Saturday, April 1, 2017

Using Audio-Lingual Method in Applied Linguistics

AL is an interdisciplinary field of study that identifies, investigates, and offers solutions to language-related real life problems. Some of the academic fields related to appliedlinguistics are education, linguistics, psychology, anthropology, and sociology in the very practical context such as speech therapy, speech recognition, ELT and communications which is the area specifically important for pedagogical practicum. Other major branches of applied linguistics include bilingualism and multilingualism, computer-mediated communication (CMC), conversation analysis, language assessment, literacies, discourse analysis, language pedagogy, sociolinguistics, second language acquisition, language planning and policies, pragmatics, forensic linguistics, stylistics and translation. Of all these TEFL or ELT ,as generally called, are the most important applications of Linguistics and out of these, I would like to choose ALM.  I will start with the background of ALM and its various features then will conclude the topic with its strengths and limitations on practical implications in Pakistani environment.

History of ALM

The Audio-lingual method is the product of three historical circumstances. For its views on language, audiolingualism drew on the work of American linguists such as Leonard Bloomfield. The prime concern of American Linguistics at the early decades of the 20th century had been to document all the indigenous languages spoken in the USA. However, because of the dearth of trained native teachers who would provide a theoretical description of the native languages, linguists had to rely on observation. For the same reason, a strong focus on oral language was developed. At the same time, behaviourist psychologists such as B.F. Skinner were forming the belief that all behaviour (including language) was learnt through repetition and positive or negative reinforcement. The third factor that enabled the birth of the Audio-lingual method was the outbreak of World War II, which created the need to post large number of American servicemen all over the world. It was therefore necessary to provide these soldiers with at least basic verbal communication skills. Unsurprisingly, the new method relied on the prevailing scientific methods of the time, observation and repetition, which were also admirably suited to teaching en masse. Because of the influence of the military, early versions of the audio-lingualism came to be known as the “army method.” 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, which learnerswere 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 that affective factors influenced their application paved the way toward the new methods that were to follow the Audiolingual Method.

Key Features and Objectives of the Method

The overall goal of the Audiolingual Method was to create communicative competence in learners. However, it was thought that the most effective way to do this 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:
  • New material is presented in dialog form.
  • There is dependence on mimicry, memorization of set phrases, and overlearning.
  • Structures are sequenced by means of contrastive analysis and taught one at a time.
  • Structural patterns are taught using repetitive drills in a structural framework.
  • There is little or no grammatical explanation. Grammar is taught by inductive analogy rather than deductive explanation.
  • Vocabulary is strictly limited and learned in context.
  • There is much use of tapes, language labs, and visual aids such as computer and CDs.
  • Great importance is attached to pronunciation.
  • Very little use of the mother tongue by teachers is permitted.
  • Successful responses are immediately reinforced.
  • There is great effort to get students to produce error-free utterances.
  • There is a tendency to manipulate language and disregard content.
  • The overall impression of the approach is habit-formulation.

The Basic Techniques Used in ALM

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)

Non-Suitability of ALM in Pakistani Context

The audio-lingual method was deprived of its scientific credibility and it was only a matter of time before the effectiveness of the method itself was questioned. It was partly due to Chomsky’s review of Skinner’s Behaviorism. Later the emergence of Humanistic methods and Task-based approaches gave a tremendous set back to ALM. Today, however; despite being discredited as an effective teaching methodology in the 1960s, audio-lingualism continues to be used today, although it is typically not used as the foundation of a course, but rather, has been relegated to use in individual lessons. As it continues to be used, it also continues to gain criticism, as Jeremy Harmer notes, “Audio-lingual methodology seems to banish all forms of language processing that help students sort out new language information in their own minds.” As this type of lesson is very teacher centered, it is a popular methodology for both teachers and students, perhaps for several reasons but in particular, because the input and output is restricted and both parties know what to expect. Apart from the above theoretical issues, we must notice limitations of ALM listed below. These limitations and implications are, by no means, helpful in Pakistani context.
  • Basic method of teaching is repetition, speech is standardized and pupils turn into parrots who can reproduce many things but never create anything new or spontaneous.
  • Pupils became better and better at pattern practice but were unable to use the patterns fluently in natural speech situations.
  • Mechanical drills of early Audio-Visual approach criticised as being not only boring and mindless but also counter-productive, if used beyond initial introduction to new structure.
  • Audio-Visual materials were open to same sort of misuse. Tendency to regard audio-visual materials as a teaching method in themselves, not as a teaching aid.
  • Soon became clear to teachers that audio-visual approach could only assist in presentation of new materials. More subtle classroom skills were needed for pupils to assimilate material and use it creatively. This final vital phase was often omitted by teachers.
  • New technology caught publishers and text-book writers unprepared – very few commercial materials were available in the early stages. Those that did exist stressed oral and aural skills and didn’t develop reading and writing skills.
  • New materials necessitated extensive use of equipment with all associated problems of black-out, extension leads, carrying tape-recorders from classroom to classroom. Some schools set up Specialist- Language rooms, but teachers still had to set up projectors and find places on tape. Equipment could break down, projector lamps explode, tapes tangle – not sophisticated equipment of today. Hardware involved extra time, worry and problems, and, for these reasons alone, its use gradually faded away.
  • Series of classroom studies threw doubt on claims made for language laboratory. Showed that this costly equipment did not improve performance of 11+ beginners, when compared with same materials used on single tape-recorder in classroom.

Rejection of ALM in Pakistani Environment

ALM is not the right choice for Pakistani teachers to employ with their students. An experienced Pakistani teacher will readily understand its limitations. There are a number of reasons why this method should be abolished (partially at least; if not completely).
  • Firstly, Pakistan is a progressive country where academic demographics of the leaner are strictly limited. ALM is based on highly modernized language lab which it self catches the attention of the leaner rather than the language itself. Moreover, it is still difficult for most learners to operate on this sophisticated apparatus on their own.
  • Secondly, Pakistan is relatively a poor country and most institutions cannot install the modern equipment and provide individual apparatus for practice. Even if they do, the course of learning becomes too expensive for the learner to carry on with.
  • Thirdly, though ALM a natural approach, yet we must not forget that habit formation does require a natural environment where language is spoken round the clock; but a learner keeps a contact with the apparatus for two hours and in the actual context of use in society, he has no such opportunity to exploit what he has learnt.
  • Fourthly, ALM is very time-consuming. Based on natural approach, ALM roughly takes two years for a steadier leaner which is something, not to be afforded by Pakistani learners who want prompt results.
  • Fifthly, ALM cannot work best with students who have already been instructed with GTM. Those Pakistanis who want to learn English have already been instructed with GTM in their Secondary Education, so it is difficult for them to adapt to the new approach.


ALM is the key style in modern English Teaching. Lessons in the classroom focus on the correct imitation of the teacher by the students. Not only are the students expected to produce the correct output, but attention is also paid to correct pronunciation. Although correct grammar is expected in usage, no explicit grammatical instruction is given. Furthermore, the target language is the only language to be used in the classroom. ALM has its roots in Krashen’s Natural Approach and Skinner’s Verbal Behaviour. ALM rests upon Listening and partial or controlled reading to induce input like First Language Acquisition and later emphasis is added to production and speaking.

In Pakistan, ALM is not very successful due to infra-structural and applied reasons. Also ALM in Pakistan is not very suitable as it is expensive for the organization and time-consuming for the learner alike. In my personal opinion, however, 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. So we cannot entirely reject ALM, we can use it for autonomous learning, but for the teacher, the best method should be eclectic and vary from person to person and place to place. It should be tailored to the needs of the students.

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