The Audio-Lingual Method is a method of teaching foreign languages popular in the mid 20th Century.
It is similar to the Direct Method (and is in fact descended from it) in that the teacher presents the students with plenty of language practice and examples in English and the students’ MT is not used at all. This, of course, is the way that native speakers learn a language.
However, unlike the Direct Method which teaches vocabulary, the Audio-Lingual Method concentrated more on structure with students learning set phrases and structures through constant repetition: in the same way a group of soldiers can learn to field-strip a machine gun through constant repetition, so a group of language learners can learn to speak a foreign language through constant repetition.
An Example of the AL Method in Action
A traditional AL lesson might go like this:
- The teacher presents a correct model of a structure (e.g. sentence type).
- The students repeat it.
- Then the students repeat it again and again and again.
- The teacher changes one part of the structure and the students repeat.
- Etc, etc, etc…
The students essentially learn a type of structure parrot fashion and can trot it out when needed. This means the students can – in a relatively short space of time – become fairly proficient in producing simple structures which they are able to use efficiently.
Meanwhile grammar is ignored; it’s not taught explicitly as students are expected to pick it up as they go along.
As you can see, there are plenty of drills involved. These often include plenty of practice with intonation: the production of understandable, correct, utterances is of paramount importance here.
History and Fall From Grace
The AL method was developed mainly in the USA and became popular just preceding the second world war (in fact, one of the impetuses was the need to train many thousands of soldiers the basics of a foreign language; the AL method was originally called the Army Method). It was also influenced by the behaviorist methods (reward/punishment) of the 1950s.
However, by the late 1950s linguists such as Chomsky were pointing out flaws in the method as well as questioning the use of behaviorist methods in teaching language. Further research in the 1960s showed that students benefited more with explicit grammar instruction which the AL method does not provide. It was not long then before the method was discredited and out of use.
Notwithstanding this, you are likely to find teachers still using this type of teaching in more traditional schools. The reason is simple: it’s easy for the teacher and very teacher focussed.