
Still, there are reasons why the method is still popular, and perhaps even appropriate in certain educational contexts. In countries where one of the prime objectives of learning English is to take and achieve successful results in a variety of tests, and where many learners are not intrinsically motivated to learn English but do so because they feel they have to, the method is not without merits. The term "practice makes perfect" was coined at a time when the concept of practice was synonymous with repetition, and if English is seen as just "another subject to be learned", then the philosophy of repeating the required patterns until you get them right without needing to think about them does have a lot of supporters.
On the other hand, one of the key responsibilities of the modern day teacher of any discipline is to actively create and build intrinsic motivation in their learners, to empower them with the ability and confidence to "learn how to learn", to develop a sense of responsibility for their own development, and to regard peers as possible sources of learning as well. They should also be encouraged to experiment with and formulate their own ongoing set of language rules, and to deduct through active independent application where and how the rules need to be adapted. The idea that errors are a natural and even necessary part of the learning process needs to be encouraged and supported. The Audiolingual Method does nothing to address those issues, and as a whole is little more than a very effective way of running highly teacher-orientated classrooms designed to produce language users whose proficiency stems from some kind of "auto pilot" mentality.
There are ways in which the practice involved in the Audiolingual Method can be applied to approaches that have a bigger picture in mind. Audiolingual-based drills can be adapted and used in combination with effective error correction techniques to create an approach that is sensitive to affective factors, and can be followed up with techniques designed to create more independent experimentation and application. I do not in any way recommend it as a holistic approach to language teaching, but there are certainly aspects and techniques from the method that are effective if used properly and in combination with an appropriate range of other activities.
This new method incorporated many of the features typical of the earlier Direct Method, but the disciplines mentioned above added the concepts of teaching linguistic patterns in combination with something generally referred to as "habit-forming". This method was one of the first to have its roots "firmly grounded in linguistic and psychological theory" (Brown 1994:57), which apparently added to its credibility and probably had some influence in the popularity it enjoyed over a long period of time. It also had a major influence on the language teaching methods that were to follow, and can still be seen in major or minor manifestations of language teaching methodology even to this day.
Another factor that accounted for the method's popularity was the quick success it achieved in leading learners towards communicative competence. Through extensive mimicry, memorization and over-learning of language patterns and forms, students and teachers were often able to see immediate results. This was both its strength and its failure in the long run, as critics began to point out that the method did not deliver in terms of producing long-term communicative ability.
The study of linguistics itself was to change, and the area of second language learning became a discipline in its own right. Cognitive psychologists developed new views on learning in general, arguing that mimicry and rote learning could not account for the fact that language learning involved affective and interpersonal factors, that learners were able to produce language forms and patterns that they had never heard before. The idea that thinking processes themselves led to the discovery of independent language rule formation (rather than "habit formation"), and a belief that affective factors influenced their application, paved the way toward the new methods that were to follow the Audiolingual Method.