Background and Characteristics of the Audio-Lingual Method

Susan Kifuthu
ESLM 587
February 6, 2002

  The Audio-Lingual method of teaching English as a second language had its origins during World War II when it became known as the Army method.  It was developed as a reaction to the grammar-translation method of teaching foreign languages.  Grammar-translation had been used to teach for thousands of years, but the method was perceived as taking too long for learners to be able to speak in the target language.  The Audio-Lingual method set out to achieve quick communicative competence through innovative methods.  From about 1947-1967 the Audio-Lingual approach was the dominant foreign language teaching method in the United States.
 The Audio-Lingual method is based on the theory that language learning is a question of habit formation.  It has its origins in Skinner’s principles of behavior theory.  Since learning is thought to be a question of habit formation,  errors are considered to be bad and to be avoided.  Further, teachers “reward” students by saying “Good!” and praising the class when they perform well.
 The Audio-Lingual method addresses a need for people to learn foreign languages rapidly.  It is best for beginning level English classes in a foreign language setting.  All instruction in the class are given in English. A dialog is presented for memorization.  The teacher asks the class to repeat each line of the dialog.  Expansion drills are used for difficult sentences.  The teacher starts with the end of the sentence and the class repeats just two words.  A series of pattern practice drills then follow the introduction of the dialog.
 One of the key principles of the Audio-Lingual method is that the language teacher should provide students with a native-speaker-like model.  By listening, students are expected to be able to mimic the model. Based upon contrastive analyses, students are drilled in pronunciation of words that are most dissimilar between the target language and the first language. Grammar is not taught directly by rule memorization, but by examples.  The method presumes that second language learning is very much like first language learning.

Larsen-Freeman, Diane. (1986) Techniques and Principles of Language Teaching, Oxford University Press
“Grammar Pedagogy in Second and Foreign Language Teaching,” (1991) TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 3 Autumn.