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September 20, 2013

The Audio-lingual Method


The Audio-lingual Method (also known as the army method, the aural-oral method, or the new key), is a method of foreign language teaching in which the students learn language by repeating/imitating the recurring patterns/dialogues of everyday situations by succession of drills. The Audio-lingual Method strongly dominated the field of education in the 1950s and 1960s.


First Phase
World War II suddenly necessitated the United States to produce a band of orally proficient speakers of different foreign languages. The US government then commissioned the American universities to develop a special language course for the army officials that would focus on aural or oral skills. This project was established in 1942 and labelled as the Army Specialized Training Programme (ASTP). The method was also known as the Informant Method, since it employed a native speaker of the language, the informant, and a linguist. The informant served as a source of language for imitation, and the linguist supervised the learning experience. Due to its association with the army, the method later on came to be known as the Army Method.
Second Phase
Towards the end of the 1950s there had been an increased attention to foreign language teaching in educational institutions. Therefore, the educational planners came forward to develop a new method of language teaching. This need for change was materialized as per the classroom needs of American colleges and universities. The planners modelled their method based on the Army Specialized Training Programme (ASTP),the Structural Linguistics and the Behaviourist Theory. This combination of the trio of approaches led to the development of the Audio-lingual Method (a term coined by professor Nelson Brooks in 1964), which was widely adopted for teaching foreign languages in North American colleges and universities.


The basic distinctive features of the Audio-lingual Method are as follows:
The theoretical bases behind the Audio-lingual Method are as follows:

Theory of language:The theory of language underlying the Audio-lingual MethodisStructuralism. According to the structural view, language has the following characteristics:

  1. Speech is more basic to language than the written form.
  2. Language structure and form are more significant than meaning.
  3. Elements in a language are produced in a rule-governed (structural) way.
  4. Language samples could be exhaustively described at any structural level of description.
  5. Language is structural like a pyramid, that is, linguistic level is system within system.
  6. Languages are different, since every language has its own unique system.

Theory of Learning: The theory of learning underlying the Audio-lingual Method is Behaviorism, including the following principles:

  1. Human beings learn language in the same way as other habits are learned through the process of training or conditioning.
  2. As language learning is a process of habit formation, repetition leads to stronger habit formation and greater learning.
  3. The learning of a foreign language should be the same as the acquisition of the native language.
  4. The habits of the native language will interfere with target language learning.
  5. Language cannot be separated from culture as culture represents the everyday behavior of the people who use the target language.
  6. Language learning is the outcome of stimulus (what is taught) – response (learner’s reaction to what is being taught) – reinforcement (approval or disapproval of the teacher) chain.
  7. Positive reinforcement helps the students to develop correct habits.
  8. Mistakes should be avoided as they help to form bad habits.
  9. Analogy is a better foundation for language learning than analysis.

The design of the Audio-lingual Method is materialised through the following considerations:

Objectives:  The objectives of the Audio-lingual Method are as follows:

  1. To enable the students to learn how to use English in everyday oral communication.
  2. To encourage the students to produce utterances with accurate pronunciation and grammar.
  3. To grow the students’ ability to respond quickly and accurately in speech situations like the native speakers.

The syllabus:  The Audio-lingual Method follows a Structural Syllabus.

Learner Roles: In the Audio-lingual method the students play a passive role as they don’t have any control over the content or the method of learning. The students are mere imitators of the teacher's model. Their sole objective is to follow the teacher’s direction and respond as precisely and as promptly as possible.

Teacher Roles: In the Audio-lingual Method the teacher has an active role as he is the sole authority to control and direct the whole learning programme. He monitors and corrects the students’ performance. He is also responsible for providing the students with a good model for imitation. The teacher endeavours to keep the students attentive by varying drills and tasks and choosing relevant situations to practice structures.

The Role of Teaching/Learning Materials: In Audio-lingual Method the materials are predominantly teacher-oriented. The instructional materials basically contains the structured sequence of lessons to be followed, the dialogues, drills, and other practice activities, which would hopefully enable the teacher to develop language mastery in the student.
Typically, the audio-lingual method proceeds through drills or pattern practice. It gives overemphasis on pattern practice since it conditions the students to form habits of correct responses. The teacher strictly conducts, guides and controls the students’ behaviour in the target language. New vocabulary and structural patterns are presented through sentences/dialogues. The teacher presents the correct model of a sentence/dialogue and the students endeavour to repeat it again and again until they achieve the same accuracy. The students' successful responses are positively reinforced. The teacher allows a limited use of mother tongue in the classroom so that the students can learn the target language without any interference from the native language system. In this model, the natural order of skill acquisition is sequenced as listening → speaking → reading → writing. The theory basically concentrates on listening and speaking skills. But it is also true that the oral skills receive most of the attention. The learner’s reading and written work is based upon the oral work they did earlier. In the process of pattern practice, the learner first acquires the structural patterns and then the vocabulary items. The grammar rules are taught through examples and drills, but no explicit grammar rules are provided. The vocabulary is strictly limited and learned in the context. Therefore, it is clear that the lessons in the Audio-lingual Method are chiefly built on drills. Generally the drills are conducted based upon the patterns present in the dialogue:

Repetition Drill: The teacher utters a dialogue and asks the students to listen carefully. The students then try to replicate the dialogue as accurately and as quickly as possible.

Replacement Drill: The teacher utters a dialogue and the students try to repeat the dialogue by replacing a phrase or clause by one word. For instance:

Teacher: I broke the flower vase accidently.
Students: I broke it accidently.

Restatement Drill: The teacher says a dialogue and in response the students rephrase it. For example:

Teacher: Tell me to slice the bread.
Students: Slice the bread.

Expansion Drill:  The teacher says a dialogue and the students respond by adding a new word in a certain place in the sentence. For Example:

Teacher: I get up early. (always).
Students: I always get up early.

Inflection Drill: In such a drill the students repeat the teacher’s utterance by changing the form of a word. Example:

Teacher: I drafted the letter.
Student: I drafted the letters.

Chain Drill: Such a drill features conversation between the students in a circular sitting around the classroom. The teacher initiates the chain conversation by asking a particular student a question. The student responds and turns to the student next to him. In this way, the students continue the conversation by asking and answering questions to each other.

Transposition Drill: This drill enables the students to be able to change the word order in a sentence when a new word is added. For example:

Teacher: I'm not going to come with you.
Student: Neither am I.

Transformation: The teacher says a dialogue and asks the students to change the form of the sentence, such as an affirmative sentence into a negative or an active sentence into a passive. For example:

Teacher: This is my car (affirmative).
Student: This is not my car (negative).

Dialogue Completion Drill: The teacher says an incomplete dialogue by erasing some words that the students learned earlier. The students then try to complete the dialogue with the missing words. For instance:

Teacher: I ____ never seen such a ____ scenery before.
Students: I have never seen such a beautiful scenery before.

Grammar Games: The teacher sometimes creates the opportunity for the students to practice the newly learned grammatical materials through different games. The games help the students to practice grammar elements in context, although in limited scope.

Question-and-answer Drill: In this drill the teacher asks questions and the students try to answer the teacher’s question very quickly.

Contrastive Analysis: It is the comparison between the students’ native language and the target language. This drill enables the teacher to find out where the students will feel troubled by the interference from the target language.

Use of Minimal Pairs: The teacher familiarizes the students with pair of words which differ in only one sound. For example, alter/altar. The teacher asks the students to find the difference in meaning between the two words.

Integration Drill: The teacher says two separate sentences and the students then combine them into one sentence. For example:

Teacher: I fed the dog./ The dog was very hungry.
Students: I fed the dog which was very hungry.

Single-slot Substitution Drill: The teacher utters a dialogue and also says a word or phrase as a cue. The students repeat the dialogue by using the cue in appropriate place.

Multiple-slot Substitution Drill: The teacher utters a dialogue and also provides more than one cues. The students repeat the cues in suitable places in the dialogue with necessary changes.

Restoration Drill: Students create a sentence from a sequence of separate words. For example:

Teacher: ran/away/man.
Students: The man ran away.


  1. This is the first language learning method which is grounded on a solid theory of language learning.
  2. This method emphasises everyday cultural traits of the target language.
  3. It provides the opportunity to learn correct pronunciation and structure.
  4. This method made it possible to teach large groups of learners.
  5. It puts stress on listening and speaking skills.


  1. The theoretical foundation of the Audio-lingual Method suffers from inadequacy.
  2. It is a mechanical method since it demands pattern practice, drilling, memorization or over-learning.
  3. It is a teacher dominated method.
  4. Here, the learners have a passive role, since they have little control over their learning.
  5. This method does not put equal emphasis on the four basic skills, such as listening, speaking, reading and writing.
  6. It considers only language form, not meaning.
  7. This method does not pay sufficient attention to communicative competence.
  8. It prefers accuracy to fluency.


The acceptability of this theory mainly lies in its solid theoretical base. This is also the first language learning method to consider the learner’s communicative competence to certain extent. Despite these positive traits the theory declined in practice for its dearth of scientific credibility. However, the theory exerted a major influence on the upcoming teaching methods and still continues to be used today in language teaching methodology, although in limited scope.


“Audio-lingual Method.” Wikipedia. 2013. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 4 September 2013

“Audio Lingual Method (ALM).” novaekasari09. 2013. novaekasari09. 4 September 2013
< http://novaekasari09.wordpress.com/2011/06/12/audio-lingual-method-alm>.

Mendez, Juan Carlos , Brenda , Joaquin, and Mario David Mondragon “The Audio-lingual Method.”
SlideShare. 2013. SlideShare Inc. 4 September 2013

Barman, Binoy, Zakia Sultana, and Bijoy Lal Basu. ELT: Theory and Practice. Dhaka: FBC, 2006. 150-153.

Richards, Jack C., and Theodore S. Rodgers. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching.
2nd ed. Cambridge: CUP, 2001. 50-67.

 “The Audio Lingual Method.” SIL International. 1999. SIL International. 4 September 2013
< http://www-01.sil.org/lingualinks/languagelearning/waystoapproachlanguagelearning/TheAudioLingualMethod.htm>.


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