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The Audiolingual Method


The Coleman Report in 1929 recommended a reading-based approach to foreign language teaching for use in American schools and colleges (Chapter 1). This emphasized teaching the comprehension of texts. Teachers taught from books containing short reading passages in the foreign language, preceded by lists of vocabulary. Rapid silent reading was the goal, but in practice teachers often resorted to discussing the content of the passage in English. Those involved in the teaching of English as a second language in the United States between the two world wars used either a modified Direct Method approach, a reading-based approach, or a reading-oral approach (Darian 1972). Unlike the ap­proach that was being developed by British applied linguists during the same period, there was little attempt to treat language content system­atically. Sentence patterns and grammar were introduced at the whim of the textbook writer. There was no standardization of the vocabulary or grammar that was included. Neither was there a consensus on what grammar, sentence patterns, and vocabulary were most important for beginning, intermediate, or advanced learners.

But the entry of the United States into World War II had a significant effect on language teaching in America. To supply the U.S. government with personnel who were fluent in German, French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Malay, and other languages, and who could work as inter­preters, code-room assistants, and translators, it was necessary to set up a special language training program. The government commissioned American universities to develop foreign language programs for military personnel. Thus the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) was established in 1942. Fifty-five American universities were involved in the program by the beginning of 1943.

The objective of the army programs was for students to attain con­versational proficiency in a variety of foreign languages. Since this was not the goal of conventional foreign language courses in the United States, new approaches were necessary. Linguists, such as Leonard Bloomfield at Yale, had already developed training programs as part of their linguistic research that were designed to give linguists and anthro­pologists mastery of American Indian languages and other languages they were studying. Textbooks did not exist for such languages. The technique Bloomfield and his colleagues used was sometimes known as the "informant method," since it used a native speaker of the language - the informant - who served as a source of phrases and vocabulary and who provided sentences for imitation, and a linguist, who supervised the learning experience. The linguist did not necessarily know the lan­guage but was trained in eliciting the basic structure of the language from the informant. Thus the students and the linguist were able to take part in guided conversation with the informant, and together they grad­ually learned how to speak the language, as well as to understand much of its basic grammar. Students in such courses studied ten hours a day, six days a week. There were generally fifteen hours of drill with native speakers and twenty to thirty hours of private study spread over two to three six-week sessions. This was the system adopted by the army, and in small classes of mature and highly motivated students, excellent results were often achieved.

The Army Specialized Training Program lasted only about two years but attracted considerable attention in the popular press and in the academic community. For the next ten years the "Army Method" and its suitability for use in regular language programs was discussed. But the linguists who developed the ASTP were not interested primarily in language teaching. The "methodology" of the Army Method, like the Direct Method, derived from the intensity of contact with the target language rather than from any well-developed methodological basis. It was a program innovative mainly in terms of the procedures used and the intensity of teaching rather than in terms of its underlying theory. However, it did convince a number of prominent linguists of the value of an intensive, oral-based approach to the learning of a foreign language. Linguists and applied linguists during this period were becoming in­creasingly involved in the teaching of English as a foreign language. America had now emerged as a major international power. There was a growing demand for foreign expertise in the teaching of English. Thou­sands of foreign students entered the United»States to study in univer­sities, and many of these students required training in English before they could begin their studies. These factors led to the emergence of the American approach to ESL, which by the mid-fifties had become Audiolingualism.

In 1939 the University of Michigan developed the first English Language Institute in the United States; it specialized in the training of teachers of English as a foreign language and in teaching English as a second or foreign language. Charles Fries, director of the institute, was trained in structural linguistics, and he applied the principles of structural linguistics to language teaching. Fries and his colleagues rejected approaches like those of the Direct Method, in which learners are exposed to the language, use it, and gradually absorb its grammatical patterns. For Fries, grammar, or "structure," was the starting point. The structure of the language was identified with its basic sentence patterns and gram­matical structures. The language was taught by systematic attention to pronunciation and by intensive oral drilling of its basic sentence patterns. Pattern practice was a basic classroom technique. "It is these basic pat­terns that constitute the learner's task. They require drill, drill and more drill, and only enough vocabulary to make such drills possible" (Hockett 1959).

Michigan was not the only university involved in developing courses and materials for teaching English. A number of other similar programs were established, some of the earliest being at Georgetown University and American University, Washington, D.C., and at the University of Texas, Austin. U.S. linguists were becoming increasingly active, both within the United States and abroad, in supervising programs for the teaching of English (Moulton 1961). In 1950 the American Council of Learned Societies, under contract to the U.S. State Department, was commissioned to develop textbooks for teaching English to speakers of a wide number of foreign languages. The format the linguists involved in this project followed was known as the "general form": A lesson began with work on pronunciation, morphology, and grammar, fol­lowed by drills and exercises. The guidelines were published as Structural Notes and Corpus: A Basis for the Preparation of Materials to Teach English as a Foreign Language (American Council of Learned Societies 1952). This became an influential document and together with the "gen­eral form" was used as a guide to developing English courses for speakers of ten different languages (the famous Spoken Language series), pub­lished between 1953 and 1956 (Moulton 1961).

In many ways the methodology used by U.S. linguists and language teaching experts at this period sounded similar to the British Oral Ap­proach, although the two traditions developed independently. The Amer­ican approach differed, however, in its strong alliance with American structural linguistics and its applied linguistic applications, particularly contrastive analysis. Fries set forth his principles in Teaching and Learn­ing English as a Foreign Language (1945), in which the problems of learning a foreign language were attributed to the conflict of different structural systems (i.e., differences between the grammatical and phon­ological patterns of the native tongue and the target language). Con­trastive analysis of the two languages would allow potential problems of interference to be predicted and addressed through carefully prepared teaching materials. Thus was born a major industry in American applied linguistics - systematic comparisons of English with other languages, with a view toward solving the fundamental problems of foreign lan­guage learning.

The approach developed by linguists at Michigan and other univer­sities became known variously as the Oral Approach, the Aural-Oral Approach, and the Structural Approach. It advocated aural training first, then pronunciation training, followed by speaking, reading, and writing. Language was identified with speech, and speech was approached through structure. This approach influenced the way languages were taught in the United States throughout the fifties. As an approach to the teaching of English as a foreign language the new orthodoxy was promoted through the University of Michigan's journal Language Learning. This was a period when expertise in linguistics was regarded as a necessary; and sufficient foundation for expertise in language teaching. Not surprisingly, the classroom materials produced by Fries and linguists at Yale, Cornell, and elsewhere evidenced considerable linguistic analysis but very little pedagogy. They were widely used, however, and the applied linguistic principles on which they were based were thought to incorporate the most advanced scientific approach to language teaching. If there was any learning theory underlying the Aural-Oral materials, it was a commonsense application of the idea that practice makes perfect. There is no explicit reference to then-current learning theory in Fries's work. It was the incorporation of the linguistic principles of the Aural-Oral approach with state-of-the-art psychological learning theory in the mid-fifties that led to the method that came to be known as Audiolingualism. The emergence of the Audiolingual Method resulted from the increased attention given to foreign language teaching in the United States toward the end of the 1950s. The need for a radical change and rethinking of foreign language teaching methodology (most of which was still linked to the Reading Method) was prompted by the launching of the first Russian satellite in 1957. The U.S. Government acknowledged the need for a more intensive effort to teach foreign languages in order to prevent Americans from becoming isolated from scientific advances made in other countries. The National Defense Education Act (1958), among other measures, provided funds for the study and analysis of modern languages, for the development of teaching materials, and for the training of teachers. Teachers were encouraged to attend summer institutes to improve their knowledge of foreign languages and to learn the principles of linguistics and the new linguistically based teaching methods. Language teaching specialists set about developing a method that was applicable to conditions in U.S. colleges and university classrooms. They drew on the earlier experience of the army programs and the Aural-Oral or Structural Approach developed by Fries and his colleagues, adding insights taken from behaviorist psychology. This combination of structural linguistic theory, contrastive analysis, aural-oral procedures, and behaviorist psychology led to the Audiolingual Method. Audiolingualism (the term was coined by Professor Nelson Brooks in 1964) claimed to have transformed language teaching from an art to a science, which would enable learners to achieve mastery of a foreign language effectively and efficiently. The method was widely adopted for teaching foreign languages in North American colleges and universities. It provided the methodological foundation for materials for the teaching of foreign lan­guages at college and university level in the United States and Canada, and its principles formed the basis of such widely used series as the Lado English Series (Lado 1977) and English 900 (English Language Services 1964). Although the method began to fall from favor in the late sixties for reasons we shall discuss later, Audiolingualism and materials based on audiolingual principles continue to be widely used today. Let us examine the features of the Audiolingual Method at the levels of ap­proach, design, and procedure.


Theory of language

The theory of language underlying Audiolingualism was derived from a view proposed by American linguists in the 1950s - a view that came to be known as structural linguistics. Linguistics had emerged as a flour­ishing academic discipline in the 1950s, and the structural theory of language constituted its backbone. Structural linguistics had developed in part as a reaction to traditional grammar. Traditional approaches to the study of language had linked the study of language to philosophy and to a mentalist approach to grammar. Grammar was considered a branch of logic, and the grammatical categories of Indo-European lan­guages were thought to represent ideal categories in languages. Many nineteenth-century language scholars had viewed modern European lan­guages as corruptions of classical grammar, and languages from other parts of the world were viewed as primitive and underdeveloped.

The reaction against traditional grammar was prompted by the move­ment toward positivism and empiricism, which Darwin's Origin of the Species had helped promote, and by an increased interest in non-European languages on the part of scholars. A more practical interest in language study emerged. As linguists discovered new sound types and new patterns of linguistic invention and organization, a new interest in phonetics, phonology, morphology, and syntax developed. By the 1930s, the scientific approach to the study of language was thought to consist of collecting examples of what speakers said and analyzing them ac­cording to different levels of structural organization rather than ac­cording to categories of Latin grammar. A sophisticated methodology for collecting and analyzing data developed, which involved transcribing spoken utterances in a language phonetically and later working out the phonemic, morphological (stems, prefixes, suffixes, etc.), and syntactic (phrases, clauses, sentence types) systems underlying the grammar of the language. Language was viewed as a system of structurally related ele­ments for the encoding of meaning, the elements being phonemes, mor­phemes, words, structures, and sentence types. The term structural referred to these characteristics: (a) Elements in a language were thought of as being linearly produced in a rule-governed (structured) way. (b) Lan­guage samples could be exhaustively described at any structural level of description (phonetic, phonemic, morphological, etc.). (c) Linguistic lev­els were thought of as systems within systems — that is, as being pyram­idally structured; phonemic systems led to morphemic systems, and these in turn led to the higher-level systems of phrases, clauses, and sentences.

Learning a language, it was assumed, entails mastering the elements or building blocks of the language and learning the rules by which these elements are combined, from phoneme to morpheme to word to phrase to sentence. The phonological system defines those sound elements that contrast meaningfully with one another in the language (phonemes), their phonetic realizations in specific environments (allophones), and their permissible sequences (phonotactics). The phonological and gram­matical systems of the language constitute the organization of language and by implication the units of production and comprehension. The grammatical system consists of a listing of grammatical elements and rules for their linear combination into words, phrases, and sentences. Rule-ordered processes involve addition, deletion, and transposition of elements.

An important tenet of structural linguistics was that the primary me­dium of language is oral: Speech is language. Since many languages do not have a written form and we learn to speak before we learn to read or write, it was argued that language is "primarily what is spoken and only secondarily what is written" (Brooks 1964). Therefore, it was as­sumed that speech had a priority in language teaching. This was contrary to popular views of the relationship of the spoken and written forms of language, since it had been widely assumed that language existed prin­cipally as symbols written on paper, and that spoken language was an imperfect realization of the pure written version.

This scientific approach to language analysis appeared to offer the foundations for a scientific approach to language teaching. In 1961 the American linguist William Moulton, in a report prepared for the 9th International Congress of Linguists, proclaimed the linguistic principles on which language teaching methodology should be based: "Language is speech, not writing A language is a set of habits. Teach the language, not about the language.... A language is what its native speakers say, not what someone thinks they ought to say. Languages are different" (quoted in Rivers 1964: 5). But a method cannot be based simply on a theory of language. It also needs to refer to the psychology of learning and to learning theory. It is to this aspect of Audiolingualism that we now turn.

Reinforcement(behavior likely to oc­cur again and become a habit)

Stimulus —> Organism —> Response


Date: 2016-03-03; view: 1370

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