The newest is always the best or so many people believe but what if we took the best of the old and combined it with new technology to deliver it? For literally thousands of years there were only a few teaching methodologies for foreign language education. Then with the advent of world war two there was suddenly a need to teach foreign languages to large numbers of people in a very short period of time.
They named the new approach the Army Method because it was primarily taught to soldiers. Later, it was renamed the Audio Lingual Method or ALM for short. It is based on using substitution drills where the base structure stayed the same and one part say the subject was changed. There was a lot of choral response with the instructor asking individuals to respond occasionally to check accuracy. There was some translation involved to get the general meaning of the structure across to the students. The classroom sounded like a jungle of parrots going off all at once.
Someone decided it was more efficient to put the students into labs with their own listening station and headset. The student had no control over what happened and there was little feedback. If the student got lost or couldn’t understand then they were just sitting there until the “session” ended. Something like the brainwashing programs in George Orwell’s 1984. But given what was known about language and the technology available it produced a huge amount of translators for the military in a very short period of time. Then after the war ended more methodologies were created, discovered or even “re-discovered” in some cases and the Audio Lingual Method was pushed aside and largely forgotten.
The current method largely adopted for Teaching English as a Second Language is called the Communicative method. It is the polar opposite of ALM with its focus being strictly on communication not structure. The challenge comes in that while the goal of communication is the right thing to aim for by not using some drills or practice the ESL/foreign language student will never be able to reach the higher levels of fluency. Being able to communicate at the lower levels sooner is an advantage of the Communicative Method over all the others but it can leave the student with broken English.
In the end, supplementing the new methodologies e.g. the Communicative Method with the old methods e.g. the Audio Lingual Method may produce the best results in the end for the student. However, even if the teacher wanted to they could not use ALM in today’s classroom. If the administration didn’t stop it then peer pressure from colleagues would. English as Second Language and other foreign language students as well can find the drills and practice they need to achieve the highest levels of language fluency on the internet.
Now students can learn English with free lessons online. Being internet base these lessons also allow the students maximum control over the flow of the materials. Most web based ESL programs’ core is ALM, Army Method, due to the nature of computer programs. However, if the student wants to chat in English there are chat rooms and now with AI, Artificial Intelligence, the student can even get some communicative practice in as well. Combining the best of both worlds, traditional methodology with modern technology, will bring the student along the pathway of foreign language learning to fluency.