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Communicative Approach with the Audio-Lingual Method

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The essay is about the communicative approach and the audio-lingual method which are both ways of teaching a foreign language. The communicative language teaching makes use of real life situations by using communication and interaction. The teacher sets up a situation that the students are likely to face in real life. Unlike the audio-lingual method of language teaching, which relies on repetitions and drills, the communicative approach can leave students in suspense as to the outcome of the exercise, which will vary according to their reactions and answers. The real life simulations change from day to day. Students’ motivation to learn comes from their desire to communicate in meaningful ways about meaningful topics. While the communicative approach offers all these things the audio lingual method is exactly the opposite, as it will be explained in the essay below.

The origins of the communicative approach are many. It is said by linguists that one teaching methodology tends to influence the next. In this case the communicative approach could be said to be the product of educators and linguists who became dissatisfied with the audio-lingual and grammar-translation methods of foreign language instruction. Many linguists at that period felt that students were not learning enough realistic. They did not know how to communicate using appropriate language, gestures or expressions. In other words they were not able to communicate and to use properly the language they have studied.

Communicative language teaching is an approach to the teaching of second and foreign language that emphasises on interaction as one o the main goals when someone is learning a new language. Moreover the communicative approach has been common in language teaching environment since the mid 1970s, and its aim is to facilitate language acquisition by giving learners positive feeling towards the instructional process and lowering the affective filter in the classroom. (Richards and Rogers, 2002). Furthermore this approach includes a meaning focused input containing target forms and vocabulary rather than formal grammar introduced in the classroom; the learners acquire the forms and vocabulary naturally, which is similar to the way a child learns its first language. (Hinkel and Fotos, 2002).

On the other hand the audio-lingual method was widely used during and after the Second World War, because people then had the need to of foreign language proficiency. Moreover the audio-lingual method can be connected to the structural linguists where language is seen as a structured system of different units and the job of the teacher is to introduce the patterns of speaking and listening of the foreign language to the learners. (Richard and Rogers, 2002) There are textbooks for this method usually written by structural linguists. They divided the language into subsystems such as phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics and tried to describe the structures within each system. Initially in the audio-lingual method, the structures are presented and the students drill those structures until they master them orally. The drills however are many and different, some of them are repetition, replacement, question-and- answer and pronunciation drills (Richards and Rogers, 2002). Later in the assignment will be explained in more details.

This method is close to the theory of behaviourism and that is why drilling and repetitions are the key factors in audio-lingual classroom. In order for the students to memorize the target language, they used to listen to repeatedly to recordings of conversations and after that had to produce it exactly the way they had heard it. Namely the pronunciation and the grammatical structures were supposed to be memorized exactly as they were heard from the recording and used in the same way. It should be noticed that the audio-lingual method is quite different from the communicative approach. The former’s emphasis is on the repetition and demonstration of target sentences, form and accuracy. The latter emphasise on authenticity and variation in showing how the new language is used in real life communications, meaning, and fluency and appropriateness (Cohen and Macaro 2007, Richards and Rogers 1987).

There are some principles of both communicative approach and audio-lingual method, which show more clear the differences and similarities that they have and which is better for a foreign language learner. Firstly some of the principles of the audio-lingual method will be mentioned. The audio-lingual method supports that language is speech not writing. This means that emphasis is on correct intonation and pronunciation. Listening and speaking are taught before reading and writing, when the students have mastered the oral skills the other two are introduced as reinforcements. In this method the native language is used as little as possible. Any instructions or activities are given in the target language. Even when the teacher is guiding or controlling the students’ behaviour it is again in the target language. In the audio-lingual method errors are carefully avoided because they lead to the formation of bad habits in the foreign language. Finally the lessons are teacher-centred. The students should imitate the teacher.

Most of the interaction is only between the teacher and a student. On the other hand the principles of the communicative approach are quite different of those of the audio-lingual method. Firstly the language which is introduced should be in real context. The real context situation which should promote the communication in the classroom should be introduced by the teacher. The teacher in such classrooms is an advisor during a conversational activity, a facilitator of students’ learning, or a co-communicator. In the communicative approach the students are given the opportunity to express their ideas and opinions and they also have the choice of how to say it, since there might be different ways of saying the same utterance. Errors in this approach are considered as natural for the development of the conversational skills. Unlike the audio-lingual method, fluency is much more important than accuracy (Larsen- Freeman 1990, Brown 2007, 1987).

Roles of teacher and student

There are differences between communicative language teaching and audio-lingual method as far as the roles of the teachers and the students are concerned. In audio-lingual method the teacher’s role is central and active. It is a teacher-centred method, as mentioned above. The teacher promotes the target language, controls the direction of the lesson, so it is obvious that the students do not have the option to express themselves freely. The teacher also monitors and corrects the learners’ performance. In this method, language learning is seen to be active oral communication between the teacher and the students.

However, in communicative language, teaching the learner is the central aim and the teacher acts as a guide. Teachers in communicative classrooms are talking less and listening more- becoming active facilitators of their students’ learning (Larsen- Freeman, 1990). The teachers should set up the exercise, but because the goal is the performance of the students, they should not intervene but just monitor and sometimes helping or correcting the students. A classroom during a communicative activity is quite vivid and laud. The students do most of the speaking and most of the times the scene of the classroom is active and the students are moving from their seats in order to complete a task.

More specific in the communicative approach the teachers should help students in any way that motivates them to use the target language and the learned language as a whole. Learners are expected to communicate with other people either through pair and group work or in their pieces of writing. Teachers cannot exactly know what language the students will use which makes it challenging not only for the teacher but for the other students as well. Finally the teacher is responsible to make the activity in such way that it fulfils and represents the language needs of the students. However in the audio-lingual method the teacher’s role is simpler. The teacher should control the learners and prevent from asking any questions that might be in conflict with the taught theory. Learners in this method are expected to interact not that much with each other but with the teacher and the language system embodied in machines or controlled materials, such as recordings. Moreover the students cannot use any piece of the language as they want, but the language is specified by the teacher. Last but not least is the fact that the teacher has no responsibilities to decide what are the learners’ language needs, he or she just teach them what is supposed to be taught (Larsen-Freeman, 1990).

Activities and type of material

One of the goals of the communicative approach is to develop fluency in language usage. Fluency is naturally occurring when a speaker is engaged in meaningful interaction and maintains comprehensible and ongoing communication. Fluency might be developed by creating classroom activities in which students will use communicative strategies, correct misunderstanding and work to avoid communication breakdowns (Larsen-Freeman, 1990) According to Brumfit (1984) an appropriate fluency task could be the following. A group of students of mixed language ability carry out a play in which they have to adopt specified roles and personalities given to them on cards. These roles involve the drivers, witnesses and the police at a collision between two cars. The language in this situation is improvised by the students, though they are constrained by the specified situation and characters. Another communicative activity might be if the students use the language within a real communicative context, where real information is exchanged, and the language which is used is not totally predictable. For example, students might have to draw a map of their neighbourhood and answer questions about the location of different places, such as the nearest shop, the nearest cinema and other of the same kind.

Some other activities that might be used in communicative approach are for example, task completion activities such as puzzles, games and other types of tasks which focus on the student’s use of language knowledge. Secondly, information gathering activities might be helpful. In this case students should conduct surveys, interviews and searches in which they are required to use their linguistic knowledge to complete the task given. Another activity is the information transfer exercise. In this activity, learners are required to take information that is presented in one way and reproduce it in another way. For example, in a new class, student A is introducing himself to student B and then students B should represent the information to student C. The last but not least activity is the role play.

The first example given explains exactly the role play activity. Namely students are given roles and should improvise a scene based on given information or clues. The activities above are mentioned by Littlewood (1981) and he also separates them into two major categories, functional communication activities and social interaction activities. The functional communication activities include such tasks as learners comparing sets of pictures and noting similarities and differences, discovering missing information on a map or pictures, one learner interacting with another and giving information and instructions on how to draw a picture a shape or how to complete a map, following directions and solving problems from shared clues. As far as the social interaction activities are concerned, they include conversation and discussion sessions, dialogues and role plays, simulations and improvisations.

On the other hand, the activities used in the audio-lingual method are many as well but much more simple. As it was mentioned above drills and pattern practice are typical for the audio-lingual method (Richards and Rogers 1987). These include main things such as repetition. The students should repeat an utterance as soon as they hear it, without looking at printing materials. After the students have repeated the same sentence several times, then a few new words could be introduced and the students should repeat the whole new sentence again and again. Another activity is the inflection, where one word in a sentence appears in another form when repeated. For example, ‘I bought the glasses.’ and ‘You bought the glasses.’. The next activity that might be used is when one word is replaced by another word as for instance ‘He bought this car yesterday.’ and ‘He bought it yesterday.’.

Moreover there is an activity in which students have to rephrase and utterance and to address it to someone else, after given instructions from the teacher, for example ‘Tell her to go there.’ becomes ‘Go there.’. Completition is another activity that may be used in audio-lingual classes. Completition is when the student hears an utterance that is complete except for one word, and repeats the utterance in complete form. For instance, ‘I’ll do my job and you do …’ and ‘I’ll do my job and you do yours.’. The last example of an activity is when an appropriate answer is always or most of the times given to a chain of words. Usually students are told in advance to respond in one of the appropriate ways, for instance, politely, answer a question, express a surprise or others. For example, a usual answer to ‘Thank you’ is ‘You’re welcome’. In audio-lingual approach, activities are not only represented in drilling short patterns, but also in varieties of dialogues, which students have to listen to, repeat and memorize. By repeating and memorizing whole dialogues or some parts of it, students should emphasise on proper pronunciation, intonation, stress and rhythm (Richards and Rogers, 1987)

Theory of language and learning

The theory of language connected to the audio-lingual method was firstly proposed by lingualists in the 1950s, this view became known as structural linguistics. To be a linguist at that time was a flourishing career path and the structural theory of language was the most important part of it. The theory of language underlying the audiolingualism was developed as part of the reaction to traditional grammar. (Richards and Rogers, 1987) Traditional approaches to the study of language had linked the study of language to philosophy and to a mentalist approach to grammar. Grammar was considered a branch of logic, and the grammatical categories of languages were thought to represent ideal categories in languages. (Raymond 1995)

The communicative approach in language teaching starts from a theory of language as communication. The goal of language teaching is to develop what Hymes (1972) referred to as communicative competence. Hymes choosed this term in order to contrast the communicative view of language, in which language is mainly represented as a system for the expression of meaning. Moreover the most important function of language in the communicative view is to allow interaction and communication and language’s primary nits are not only grammatical and structural features, but categories of functional and communicative meaning as shown in dialogues and interactions. Hymes also used this term in contrast to Chomsky’s theory of competence.

However according to Littlewood (1981) there is the theory of learning which is compatible with the communicative approach. According to this theory, the acquisition of communicative competence in a language is an example of skill development. This involves both cognitive and behavioural aspect. According to Littlewood (1981) the cognitive aspect includes the internalisation of plans for creating an appropriate behaviour. In order to use the language, these plans derive mainly from the language system and they include grammatical rules, procedures selecting the appropriate vocabulary in each case, and social conventions governing speech. The behavioural aspect, however involves the automation of these plans so that they can be converted into fluent performance in real time.

This occurs mainly through practice in converting plans into performance. Krashen (1981) however considers acquisition as the basic process involved in developing language proficiency and distinguishes this process from learning. Acquisition refers to unconscious development of the target language as a result of using the language in real communication. Learning on the other hand is the conscious representation of grammatical knowledge that has resulted from instructions and cannot lead to acquisition. The audio-lingual method, however, is based on the theory that language learning is a matter of habit formation. It has its origins in Skinner’s principles of behaviour theory. Since learning is thought to be a habit formation, errors are considered to be bad and to be avoided (Brown 1987, 2007). As a conclusion from these two theories, it could be said that acquisition could occur during the communicative lesson while learning during audio-lingual lesson.

Communicative approach as an improvement over the audio-lingual method

The communicative approach could be considered as an improvement over the audio-lingual method. As mentioned previously in my assignment the audio-lingual method was used during and after the Second World War when the community had the need of quickly language proficiency. However the communicative approach can be dated from the 1960s. At that time mush more communication was required in the European continent among the countries and the formation of International Association of applied linguistics was also promoted. Under these circumstances, the communicative approach emerged and was quickly welcomed. The audiolingualism was questioned by Chomsky who proposed a different theory of language learning to that of behaviourists. Chomsky argued that such learning theory could not serve as a model of how people learn language, since much of the language is not imitated behaviour but is created from knowledge of rules.

Sentences are not learned by imitation and repetition but generated from the learner’s competence. The ineffectiveness of the audio-lingual method created a crisis in language teaching. Temporary relief was offered by a new method introduced by Chomsky, known as the cognitive code learning. This referred to a learning that allowed a conscious focus on grammar rather than learning simply in terms of habit formation. In this new temporary method, learners were encouraged to use their creative abilities to derive and make explicit the underlined grammatical rules of the language. The lack, though, of an alternative to the audio-lingual method in language teaching, led to a period of adaptation, innovation, experimentation and some confusion. As a result from this, new approaches were developed in order to serve efficiently the foreign language learning and one of them and actually the most widely used approach was the communicative approach. The communicative approach served all the required fields at that point and was considered as an improvement and development over the audio-lingual method (Richards and Rodgers 1987)


Finally it could be said that both audio-lingual method and communicative approach are to methods grounded in the linguistic and psychological field. Both may have some drawbacks but are both effective and widely used in language teaching and learning.


Brown, H.D. (1987) Principles of Language learning and teaching, US: Prentice Hall
Brown, H.D. (2007) Teaching by principles. New York: Longman Inc.
Brumfit, C.(1984) Communicative methodology in language teaching: The roles of fluency and accuracy, Cambridge University Press
Cohen, A. and Macaro, E. (2007) Language learner strategies
Hinkel, E. And Fotos, S. (2002) From theory to practice: A
teacher’s view. In Hinkel,E. and Fotos, S (Eds) New perspectives on Grammar teaching in second language classrooms, London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers

Hymes, D.(1972) Models of the interaction of language and social life. In Gumperz. J, and Hymes, D. (Eds) Directions in Sociolinguistics: The Ethnography of Communication, New York: Winston

Krashen, S. (1981) Second language acquisition and second language learning, Pergamon Press Inc.
Larsen-Freeman, D. (1990) Techniques and principles in Language teaching, England: Oxford University Press
Littlewood, W. (1981) Communicative language teaching, Cambridge University Press
Richards, J. (2002) Methodology in language teaching, Cambridge University Press
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Richards, J. And Rogers, T. (2002) Approaches and methods in language teaching, Cambridge University press
Tallis, R. (1995) Not Saussure: A critique of post Saussurean literary theory 2nd ed., Macmillan press

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