In the United States, World War II brought with it the realization that military personnel who would be serving overseas could not understand or speak any foreign language. Intensive, total immersion language courses (Army Specialized Training Program) were launched to improve the situation immediately as at that time there was a need for people to learn foreign languages rapidly for military purposes. Language diversity greatly increased, so that there were more languages to learn. Expansion of schooling meant that language learning was no longer the prerogative of the elite but something that was necessary for a widening range of people. More opportunities for international travel and business and international social and cultural exchanges increased the need for language learning in the years following the World War II.
As a result, renewed attempts were made in the 1950s and 1960s to 1) use new technology (tape-recorders, radios, TV and computers) effectively in language teaching; 2) explore new educational patterns (bilingual education, individualized instruction, and immersion programs), and 3) establish methodological innovations (audio-lingual method, audio-visual method). The work of Leonard Bloomfield in linguistics, Edward Sapir in cultural anthropology, and B.F.Skinner in psychology was used as the basis for materials preparation at the University of Michigan by such well-known names as Charles C.Fries, Robert Lado, Aileen T.Kitchin, Betty Wallace Robinett, Virginia French Alien, and Kenneth L.Pike, and by many others associated with the Army Specialized Training Program. The audio-lingual method dominated the American scene until about 1960, when the first complaints were voiced aloud.
In the audio-lingual approach, the structuralists and, consequently, textbook writers emphasized the formal properties of language (the oral and written forms of nouns, verbs, etc.) which students had to learn in order to encode and decode speech whether or not they understood the meanings of the words or of the total message. These were the years when ‘The Jabberwocky” of Lewis Carroll was quoted as infinitum to indicate that any student could understand structural meaning if he or she understood the formal signals of language, for example, the fact that the signaled a following noun or that ed attached to a word generally signaled the simple past or, with an auxiliary, the past participle or the passive voice. While this was true, learners were no closer to comprehending what was being said. The methodologists of those years underscored, too, the necessity for over-learning, a principle which led to endless mimicry and memorization.
The over-learning, the attention to form, and the exhaustion of classroom teachers after five or six daily classes using the audio-lingual method still did not produce large numbers of learners who could communicate with the teacher, their group-mates, or native English speakers.
Some of theof this method are similar to those of the Direct Method, but many are different:
1. Lessons begin with dialogues. Language forms don’t occur by themselves; they occur most naturally within a context.
2. The native language and the target language have separate linguistic systems. They should be kept apart, so that the native language interferes as little as possible.
3. Teachers should provide the students with a native-speaker-like model. By listening to how it is supposed to sound, students should be able to mimic the model.
4. Language learning is a process of habit formation. The more often something is repeated the stronger the habit and the greater the learning. Students should learn to respond to both verbal and nonverbal stimuli.
5. A great effort is made to prevent learners from making errors as they lead to the formation of wrong habits. When errors occur, they should be immediately corrected by the teacher.
6. The purpose of language learning is to learn the language to communicate. Pronunciation is taught from the very beginning. The major objective of the language teaching should be for the students to acquire the structural patterns; vocabulary is severely limited in initial stages.
7. Particular parts of speech occupy particular “slots” in sentences. In order to create new sentences, students must learn which part of speech occupies which slot.
8. Positive reinforcement helps the students to develop correct habits.
9. Skills are sequenced: listening, speaking, – reading, writing postponed.
10. Each language has a finite number of patterns. Pattern practice helps students to form habits which enable them to use the patterns.
11. Students should “over-learn”, i.e. learn to answer automatically without stopping to think.
12. The teacher should be like an orchestra leader – conducting, guiding, and controlling the students’ behaviour in the target language.
13. The learning of a foreign language should be the same as the acquisition of the native tongue. We don’t need to memorize rules in order to use our native language. The rules necessary to use the target language will be figured out or induced from examples.
14. Language can’t be separated from culture, as it isn’t only literature and arts, but also the everyday behaviour of the people. The teacher’s responsibility is to present information about that culture.
Techniques used in this method:
backward build-up (expansion) drill;
single-slot substitution drill;
multiple-slot substitution drill;
question and answer drill;
use of minimal pairs;
complete the dialogue;
Beginning in the mid-1960s, there has been a variety of theoretical challenges to the audio-lingual method. Linguist Noam Chomsky proposed a theory called Transformational Generative Grammar, according to which learners do not acquire an endless list of rules but a limited set of transformations that can be used over and over again.