As gradually fell out of favour starting from the

As
language learning has always been a part of human history, the question on how
to teach foreign languages therefore has never ceased. In fact, all the changes
in language teaching methods throughout history are constituted by the kind of
proficiency learners seek to develop. (Richards & Rodgers, 2001) Looking
back at the history of foreign language teaching, early classroom teaching of
modern languages was based on techniques for teaching Latin, which are heavily
centred on the written mode, with a disregard for language use. However, this Grammar-Translation
Method gradually fell out of favour starting from the mid-nineteenth century as
the need for speaking proficiency was recognised. (Ibid.) With the rise of
linguistics and psychology in the twentieth century, various language teaching methods
are introduced based on different theories and research. Audiolingualism and Communicative
Language Teaching are two of the key approaches that have influenced the ELT
over the last 50 years and will be discussed in this essay.

 

Before
moving onto the review, it is necessary to clarify the relationship between
approach and method so as to better ‘conceptualise the nature of methods and
explore more systematically the relationship between theory and practice within
a method’ (Ibid.).  In 1963, Edward
Anthony introduced the three levels of conceptualisation and organisation
namely, approach, method, and technique, which were then developed into a more
complex system. While approach ‘refers to theories about the nature of language
and language learning that serve as the source of practices and principles in language
teaching’ (Ibid.), method is about the development of ‘a design for an
instructional system’ (Ibid.), which lays the foundation for the last level of
conceptualisation and organisation, i.e. technique/ procedure where realisation
of the approach and design of a particular method takes place in a classroom
setting. (Ibid.)

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  As
mentioned in the first paragraph, approaches were developed with a stronger
focus on oral fluency in the twentieth century. Audiolingualism is no different.
Born out of the Army Specialised Training Program in the United States during
the WWII, it emerged in the late 1950s with the backing of the structuralist and
behaviourist theories. Languages were deemed systems of elements and primacy was
given to spoken over written mode. (Ibid.) It was believed that language learning
is the formation of habit established by the provision of a stimulus to trigger
a response and then followed by reinforcement. (Ibid.)  Influenced by these views, Audiolingualists
advocated to put focus on oral skills through training in listening
comprehension in the early stage of learning. Imitation, repetition and
memorisation are used to help learners become familiar with ‘the sounds,
arrangements, and forms’ (Ibid.) of English. ‘Tape recorders and audiovisual equipment
often have central roles in an audiolingual courses’ (Ibid.) especially if the
teacher is not a native speaker of the target language. To ensure a good behaviour
is formed, correction of errors is necessary when mistakes are spotted. Reading
and writing skills are only taught after the acquiring speaking skills. Dialogues
and drills are two of the most common types of activities practiced in audiolingual
classrooms. Dialogues ‘provide the means of contextualising key structures and
illustrate situations in which structures might be used as well as some
cultural aspects of the target language’ (Ibid.). More importantly, they serve
as models for repetition and memorisation, after which drills are utilised for specific
grammatical pattern-practice exercises. (Ibid.) According to Brooks, there are twelve
types of drills, i.e. repetition, inflection, replacement, restatement, completion,
transposition, contraction, transformation, integration, rejoinder and restoration.
(Ibid.) All drills, apart from the first one, require learners to change
certain elements in the sentences. Take ‘John goes to school by bus.’ as an
example. In case of replacement, ‘John’ would be replaced by ‘He’. It is
crucial to note that audiolinguists are against deductive grammar learning (Ibid.)
so grammar explanation should only be provided after learners have acquired it
through dialogues and drills.

 

Due
to the fact that Audiolingualism is a teacher-dominated approach, teachers can
choose activities in accordance with the needs of the students. If they are
found to be struggling with one particular grammar structure or pronunciation,
teachers can provide more dialogues and drills for reinforcement. As learners
have no control over learning and thus are unable to avoid weak points, they
are forced to work on them and therefore improvement can be ensured. On the
other hand, Audiolingualism provides an opportunity for learners to rigorously
develop their listening skills as instructions are given in the target language.
Nevertheless, learners often find it difficult to ‘transfer skills acquired
through Audiolingualism to real communication outside the classroom’ (Ibid.) since
the mechanical act of repeating sentences without meaning cannot help learners
express themselves and the procedures are seen as ‘boring and unsatisfying’ (Ibid.)
as learners are not encouraged to initiate interactions and thus putting them
in a passive role in learning (Larsen-Freeman & Anderson, 2011). Changes in
American linguistic theory in the 1960s also contribute to the decline of this approach
as Chomsky rejected both the structuralist and behaviourist theories as ‘ordinary
linguistic behaviour characteristically involves innovation, formation of new
sentences and patterns in accordance with rules of great abstractness and
intricacy’ (Richards & Rodgers, 2001).