Language in Diversity

  1. IMG_02931. The Understandings of Audio-lingual Method

The origin of Audio-lingual Method was the Army Method or the Informant Method which begun in a program called Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP). The method was begun for the first time in The United States with the purpose to make the soldiers, who would be sent to several countries in World-War II, could speak as the natives from the countries to make them easy to communicate with the natives. The soldiers were taught by the native speaker, called informant, as the teacher who acted as the model of the target language. The process of teaching and learning was using the target language as much as possible.

The Army Specialized Training Program created intensive programs based on the techniques Leonard Bloomfield and other linguists devised for Native American languages, where students interacted intensively with native speakers and a linguist in guided conversations designed to decode its basic grammar and learn the vocabulary. This “informant method” had great success with its small class sizes and motivated learners.[1]

The success of the method in teaching in the soldiers made it used to teach foreign language especially English to foreign students who wanted to study in any academic institutions in The United States. This Army Method, combined with some new ideas about language learning from the Structural Linguistics and Behavioral Psychology, became what was known as the Audio-lingual Method (ALM).

This first version of the method was originally called the Oral Method or the Aural-Oral Approach. Some linguists who advocated the method argued that spoken language must be the primary object of language learning, not written language. Moreover, English at that time became the lingua franca in Europe. The structural linguists view language as a set of elements that their parts connected each other forming a language building, as Richards and Rodgers highlight that “language was viewed as a system of structurally related elements for encoding of meaning, and sentences types”.[2] So, language is learnt from the smallest element according to the structural linguists and as the writer has discussed at the beginning of this paragraph the spoken language is the primary subject. The process of learning language based on this method is that the students listen to the target language models (aural), students practice the target language with a variety of drills (oral), and the teacher emphasizes the students to use the target language in the all class time (drill).

William Moulton, as quoted by Richards and Rodgers, views the linguistic principles on which language teaching methodology as below:

“Language is speech, not writing….A language is a set of habits….Teach the language, not about the language….A language is what native speakers say, and not what someone thinks they ought to say….Languages is different”.[3]

From Moulton’s statement above, it is clear that the activities in Audio-lingual Method class are a language which is taught and studied orally.

One of ideas that Audio-lingual Method advocated, was the idea from psychologists. According to them, some experiments in psychology show that all creatures, including human, are doing something as the response to the stimulus they received. For example, the feeling of hungry is one of stimulus that then be responded by doing something to get such food to eat. Then their experiment demonstrates that by the use of rewards and punishment, animals can be conditioned to learn some new behavior in response (R) to new stimuli (S) and then this is known as SR-theory. This is the basic behaviorist idea that learning is the result of habit formation. It is concluded that SR-theory of learning is the result of habit formation of new habits. Learning is defined as the imitation of good or ‘correct’ behavior in responding to positive reinforcement as Mueller highlights in his discussion about learning models that “the Audio-lingual Method, also called the Fundamental Skills method, views language as behavior, and is based on Behaviorist Psychology and Structural Linguist.”[4]

According to Mueller’s view above, we know that the Audio-lingual Method is the method which views language as behavior. Shortly, language is behavior. Moreover, the theory of Behaviorist Linguist is that people can master such a language if they make it as their behavior or in other word through habit language can be mastered. Simply it can be said, if they practice more they will master the language better.

Meanwhile Brown states:

…, behaviorist psychologist advocated conditioning and habit-formation models of learning, which were perfectly married with the mimicry drills and patterns practices of audio-lingual methodology.[5]

As Brown said above and the writer has also discussed, based on the idea of stimulus, response and also conditioning, mimicry and patterns practices are the major activities in Audio-lingual Method is that the teacher must be a good model of the target language. The teacher should provide students with a good model of the target language. By listening to the model of the correct target language, students should be able to imitate the model; they should master the pronunciation of the target language as well as they hear from their teacher. The idea of conditioning can lead students to follow their teacher using the target language. After the teacher gives them stimulus as a model of target language and then the students respond to it using the target language correctly, then the teacher reinforces the students’ responses, the target language will be students’ behavior that will become their habit.

Thus Diane in her book discusses about learning and teaching argues:

It was thought that the way to acquire the sentence patterns of the target language was through conditioning-helping learners to respond correctly to stimuli through shaping and reinforcement. Learners could overcome the habits required to be target language speakers.[6]

According to Diane, learning through Audio-lingual Method, students are supposed to be the target language speakers. Students are supposed to over-learn; students learn using the target language without stopping to think before. At this case, learning such a foreign language should be as the acquisition of the native language. Students do not have to memorize rules or grammars in order to use the target language. Students are forced to use the target language communicatively during the class as it is said “the overall goal of the Audio-lingual Method is to create communicative competence in learners.”[7] Although we know that students have their native language, but using this method their native language is not used. Teacher should use the target language in teaching and learning process and also the students are forbidden using their native language in order that the students’ native language does not interfere with the target language.

However, in this method it is thought that the most effective way to do all of these things discussed above is through extensive repetition and variety of drills. The idea is to make the patterns of the language (grammar pattern) absorbed by the students; the rules which are needed in using the target language will be absorbed from examples they repeat through drilling. Then the students can make responses to the target language automatically and it becomes their habit.

Its central goal is to make learners fit for the fluent oral use of the target language in everyday situations. Reading and writing were considered to be supportive skills only. In quite a few respects the goals and methods of the Audio-lingual Approach are similar to the ones of the Direct Method.[8]

As we have known above that the main focus of the method is to make students to mastering spoken language of the target language. So, listening and speaking are the main subjects in the class. Reading and writing are only as addition or secondary subjects. In this method, teachers are also forbidden to use the translations of the meaning of words and grammatical structures, language forms (grammar pattern) must be presented and learnt in spoken language that included in situational contexts that are familiar to the students, so they learn to respond to a given situation using the target language correctly.

Harmer, in his book about English teaching, also explains about Audio-lingual Method:

Using the stimulus-response-reinforcement model, it attempted, through a continuous process of such positive reinforcement, to engender good habits in language learners. Audio-lingualism relied heavily on drills to form these habits; substitution was built into these drills so that, in small steps, the student was constantly learning and, moreover, was shielded from the possibility of making mistakes by the design of the drill.[9]

According to Harmer, positive reinforcement can help the students to develop correct habit in using the target language. In this stage, the teacher should control the students’ behavior in using the target language. The teacher should keep the students responding to his stimulus, using the target language correctly. Harmer also points out that drills used in this method are small steps to shield students from making mistake even less error using the target language because both of them lead to bad habits. When a mistake or an error occurs, it must be corrected by the teacher immediately. So, the mistake or error will not continue. Then it can be followed up by reinforcement so that the correct behavior will become a good habit.

From all explanations above, the writer could conclude that Audio-lingual Method in this paper is an English teaching method which is done through intensive oral drilling and all its types in the all class time activities. This kind of drilling is done based on the linguistic principle which Moulton already pointed out.

2. The Characteristics of Audio-lingual Method

As we have known from the conclusion of the previous explanation of this chapter, Audio-lingual Method views language as habit. Audio-lingual Method is the theory of learning that is based on the idea of conditioning, building the condition to use the language, through stimulus, response and reinforcement. So, learning and teaching activities are stressed on building correct behaviour using the target language that will lead to good habit in using the target language.

The Audio-lingual Method teaching activities are based on the following principles:[10]

  1. Language forms do not occur by themselves.
  2. The native language and the target language have separate linguistic systems.
  3. One of the language teacher’s major roles is that of a model of the target language.
  4. Language learning is a process of habit formation.
  5. It is important to prevent learners from making errors.
  6. The purpose of language learning is to learn how to use the language to communicate.
  7. Particular parts of speech occupy particular ‘slots’ in sentences.
  8. Positive reinforcement helps the students to develop correct habit.
  9. Students should learn to respond to both verbal and nonverbal stimuli.
  10. Each language has a finite number of patterns.
  11. Students should ‘overlearn’.
  12. The teacher should be like an orchestra leader.
  13. The major objective of language teaching should be for students to acquire the structural patterns.
  14. The learning of a foreign language should be the same as the acquisition of the native language.
  15. The major challenge of foreign language teaching is getting students to overcome the habits of their native language.
  16. Speech is more basic to language than the written form.
  17. Language cannot be separated from culture.

From the explanation above, when a teacher introduces a new dialog, it most naturally occurs within a context. The activities in the class are using the target language as the medium of language. Based on the contrastive analyses, the native language (mother tongue) and the target language have different system, so students are drilled in pronunciation the words and sentences of the target language that are most dissimilar to their native language. Students are forced to build their habit using the target language. Students are judged that they are success in their learning when they respond to such a stimuli using the target language automatically without stopping to think. The mistake or error using the target language is avoided as can as possible and the mistakes should be immediately corrected by the teacher, and using the target language correctly is highly stressed. Vocabularies are limited on daily vocabularies and introduced through lines of the dialog, and sentences are taught through demonstration and through activities that can make students active to respond the target language orally, as we know that one of the key principles of Audio-lingual Method is that the teacher should provide students with a native-speaker-like model. By listening from the teacher, students are expected to be able to mimic and imitate the model. Grammar is not taught directly by rule memorization, but by examples and then tried through drilling and repetition.

Besides the explanation about classroom activities using Audio-lingual Method above, here is a typical procedure in the class of the Audio-lingual Method:[11]

  1. Students hear a model dialogue.
  2. Students repeat each line of the dialogue.
  3. Certain key words or phrases may be changed in the dialogue.
  4. Key structures from the dialogue serve as the basis for pattern drills of different kinds.
  5. The students practice substitutions in the pattern drills.

As we have known, this method is also called the Aural-Oral Method. This method is stressed on rapid acquisition of listening and speaking skills. If the dialogue presented by the teacher as the model, the students have to imitate line by line of the dialogue to pronounce the target language correctly. Then, to make students understand such a grammar pattern, one of the techniques such substitution will be used. Some words will be changed with another and the teacher will ask some of the students to complete it or even to make a sentence as same as the sample. Through these activities, the Audio-Lingual Method drills students in the use of grammatical sentence patterns. As we have known that when this method is developed at first time, it is thought that the way to acquire the sentence patterns of the second language is through conditioning, through substitution drills, through helping learners to respond correctly to stimuli of target language through shaping and reinforcement.

About classroom activities using Audio-Lingual Method, Diane Larsen-Freeman also asserts:

New vocabulary and structural patterns are presented through dialogs. The dialogs are learned through imitation and repetition. Drills (such as repetition backward build-up, chain substitution, transformation, and question-and-answer) are conducted based upon the patterns present in the dialog. Students’ successful responses are positively reinforced. Grammar is induced from the examples given; explicit grammar rules are not provided. Cultural information is contextualized in the dialogs or presented by the teacher. Students’ reading and written work is based upon the oral work they did earlier.[12]

Brown, as he adopted from Prator and Celce-Murcia, also lists the characteristics of the Audio-Lingual Method as follow:[13]

  1. New material is presented in dialog form.
  2. There is dependence on mimicry, memorization of set phrase, and over-learning.
  3. Structures are sequenced by means of contrastive analysis and taught one at a time.
  4. Structural patterns are taught using repetitive drills.
  5. There is a little or no grammatical explanation: Grammar is taught by inductive analogy rather than deductive explanation.
  6. Vocabulary is strictly limited and learned in context.
  7. There is much use of tapes, language labs, and visual aids.
  8. Great importance is attached to pronunciation.
  9. Very little use of the mother tongue by teacher is permitted.
  10. Successful responses are immediately reinforced.
  11. There is a great effort to get students to produce error-free utterances.
  12. There is a tendency to manipulate language and disregard content.

Since the purpose of language learning of this method is to learn how to use the target language to communicate, dialogue is used in the class. Dialog can be between the teacher and students, and also between students and students. This is to train students in using the target language communicatively. The dialog starts with imitation and repetition. So, the students can follow their teacher who is the model of target language. The dialog which is related to the context will help more because it helps students to know how to use the target language in the context. When the students respond correctly to teacher’s stimulus in using the target language, they are reinforced to lead them to use the target language as their behaviour. After the students can use such a structural pattern orally and correctly, the teacher can let them to use it in such a written work. The important thing in language learning through Audio-lingual Method is how to use the target language to communicate.

We have discussed above, teaching language using Audio-lingual Method will be better if we choose the appropriate picture and dialog. The picture and dialog must be presented communicatively and they must relate the target language to situational context that familiar to the students.

For starting the lesson, for example, the teacher can show the students such a picture and then the teacher asks them what they look at the picture, how many persons or things are in the picture, what the picture tells or shows them, what the people are doing in the picture. After this beginning the teacher can lead the students dialog.

As we have known from the beginning of this chapter that drill is the main activities in teaching and learning using this method, here are some kinds of drills which are used as the classroom activities of Audio-lingual Method:[14]

  1. Dialog memorization: Students are given a short dialog to memorize then they must imitate and apply role playing to present the dialog. Examples of dialogs that can be used are included in the materials section. The objective of this memorization is as an experiment with language and non-verbal elements (e.g. gesture) to achieve an effect for a particular purpose and audience.
  2. Backward build-up: Teacher provides students with the sentence fragments found in the materials section. Students repeat each part of the sentence and expand backwards through the sentence by adding each part in sequence. The objective of this activity is to get students participating in a variety of shared language experiences.
  3. Transformation drill: The teacher provides a question which must be transformed into a statement. An extension of this activity is to get the students able to make a question out of a statement. The objective of this drill is to make students able to select from word choices and using simple sentence patterns to communicate ideas and information.
  4. Complete the dialog: The teacher gets the students to fill in the blanks in the dialogs provided. The proper word must be inserted into the text. This activity is much like a filling in the blank activity. The objective of this exercise is to have students be able making connections between text, knowledge, and personal experiences.
  5. Dictation: Teacher can use any piece of literature at the students’ reading level, read the piece aloud several times. The teacher gets the students to write down what they hear. The idea is to write that they have heard as literally as possible. The objective of this dictation is to make students master listening skill to identify the sounds of the target language to determine main ideas and important details from sentences heard.
  6. Flashcards: Teacher can use flashcards with words that are relevant to students’ life about the word on the card. A new word could be chosen each day. The objective of this activity is that students are able to make connections between text, prior knowledge, and personal experiences.
  7. Chain drill: The teacher can use a chain of conversation forms in the classroom as the teacher greets or asks one of the students and that student responds then turns to the next student and greets or asks a question of the second student and the chain continues. The objective of this drill is to get students participating in shared language experiences.
  8. The alphabet game: The teacher picks a category or a theme, such as the supermarket. Then the first student says: “I am going to the supermarket. I need a few apples.” (The first student names something beginning with A). The second student says: “I am going to the supermarket. I need a few apples and I need a few bananas”. The game continues in this way with each student adds an item beginning with the next letter after repeating the items before their own. The objectives of this game are to make students participating in shared listening experiences. Share ideas and experiences in large and small groups.

The first step should be done by teacher starting teaching and learning activities in the class using this method, before presenting material, is stimulating and motivating the students. Stimulating and motivating students are very important as Rubin and Thompson point out that if somebody is strongly motivated to study and he has time to do it, it is the best time to begin.[15] This stage is very important to lead to the next stage. At this stage, the student must be made ready to study mentally or emotionally. If we do this stage well, the teaching and learning process also will continue well to the next stage.

At this stage the teacher can use: greeting, asking day and date, asking one of the students, asking the newest news, talking nationality and etc. to make the students ready, relax and high motivated to concentrate and pay their attention to the teaching and learning process.

As we have already known from the first that the purpose if the teaching and learning in Audio-lingual Method is to learn how to use the target language to communicate, so appropriate dialog will help very much because the students in this case are not only taught the form of the language but also the function of the language. Harmer highlights “we do not only show students what language means, we also have to show them how it is used”.[16] It also will help us more if we use attractive picture because it is more effective to help students understanding the lesson. Of course the picture also must relate the target language to situational context that familiar to the students.

One of the responsibilities of the teacher is to create and build motivation in the learners, to empower them with the ability and confidence to “learn how to learn” and develop a responsibility for their own development as well. Students should also be encouraged to make an experiment and develop their ability using a set of language rules, and to absorb through drilling where and how the rules need to be used.


[1], retrieved on October 25th, 2010.

[2] Jack C. Richards and Theodore Rodgers, Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching, A Description and Analysis, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 49.

[3] Jack C. Richards and Theodore Rodgers, Approaches and Method…, p. 49.50.

[4] Theodore H. Mueller, The Effectiveness of Two Learning Models: The Audio-lingual Habit Theory and The Cognitive Code-learning Theory, in The Psychology of Second Language Learning, Papers from the Second International Congress of Applied Linguistic. Cambridge, 8-12 September 1969, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), p. 113.

[5] H. Douglas Brown, Principles of Language Learning and Teaching, Fourth Edition, (New Jersey: Prentice Hall Regents, 1994), p. 74.

[6] Diane Larsen-Freeman, Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching, Second Edition, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 35.

[7], retrieved on October 25th, 2010.

[8], retrieved on October 25th, 2010.

[9] Jeremy Harmer, The Practice of English Language Teaching, Third Edition, (Cambridge: Longman, 2001), p. 79.

[10] Diane Larsen-Freeman, Techniques and Principles…, p. 42-45.

[11], retrieved on October 25th, 2010.

[12] Diane Larsen-Freeman, Techniques and Principles…, p. 45-46.

[13] H. Douglas Brown, Principles of…, p.70-71.

[14], retrieved on October 25th, 2010.

[15] Joan Rubin and Irene Thompson, How to Be A More Successful Language Learner, (Boston: Heinle & Heinle Publishers, 1994). P. 5.

[16] Jeremy Harmer, The Practice…, p. 56.


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