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The changing winds and shifting sands of the history of English Language Teaching
by Dimitrios Thanasoulas
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The Audiolingual Method

The outbreak of World War II heightened the need for Americans to become orally proficient in the languages of their allies and enemies alike. To this end, bits and pieces of the Direct Method were appropriated in order to form and support this new method, the "Army Method," which came to be known in the 1950s as the Audiolingual Method.
The Audiolingual Method was based on linguistic and psychological theory and one of its main premises was the scientific descriptive analysis of a wide assortment of languages. On the other hand, conditioning and habit-formation models of learning put forward by behaviouristic phychologists were married with the pattern practices of the Audiolingual Method. The following points sum up the characteristics of the method:

• Dependence on mimicry and memorisation of set phrases
• Teaching structural patterns by means of repetitive drills ("Repetitio est mater studiorum")
• No grammatical explanation
• Learning vocabulary in context
• Use of tapes and visual aids
• Focus on pronunciation
• Immediate reinforcement of correct responses

But its popularity waned after 1964, partly because of Wilga Rivers's exposure of its shortcomings. It fell short of promoting communicative ability as it paid undue attention to memorisation and drilling, while downgrading the role of context and world knowledge in language learning. After all, it was discovered that language was not acquired through a process of habit formation and errors were not necessarily bad or pernicious.

The "Designer" Methods of the 1970s

The Chomskyan revolution in linguistics drew the attention of linguists and language teachers to the "deep structure" of language, while psychologists took account of the affective and interpersonal nature of learning. As a result, new methods were proposed, which attempted to capitalise on the importance of psychological factors in language learning. David Nunan (1989: 97) referred to these methods as "designer" methods, on the grounds that they took a "one-size-fits-all" approach. Let us have a look at two of these "designer" methods.


Suggestopedia promised great results if we use our brain power and inner capacities. Lozanov (1979) believed that we are capable of learning much more than we think. Drawing upon Soviet psychological research on yoga and extrasensory perception, he came up with a method for learning that used relaxation as a means of retaining new knowledge and material. It stands to reason that music played a pivotal role in his method. Lozanov and his followers tried to present vocabulary, readings, role-plays and drama with classical music in the background and students sitting in comfortable seats. In this way, students became "suggestible."

Of course, suggestopedia offered valuable insights into the "superlearning" powers of our brain but it was demolished on several fronts. For instance, what happens if our classrooms are bereft of such amenities as comfortable seats and Compact Disk players? Certainly, this method is insightful and constructive and can be practised from time to time, without necessarily having to adhere to all its premises. A relaxed mind is an open mind and it can help a student to feel more confident and, in a sense, pliable.

The Silent Way

The Silent Way rested on cognitive rather than affective arguments, and was characterised by a problem-solving approach to learning. Gattegno (1972) held that it is in learners' best interests to develop independence and autonomy and cooperate with each other in solving language problems. The teacher is supposed to be silent-hence the name of the method-and must disabuse himself of the tendency to explain everything to them.

The Silent Way came in for an onslaught of criticism. More specifically, it was considered very harsh, as the teacher was distant and, in general lines, the classroom environment was not conducive to learning.

Strategies-based instruction

The work of O' Malley and Chamot (1990), and others before and after them, emphasised the importance of style awareness and strategy development in ensuring mastery of a foreign language. In this vein, many textbooks and entire syllabi offered guidelines on constructing strategy-building activities. Below therer is an example of a list of the "Ten Commandments" for good language learning (taken from Brown, H. D. (2000: 137)):

Teacher's Version
Learner's Version
Lower inhibitions
Fear not!
Encourage risk-taking
Dive in
Build self-confidence
Believe in yourself
Develop intrinsic motivation
Seize the day
Engage in cooperative learning
Love thy neighbour
Use right-brain processes
Get the BIG picture
Promote ambiguity tolerance
Cope with the chaos
Practice intuition
Go with your hunches
Process error feedback
Make mistakes work FOR you
Set personal goals
Set your own goals

These suggestions cum injunctions are able to sensitise learners to the importance of attaining autonomy, that is, taking charge of their own learning, and not expecting the teacher to deliver everything to them.

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