The Audio-lingual (AL) method of language instruction is a second and foreign language model of instruction that emerged in full during the decade of 1950s-1960s. It is also known as the "Army Method", and as the "Michigan Method" after the two professors from the University of Michigan who were its biggest advocates, C.C. Fries and Robert Lado.
Historically speaking, the audio-lingual method could be argued to be a product of the Sputnik; the Soviet Union had just taken the lead in the Space race, and America saw the need to internationalize her troops through the teaching of foreign languages; at least that is what was hoped for, at the time. AL was also created as a rebuttal to the Direct Method, which proved ineffective as a teaching strategy.
The AL method is purely behavioral and teacher-centered. This means that it is based on habit formation, and on repeating words and conversations over and over. It is teacher-centered because it is the teacher, and not the student, who has complete control of the instruction. The teacher gives the student a stimulus (modeling a word, sentence, or conversation), waits for the student's response, and then provides reinforcement. The basic format, therefore, consists on modeling, listening, and repeating. This is why the method has its name of audio (hearing/listening), and lingual (verbal/spoken), "listening and speaking".
In AL, the students will do a mechanical (repetition), a meaningful (repetitive example using an everyday situation), and a communicative drill (question/answer).
Mechanical-Mix and match the following to create a sentence
- He, she, or they
- wanted, needed
- food, water, money, candy
Meaningful- Teacher says/Student repeats (from specific cues)
- Teacher- If you feel thirsty/ Student- I can get a soda.
- Teacher- If it feels hot/ Student- I can open the window.
- Teacher- If you need anything/ Student- I can ask the teacher.
Communicative-Short answers to drilled questions
- What is your favorite food?
- What is the first thing that you do in the mornings?
- What did we learn yesterday?
Keep in mind that the creation of the audio-lingual method came before advances were made in study of language as a cognitive process. It was much later that researchers such as Noam Chomsky proclaimed the innate ability for language processing as the most important component to SLA. Yet, Lado is not necessarily erred in his assertions
Individuals... transfer the forms and meanings...of their native language and culture to the foreign language and culture..when attempting to speak the language and to act in the culture, and...when attempting to grasp and understand the language and the culture as practiced by natives." (Lado, 1957, p.2)
In not so many words, Lado endorses imitation and repetition as a good strategy. This is not altogether wrong; repetition and imitation are extremely important, but cannot be the only processes involved. It is no surprise that, although the method may still be used by some teachers today, it has been rejected as a best practice in the regular or ESL/EFL classroom.
Parts of the AL method could become handy in some occasions. Repetition is indeed a needed part of the L2 learning process. Just as long as it is not the only intervention, AL can work as part of a comprehensive program.