ESL job interview question: Tell us about audio-lingual method of teaching

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The audio-lingual method in 1950’s outbreak of the World War II heightened the need to become orally proficient in a foreign language during a very short period of time. The method was based on the theory of behaviourism propounded by a Psychologist named Skinner. 

According to Skinner, human beings learnt by habit formation through the process called ( Stimulus – Response – Reinforcement). The method was also was called “The Army Method” (an oral-based approach to language learning) (Littlewood 1992). In this method, grounded in the habit formation model of behaviorist psychology and on a Structural Linguistics theory of language, the emphasis was on memorization through pattern drills and conversation practices rather than promoting communicative ability. It identified the grammatical structures and the basic sentence patterns. The new material was basically presented in dialogue form. There was a dependency on mimicry, memorization of set phrases, and over learning. 

There was little or no grammatical explanation. Grammar was taught inductively. Great importance was given to pronunciation and limited use of the mother tongue was permitted. Successful responses were reinforced. There were great efforts to get students to produce error-free utterances. The main purpose was to teach learners to master the basic vocabulary and grammar of the language. It  believed that once a learner masters these he can use the language in various situations requiring the use of the learnt vocabulary or grammatical structures. 

The method was teacher-centred because the teacher controls what the pupils learn and did not give them the opportunity for self expression. This method of teaching language had been criticized for a number of reasons. One of these criticisms was that merely knowing the vocabulary and grammar of the language did not equip one well to use the language. This was because the use of language entails other things such as the user knowing the functions of language, the importance of the different roles of participants in a given language situation. The critics of this method consider it very limited as a means of teaching meaningful language acquisition. But this limitation notwithstanding, the Audiolingual method had some usefulness in the teaching of discrete forms of language i.e. vocabulary and grammar. There were times the teacher may need to teach these aspects of language in a bid to help his pupils knew correct grammar usage. This was why in spite of the criticism leveled against this method it still thrives in language classrooms (Prator and Celce-Murcia 1979).

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