Audiolingual Method and Communicative Language Teaching: A Comparison

Audiolingual Method and Communicative Language Teaching: A Comparison

Since the early days of humanity, for many different reasons – economic, diplomatic, social, commercial, or military - there is the need of getting in contact with speakers of other languages. According to Puren (1988), the first foreign language learning is supposed to have happened through direct contact with foreign countries. Together with this natural means of acquisition, some people worried in learning and teaching some foreign languages in a systematic way. Because of cultural and historical factors the English language stood up as the more widely spread in Brazil and in the world, creating a need for specialized English schools. Answering to this demand the teaching of English, as well as of other languages, has been based on many different methods or approaches. One of the most widely used methods is the Audiolingual (AL) method, which according to Richards and Rodgers (2001), had its beginning in the early 1940s and has its theory of learning based on the structural linguistic theory, and its learning principles based on the behaviorist theory. The AL method was the strongest and more used method up to the early 1960s, when Noam Chomsky's proposal defended that language learning was something innate in the human mind, and he did not admit that language was an imitated behavior, as it was proposed by the behaviorists. Because of this, the 1960s were a period of uncertainty, with many different methods and approaches being researched and used, until the development of the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) in the late 1960s. CLT has its theory of learning based on the belief that activities involving real communication, carrying out meaningful tasks, and meaningful to the learner promote learning. Moreover, its language theory has an eclectic theoretical base related to the concept of communicative competence (see Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p. 160). In this sense, in this paper I will establish a brief comparison between the AL method and the CLT, focusing in two of the most important features of language teaching, which are the teacher and learner roles. First I will present the AL method's practices and beliefs. Then, in the following paragraphs I will make a brief description of CLT focusing on language and learning theories and learner and teacher roles. Next I will raise a comparison/contrast between these two views according to the teacher and learner roles in the two different practices. Finally I intend to defend my position that the CLT, in spite of being harder to work with, can produce better results in the English language teaching/learning process .

According to Richards and Rodgers (2001, p.52) the AL method teaches language by systematic attention to pronunciation and by intensive oral drilling of basic sentence patterns, and the format followed by the linguists involved in this project is known as the “general form”. A lesson begins with work on pronunciation, morphology and grammar, followed by drills and exercises. According to this, learners are believed to be directed by training techniques to produce correct responses. These beliefs are stem from the behaviorist language learning theory, which claims that teaching focuses on the external manifestations of learning, rather than on the internal processes. This means that for the behaviorists, the human being is capable of a set of behaviors, and language learning takes place through behavior as well. There should be a stimulus from the teacher, a response – when the learner answers to the stimulus, and a reinforcement – that marks the response as being appropriate or inappropriate and encourages repetition. In addition to the behaviorist theory of learning, Audiolingualism follows a theory of language known as structuralism. The structural language theory was a reaction to traditional grammar and claims that language is produced in a structural way, that language samples can be described at a structural level (phonetic, phonemic, morphological, etc.), and linguistic levels are systems within systems (phonemic – morphemic – phrases – clauses – sentences) (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p. 55). Moreover, it is assumed that speech has a priority in language teaching because speaking is learned before writing or even reading.

Based on these learning and language theories, the teacher and the learner assume very specific roles in the AL classroom. On the one hand learners play a reactive role, they only respond to the stimulus provided by the teacher, though having little control over content, pace or style of learning. Also, they are never expected to start interaction, because this may lead to mistakes, which are not desirable according to the behaviorist theory. In early stages, the learners may not understand the meaning of what is being repeated, but this is not seen as a disadvantage, since by listening to the teacher, imitating accurately, and responding to and performing controlled tasks, they are learning a new form of verbal behavior. On the other hand, in AL the teacher's role is central and the class is teacher-centered. According to Richards and Rodgers “The teacher models the target language, controls the direction and pace of learning, and monitors and corrects the learners' performance.” (2001). Also the teachers are supposed to keep the class interesting by varying the drills and tasks and choosing relevant situations to practice the structure.

Another important practice in language teaching is CLT, and in the words of Richards and Rodgers “The Communicative Approach in language teaching starts from a theory of language as communication.”(2001, p. 159). Developed according to this principle of language as communication, CLT has an eclectic theoretical base, following many important linguists, such as Chomsky, Halliday, Brumfit, Johnson, Savignon and Widdowson among others. Some of the characteristics of this communicative view can be summarized in four main points. First language is a system for the expression of meaning, second the primary function of language is to allow interaction and communication, next the structure of language reflects its functional and communicative uses, and lastly the primary units of language are not merely its grammatical and structural features, but categories of functional and communicative meaning as exemplified in discourse. In contrast to the wide range of literature written about the theory of language, little has been written about learning theory. However, there are some attempts of describing theories of language learning that are compatible with CLT and it is possible to infer some beliefs. It is believed that activities involving real communication promote learning, activities in which language is used for carrying out meaningful tasks promote learning, and also that language that is meaningful to the learner supports the learning process.

Moreover, the learner and teacher roles assume a very important function in CLT. Because of the emphasis on the processes of communication, the learner has a very different role from that in other second language classrooms. The learner is expected to contribute as much as he/she gains, they are also expected to interact with each other, before interacting with the teacher. The learner is responsible for the learning process to take place in a more independent way. In addition to the learner's responsibility, comes the teacher's role, which is a lot more complex, because the teacher assumes many roles. Between these, five of them are considered to be the most important roles. First, to facilitate the communication between all participants in the classroom, and between these and the various activities and texts. Second the teacher needs to act as an independent participant within the learning-teaching group. Another main role is that of being a needs analyst, when the teacher takes the responsibility for determining and responding to learner language needs. On the basis of these needs assessments, teachers are expected to plan group and individual instruction that responds to the learners' needs. The fourth role of the teacher is acting as a counselor, exemplifying an effective communicator (through the use of paraphrase, confirmation, and feedback). Lastly, he/she is a group process manager – CLT requires less teacher-centered management skills. The teacher has to organize the classrooms as a setting for communication. During an activity the teacher should monitor, encourage, and suppress the inclination to supply gaps in lexis, grammar, and strategy (instead, he/she should note such gaps for later commentary and communicative practice).

According to Finocchiaro and Brumfit (1983) the best way to illustrate the difference between communicative approaches and earlier traditions in language teaching is by making a contrast. The two practices described here have many contrasting points that may help to better understand both of them. First of all, following the theoretical bases described above, AL method focuses on structure, what leads the AL guided classes to a demand for memorization of structure-based dialogues, not attending to meaning or contextualization, since language learning is learning structures, sounds, or words. Unlike AL, CLT focuses much more attention on meaning and contextualization than in structure. Dialogs, if used, center around communicative functions and are not memorized, and language learning is learning to communicate, not just learning structures. A second point of contrast is that AL method sees linguistic competence as the desired goal, while CLT seeks for the ability to use the linguistic system effectively and appropriately thereby having communicative competence as the desired goal. Furthermore, the learner and teacher roles are a wide field for contrasts. In AL method, the teacher controls the learners and prevents them from doing anything that conflicts with the theory. On the contrary, in CLT teachers help learners in any way that motivates them to work with the language, not worrying if they will use exactly the learnt language. Plus, AL believes that language is habit, so errors must be prevented at all costs, as opposed to CLT, which believes that language is created by the individual, often through trial and error. Lastly, in AL, accuracy is a primary goal and is judged in terms of correctness, while CLT does not judge accuracy in the abstract, but in context, and aims for fluency and acceptable language for the learner to better communicate.

In conclusion, AL method worries about the language structural features, at the same time that CLT focuses on real language, on communication itself, in terms of fluency and interaction. In modern English language classrooms, CLT seems to be the most adequate practice, since the aim in that kind of classroom is to learn the language in order to communicate, and not keep repeating memorized sentences. As Diane Larsen-Freeman endorses “the language learner is not a mimic, but is also a cognitive, affective, social, and political being. The same applies to the language teacher – not only is the teacher a model, a drill conductor and a linguist, but possibly also a counselor, facilitator, collaborator, and learner trainer” (1998). In real communication the speaker has a choice of what he/she will say and interacts with other people, so, if the exercise is tightly controlled, the speaker has no choice, interacts only with the teacher, and real communication does not occur. On the whole, the best way to learn how to communicate in a different language is by communicating.

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