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No reinforcement/ Negative reinforcement

(behavior not likely to occur again)

Figure 4 Ë

Theory of learning

The language teaching theoreticians and methodologists who developed Audiolingualism not only had a convincing and powerful theory of language to draw upon but they were also working in a period when a prominent school of American psychology - known as behavioral psy­chology - claimed to have tapped the secrets of all human learning, including language learning. Behaviorism, like structural linguistics, is another antimentalist, empirically based approach to the study of human behavior. To the behaviorist, the human being is an organism capable of a wide repertoire of behaviors. The occurrence of these behaviors is dependent upon three crucial elements in learning: a stimulus, which serves to elicit behavior; a response triggered by a stimulus; and rein­forcement^ which serves to mark the response as being appropriate (or inappropriate) and encourages the repetition (or suppression) of the response in the future (see Skinner 1957; Brown 1980). A representation of this can be seen in Figure 4.1.

Reinforcement is a vital element in the learning process, because it increases the likelihood that the behavior will occur again and eventually become a habit. To apply this theory to language learning is to identify the organism as the foreign language learner, the behavior as verbal behavior, the stimulus as what is taught or presented of the foreign language, the response as the learner's reaction to the stimulus, and the reinforcement as the extrinsic approval and praise of the teacher or fellow students or the intrinsic self-satisfaction of target language use. Language mastery is represented as acquiring a set of appropriate language stim­ulus-response chains. The descriptive practices of structural linguists suggested a number of hypotheses about language learning, and hence about language teaching as well. For example, since linguists normally described languages be­ginning with the phonological level and finishing with the sentence level, it was assumed that this was also the appropriate sequence for learning and teaching. Since speech was now held to be primary and writing secondary, it was assumed that language teaching should focus on mas­tery of speech and that writing or even written prompts should be with­held until reasonably late in the language learning process. Since the structure is what is important and unique about a language, early practice should focus on mastery of phonological and grammatical structures rather than on mastery of vocabulary.

Out of these various influences emerged a number of learning prin­ciples, which became the psychological foundations of Audiolingualism and came to shape its methodological practices. Among the more central are the following:

1. Foreign language learning is basically a process of mechanical habit for­mation. Good habits are formed by giving correct responses rather than by making mistakes. By memorizing dialogues and performing pattern
drills the chances of producing mistakes are minimized. Language is ver­bal behavior - that is, the automatic production and comprehension of utterances - and can be learned by inducing the students to do likewise.

2. Language skills are learned more effectively if the items to be learned in the target language 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.

3. Analogy provides a better foundation for language learning than analysis. Analogy involves the processes of generalization and discrimination. Explanations of rules are therefore not given until students have practiced a
pattern in a variety of contexts and are thought to have acquired a per­ception of the analogies involved. Drills can enable learners to form correct analogies. Hence the approach to the teaching of grammar is essentially inductive rather than deductive.

4. The meanings that the words of a language have for the native speaker can be learned only in a linguistic and cultural context and not in isola­tion. Teaching a language thus involves teaching aspects of the cultural
system of the people who speak the language (Rivers 1964: 19—22).

In advocating these principles, proponents of Audiolingualismwere drawing on the theory of a well-developed school of American psy­chology - behaviorism. The prominent Harvard behaviorist B. F. Skinner had elaborated a theory of learning applicable to language learning in his influential book Verbal Behavior (1957), in which he stated, "We have no reason to assume... thatverbal behavior differs in any fun­damental respect from non-verbal behavior, or that any new principles must be invoked to account for it" (1957: 10). Armed with a powerfultheory of the nature of language and of language learning, audiolin-gualists could now turn to the design of language teaching courses and materials.


Audiolingualists demanded a complete reorientation of the foreign lan­guage curriculum. Like the nineteenth-century reformers, they advocated a return to speech-based instruction with the primary objective of oral proficiency, and dismissed the study of grammar or literature as the goal of foreign language teaching. "A radical transformation is called for, a new orientation of procedures is demanded, and a thorough house clean­ing of methods, materials, texts and tests is unavoidable" (Brooks 1964: 50).


Brooks distinguishes between short-range and long-range objectives of an audiolingual program. Short-range objectives include training in listening comprehension, accurate pronunciation, recognition of speech symbols as graphic signs on the printed page, and ability to reproduce these symbols in writing (Brooks 1964: 111). "These immediate objectives imply three others: first, control of the structures of sound, form, and order in the new language; second, acquaintance with vocabulary items that bring content into these structures; and third, meaning, in terms of the significance these verbal symbols have for those who speak the language natively" (Brooks 1964: 113). Long-range objectives "must be language as the native speaker uses it…There must be some knowledge of a second language as it is possessed by a true bilingualist" (Brooks 1964: 107).

In practice this means that the focus in the early stages is on oral skills, with gradual links to other skills as learning develops. Oral pro­ficiency is equated with accurate pronunciation and grammar and the ability to respond quickly and accurately in speech situations. The teach­ing of listening comprehension, pronunciation, grammar, and vocabu­lary are all related to development of oral fluency. Reading and writing skills may be taught, but they are dependent upon prior oral skills. Language is primarily speech in audiolingual theory, but speaking skills are themselves dependent upon the ability to accurately perceive and produce the major phonological features of the target language, fluency in the use of the key grammatical patterns in the language, and knowl­edge of sufficient vocabulary to use with these patterns.

The syllabus

Audiolingualism is a linguistic, or structure-based, approach to language teaching. The starting point is a linguistic syllabus, which contains the key items of phonology, morphology, and syntax of the language ar­ranged according to their order of presentation. These may have been derived in part from a contrastive analysis of the differences between the native tongue and the target language, since these differences are thought to be the cause of the major difficulties the learner will en­counter. In addition, a lexical syllabus of basic vocabulary items is also usually specified in advance. In Foundations for English Teaching (Fries and Fries 1961), for example, a corpus of structural and lexical items graded into three levels is proposed, together with suggestions as to the situations that could be used to contextualize them.

The language skills are taught in the order of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Listening is viewed largely as training in aural discrimination of basic sound patterns. The language may be presented entirely orally at first; written representations are usually withheld from learners in early stages.

The learner's activities must at first be confined to the audiolingual and ges­tural-visual bands of language behavior....

Recognition and discrimination are followed by imitation, repetition and memorization. Only when he is thoroughly familiar with sounds, arrange­ments, and forms does he center his attention on enlarging his vocabulary.... Throughout he concentrates upon gaining accuracy before striving for fluency. (Brooks 1964: 50)

When reading and writing are introduced, students are taught to read and write what they have already learned to say orally. An attempt is made to minimize the possibilities for making mistakes both in speaking and writing by using a tightly structured approach to the presentation of new language items. At more advanced levels, more complex reading and writing tasks may be introduced.

Types of learning and teaching activities

Dialogues and drills form the basis of audiolingual classroom practices. Dialogues provide the means of contextualizing key structures and il­lustrate situations in which structures might be used as well as some cultural aspects of the target language. Dialogues are used for repetition and memorization. Correct pronunciation, stress, rhythm, and intona­tion are emphasized. After a dialogue has been presented and memorized, specific grammatical patterns in the dialogue are selected and become the focus of various kinds of drill and pattern-practice exercises. The use of drills and pattern practice is a distinctive feature of the Audiolingual Method. Various kinds of drills are used. Brooks (1964: 156-61) includes the following:

1. Repetition. The student repeats an utterance aloud as soon as he has heard it. He does this without looking at a printed text. The utterance must be brief enough to be retained by the ear. Sound is as important as
form and order.


This is the seventh month. -This is the seventh month.

After a student has repeated an utterance, he may repeat it again and add a few words, then repeat that whole utterance and add more words.


1 used to know him. -I used to know him.

I used to know him years ago. —1 used to know him years ago when we were in school....

2. Inflection. One word in an utterance appears in another form when repeated.


I bought the ticket. -I bought the tickets.

He bought the candy. — She bought the candy.

I called the young man. -I called the young men_______

3. Replacement. One word in an utterance is replaced by another.


He bought this house cheap. -He bought it cheap.

Helen left early — She left early.

They gave their boss a watch. —They gave him a watch....

4. Restatement. The student rephrases an utterance and addresses it to someone else, according to instructions.


Tell him to wait for you. -Wait for me.

Ask her how old she is. -How old are you?

Ask John when he began. —John, when did you begin?...

5. Completion. The student hears an utterance that is complete except for one word, then repeats the utterance in completed form.


I'll go my way and you go.... —I'll go my way and you go yours. We all have ... own troubles. —We all have our own troubles....

6. Transposition. A change in word order is necessary when a word is added.


I’m hungry, (so). —So am I.

I'll never do it again, (neither). -Neither will I.

Expansion. When a word is added it takes a certain place in the sequence.


I know him. (hardly). -I hardly know him.

I know him. (well). —I know him well....

8. Contraction. A single word stands for a phrase or clause.


Put your hand on the table. -Put your hand there. They believe that the earth is flat. -They believe it....

9. Transformation. A sentence is transformed by being made negative or in­terrogative or through changes in tense, mood, voice, aspect, or modality.


He knows my address. He doesn't know my address. Does he know my address? He used to know my address. If he had known my address.

10. Integration. Two separate utterances are integrated into one.

They must be honest. This is important. -It is important that they be honest.

I know that man. He is looking for you. —I know the man who is look­ing for you

11. Rejoinder. The student makes an appropriate rejoinder to a given utter­ance. He is told in advance to respond in one of the following ways:

Be polite.

Answer the question.


Agree emphatically.

Express surprise.

Express regret.


Disagree emphatically.

Question what is said.

Fail to understand.


Thank you. —You're welcome. May I take one? —Certainly.


What is your name? -My name is Smith.

Where did it happen? -In the middle of the street.



He's following us. -I think you're right.

This is good coffee. -It's very good.

12. Restoration. The student is given a sequence of words that have been culled from a sentence but still bear its basic meaning. He uses these words with a minimum of changes and additions to restore the sentence to its original form. He may be told whether the time is present, past, or future.


students/waiting/bus -The students are waiting for the bus.
boys/build/house/tree -The boys built a house in a tree

Learner roles

Learners are viewed as organisms that can be directed by skilled training techniques to produce correct responses. In accordance with behaviorist learning theory, teaching focuses on the external manifestations of learn­ing rather than on the internal processes. Learners play a reactive role by responding to stimuli, and thus have little control over the content, pace, or style of learning. They are not encouraged to initiate interaction, because this may lead to mistakes. The fact that in the early stages learners do not always understand the meaning of what they are re­peating is not perceived as a drawback, for by listening to the teacher, imitating accurately, and responding to and performing controlled tasks they are learning a new form of verbal behavior.

Teacher roles

In Audiolingualism, as in Situational Language Teaching, the teacher's role is central and active; it is a teacher-dominated method. The teacher models the target language, controls the direction and pace of learning, and monitors and corrects the learners' performance. The teacher must keep the learners attentive by varying drills and tasks and choosing relevant situations to practice structures. Language learning is seen to result from active verbal interaction between the teacher and the learners. Failure to learn results only from the improper application of the method, for example, from the teacher not providing sufficient practice or from the learner not memorizing the essential patterns and structures; but the method itself is never to blame. Brooks argues that the teacher must be trained to do the following:

Introduce, sustain, and harmonize the learning of the four skills in this order:

hearing, speaking, reading and writing. Use - and not use - English in the language classroom.

Model the various types of language behavior that the student is to learn. Teach spoken language in dialogue form. Direct choral response by all or parts of the class. Teach the use of structure through pattern practice. Guide the student in choosing and learning vocabulary. Show how words relate to meaning in the target language. Get the individual student to talk.

Reward trials by the student in such a way that learning is reinforced. Teach a short story and other literary forms. Establish and maintain a cultural island.

Formalize on the first day the rules according to which the language class is to be conducted, and enforce them.

(Brooks 1964: 143)

The role of instructional materials

Instructional materials in the Audiolingual Method assist the teacher to develop language mastery in the learner. They are primarily teacher oriented. A student textbook is often not used in the elementary phases of a course where students are primarily listening, repeating, and re­sponding. At this stage in learning, exposure to the printed word may not be considered desirable, because it distracts attention from the aural input. The teacher, however, will have access to a teacher's book that contains the structured sequence of lessons to be followed and the dia­logues, drills, and other practice activities. When textbooks and printed materials are introduced to the student, they provide the texts of dia­logues and cues needed for drills and exercises.

Tape recorders and audiovisual equipment often have central roles in an audiolingual course. If the teacher is not a native speaker of the target language, the tape recorder provides accurate models for dialogues and drills. A language laboratory may also be considered essential. It provides the opportunity for further drill work and to receive controlled error-free practice of basic structures. It also adds variety by providing an alternative to classroom practice. A taped lesson may first present a dialogue for listening practice, allow for the student to repeat the sen­tences in the dialogue line by line, and provide follow-up fluency drills on grammar or pronunciation.


Since Audiolingualism is primarily an oral approach to language teach­ing, it is not surprising that the process of teaching involves extensive oral instruction. The focus of instruction is on immediate and accurate speech; there is little provision for grammatical explanation or talking about the language. As far as possible, the target language is used as the medium of instruction, and translation or use of the native tongue is discouraged. Classes of ten or less are considered optimal, although larger classes are often the norm. Brooks lists the following procedures the teacher should adopt in using the Audiolingual Method:

The modeling of all learnings by the teacher.

The subordination of the mother tongue to the second language by rendering English inactive while the new language is being learned.

The early and continued training of the ear and tongue without recourse to graphic symbols.

The learning of structure through the practice of patterns of sound, order, and form, rather than by explanation.

The gradual substitution of graphic symbols for sounds after sounds are thor­oughly known.

The summarizing of the main principles of structure for the student's use when the structures are already familiar, especially when they differ from those of the mother tongue....

The shortening of the time span between a performance and the pronounce­ment of its Tightness or wrongness, without interrupting the response. This enhances the factor of reinforcement in learning.

The minimizing of vocabulary until all common structures have been learned.

The study of vocabulary only in context.

Sustained practice in the use of the language only in the molecular form of speaker-hearer-situation.

Practice in translation only as a literary exercise at an advanced level.

(Brooks 1964: 142)

In a typical audiolingual lesson the following procedures would be observed:

1. Students first hear a model dialogue (either read by the teacher or on tape) containing the key structures that are the focus of the lesson. They repeat each line of the dialogue, individually and in chorus. The teacher
pays attention to pronunciation, intonation, and fluency. Correction of mistakes of pronunciation or grammar is direct and immediate. The dia­logue is memorized gradually, line by line. A line may be broken down into several phrases if necessary. The dialogue is read aloud in chorus, one half saying one speaker's part and the other half responding. The students do not consult their book throughout this phase.

2. The dialogue is adapted to the students' interest or situation, through changing certain key words or phrases. This is acted out by the students.

3. Certain key structures from the dialogue are selected and used as the basis for pattern drills of different kinds. These are first practiced in chorus and then individually. Some grammatical explanation may be offered at this point, but this is kept to an absolute minimum.

4. The students may refer to their textbook, and follow-up reading, writing, or vocabulary activities based on the dialogue may be introduced. At the beginning level, writing is purely imitative and consists of little more than copying out sentences that have been practiced. As proficiency increases, students may write out variations of structural items they have practiced or write short compositions on given topics with the help of framing ques­tions, which will guide their use of the language.

5. Follow-up activities may take place in the language laboratory, where fur­ther dialogue and drill work is carried out.

The decline of Audiolingualism

Audiolingualism reached its period of most widespread use in the 1960s and was applied both to the teaching of foreign languages in the United States and to the teaching of English as a second or foreign language. It led to such widely used courses as English 900 and the Lado English Se­ries^ as well as to texts for teaching the major European languages. But then came criticism on two fronts. On the one hand, the theoretical foun­dations of Audiolingualism were attacked as being unsound both in terms of language theory and learning theory. On the other, practitioners found that the practical results fell short of expectations. Students were often found to be unable to transfer skills acquired through Audiolingualism to real communication outside the classroom, and many found the experi­ence of studying through audiolingual procedures to be boring and unsatisfying.

The theoretical attack on audiolingual beliefs resulted from changes in American linguistic theory in the sixties. The MIT linguist Noam Chom­sky rejected the structuralist approach to language description as well as the behaviorist theory of language learning. "Language is not a habit structure. Ordinary linguistic behavior characteristically involves inno­vation, formation of new sentences and patterns in accordance with rules of great abstractness and intricacy" (Chomsky 1966: 153). Chomsky's theory of transformational grammar proposed that the fundamental properties of language derive from innate aspects of the mind and from how humans process experience through language. His theories were to revolutionize American linguistics and focus the attention of linguists and psychologists on the mental properties people bring to bear on language use and language learning. Chomsky also proposed an alternative theory of language learning to that of the behaviorists. Behaviorism regarded language learning as similar in principle to any other kind of learning. It was subject to the same laws of stimulus and response, reinforcement and association. Chomsky argued that such a learning theory could not pos­sibly serve as a model of how humans learn language, since much of hu­man language use is not imitated behavior but is created anew from underlying knowledge of abstract rules. Sentences are not learned by im­itation and repetition but "generated" from the learner's underlying "competence."

Suddenly the whole audiolingual paradigm was called into question: pattern practice, drilling, memorization. These might lead to language-like behaviors, but they were not resulting in competence. This created a crisis in American language teaching circles from which a full recovery has not yet been made. Temporary relief was offered in the form of a theory derived in part from Chomsky - cognitive code learning. In 1966 John B. Carroll, a psychologist who had taken a close interest in foreign language teaching, wrote:

The audio-lingual habit theory which is so prevalent in American foreign language teaching was, perhaps fifteen years ago in step with the state of psychological thinking of that time, but it is no longer abreast of recent developments. It is ripe for major revision, particularly in the direction of joining it with some of the better elements of the cognitive-code learning the­ory. (Carroll 1966: 105)

This referred to a view of learning that allowed for a conscious focus on grammar and that acknowledged the role of abstract mental processes in learning rather than defining learning simply in terms of habit for­mation. Practice activities should involve meaningful learning and language use. Learners should be encouraged to use their innate and creative abilities to derive and make explicit the underlying grammatical rules of the language. For a time in the early seventies there was a considerable
interest in the implication of the cognitive-code theory for language teaching (e.g., see Jakobovits 1970; Lugton 1971). But no clear-cut methodological guidelines emerged, nor did any particular method incorporating this view of learning. The term cognitive code is still sometimes invoked to refer to any conscious attempt to organize materials around a grammatical syllabus while allowing for meaningful practice and use of language. The lack of an alternative to Audiolingualism in
language teaching in the United States has led to a period of adaptation, innovation, experimentation, and some confusion. On the one hand are new methods that have been developed independently of current lin­guistic and second language acquisition theory (e.g., Total Physical Re­sponse, Silent Way, Counseling-Learning); on the other are competing approaches that are derived, it is claimed, from contemporary theories of language and second language acquisition (e.g., The Natural Àðproach, Communicative Language Teaching). These developments will be considered in the remaining chapters of this book.




Audiolingualism holds that language learning is like other forms of learning. Since language is a formal, rule-governed system, it can be formally organized to maximize teaching and learning efficiency. Audiolingualism thus stresses the mechanistic aspects of language learning and language use.

There are many similarities between Situational Language Teaching and Audiolingualism. The order in which the language skills are intro­duced, and the focus on accuracy through drill and practice in the basic structures and sentence patterns of the target language, might suggest that these methods drew from each other. In fact, however, Situational Language Teaching was a development of the earlier Direct Method (see Chapter 1) and does not have the strong ties to linguistics and behavioral psychology that characterize Audiolingualism. The similarities of the two methods reflect similar views about the nature of language and of language learning, though these views were in fact developed from quite different traditions.


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