In this post, we will examine the background to the Audiolingual method. Audiolingualism is considered by many to be the first American approach to ESL.
During the Great Depression, an influential study called the “Coleman Report” recommended that foreign language should be taught through the use of a reading approach. This led to many teachers teaching language using a combination of Direct Method and Oral Approach.
A major change came with the start of WWII, the US now needed people who were fluent in the languages of the enemy and those conquered by them. For many of these exotic languages, there was no textbook available. This led the army to a creative solution called the informant method.
The informant method was simple. A native speaker of the target language teamed with a student and a linguist and they would spend time together. The native speaker would say phrases and vocabulary for the student to learn through imitation. The linguist would provide structure for what the student was learning.
The informant method required students to study 10 hours a day six days a week for 12-18 weeks. By the end of such an intense experience, excellent languages skills were developed.
After WWII, there was a shift among many linguists towards a structural function of language combined with behavioral approaches to learning. There was also a focus on aural training with support in developing pronunciation skills. Later did the student learn about speaking, reading, and writing. This way of teaching language became know as the Aural-Oral Approach.
Audiolingualism came out of the background of the intense language experience of the informant method and the structural/behavioral emphasis of the Aural-Oral Approach. This method, with its focus on “drill, drill, drill”, was used in ESL teaching at universities throughout America at one point and is stilled used in many parts of the world today.
Audiolingualism was touted as taking language teaching from art to science. It was considered systematic and efficient in providing results. For teachers, it meant often being the center of instruction and speaking to allow the students to imitate and to correct them when they were wrong. For students, it meant parroting what was said without always knowing what it means.
For its time, there is no question as to the influence of audiolingualism. It was based on prior study and was one of the first major contribution of American linguists to ESL teaching. In a future post, we will examine in detail the audiolingual method.