Audiolingualism – is it still a relevant language teaching method?

Female student in a computer lab classroom with headphones on

A key (and very popular) element of this blog has been its regular review of different pedagogical approaches to language teaching. The latest in the series is a detailed look at audiolingualism. Although you’ll easily find plenty of articles online explaining how the approach has fallen into disuse recently, there’s lots of plenty of interesting reasons to retain and use some of its key principles.

So let’s take a detailed look at audio-lingualism and consider its suitability for 21st Century language learning.


The history of audiolingualism

The audiolingualism approach evolved in the context of large-scale language teaching programmes in the 1950s and 60s. It is also sometimes referred to as the Army Method as it was widely used during and after World War 2 to train military personnel. The lessons from these programmes were combined with core behaviourist psychology principles to create a new approach. Yale professor Nelson Brooks called this audiolingualism and claimed to have transformed language teaching into a science.

The approach was then widely adopted in the U.S. and Canada and quickly became the dominant way to teach foreign languages throughout the 1960s. However, its period of prominence was short-lived as a result of two key factors. Firstly, Chomsky questioned the theoretical basis for the method, particularly the core assumption that external conditioning could account for all language learning (Chomsky, 1959). Secondly, the approach began to receive significant negative feedback from language educators, who became frustrated with its emphasis on memorization and drilling which, they felt, did not support students to develop their conversational ability (Hadley 2001). Some of these elements, of course, still survive in language teaching, which is testament to the approach’s initial impact.


Audiolingualism’s pedagogical approach

Audiolingualism’s primary view of language teaching is a focus on grammatical structures, which, it argues, can be deduced by reviewing native speakers. Almost no use is made of the native language  – all rules are taught to students in the target language. As a result, teachers demonstrate the correct way to use a certain rule or pronounce a key phrase, which students then repeat.

The approach therefore makes significant use of reinforcement and drilling. Students receive praise and positive feedback when they deploy phrases correctly. On the other hand, any mistakes are highlighted and the student is required to keep trying until the correct answer has been produced.

The focus on drilling also highlights the approach’s clear prioritisation of speaking skills and view of language as principally being an oral form. It mirrors how children learn a language – they start by speaking it and then build written language. Advocates claim that this approach enables students to focus on building correct pronunciation habits without any influence from written language.

This all provides clear evidence of the key role of behaviourism as an underpinning philosophy for the audiolingualism approach. Returning to Brooks, his 1964 research detailed how behaviourism should be applied in the classroom: “The single paramount fact about language learning is that it concerns, not problem solving, but the formation and performance of habits.” His work goes further, confirming that language teachers should provide detailed oral stimuli through dialogues and drills to reinforce the right responses, whilst correcting / highlighting errors as they’re made.


Advantages and disadvantages of audiolingualism

Although the audiolingualism approach has fallen from favour in recent years, it is important not to completely discard everything that made the approach so impactful. The following review of the approach’s strengths and weaknesses is therefore deliberately followed by some practical tips about how to deploy it in the classroom today.


  • At its core, the approach prioritises the development of listening and speaking skills. Given how these can be marginalised in some settings that has to be a good thing.
  • Linked to the above, there is a clear focus on the correct pronunciation of words and use of the right grammatical structures.
  • The approach is clear and straightforward for teachers to use and minimises the development / creation of lots of lesson resources.
  • The method can be applied to individual students or to larger groups.
  • The student is, at least, clear about their role and what they need to do. It will appeal to and work for some students (and teachers)…


  • The behaviourist approach to language learning has been widely discredited and its many weaknesses clearly proven.
  • Students’ have little control over their learning and that learning is incredibly mechanical. The approach favours drilling, memorisation and repetition over building general spontaneous communication skills and language usage.
  • The approach is not balanced and favours speaking and listening skills. 
  • Many students will find the approach stressful and some teachers will not enjoy providing harsh criticism.


Using audiolingualism in the 21st Century classroom

As evidenced above, some elements of audiolingualism are still valid for classroom use. Indeed much of the teaching material included in core language textbooks puts the “method” aside and continues to favour this approach. Above and beyond a continued focus on speaking skills, other key elements for educators to build upon include:

  • Emphasising the importance of pronunciation: The audiolingual approach evidently places a significant emphasis on accurate pronunciation. Educators could use audio and video materials to help students practise their pronunciation. Additionally, drills and repetition exercises can help them develop muscle memory for the language’s key sounds.
  • Encourage active listening: Audiolingualism stresses the importance of active listening. Getting them to transcribe audio recordings of native speakers or answering questions in a comprehension test could help students develop their listening skills.
  • Use pattern drills: There’s still a role for drills as part of a more balanced / mixed pedagogical approach. They can be useful in helping students develop fluency in their target language. Perhaps they could be deployed to practise different verb tenses or sentence structures?
  • Incorporate authentic materials: Prioritise the use of authentic materials, such as videos of people speaking in real-life situations. This type of content plays a key role in exposing students to the language as it is spoken in real life.
  • Provide prompt and useful feedback: Leverage audiolingualism’s focus on feedback. Giving feedback to your students is a key support in their language learning journey. Particularly when it is motivational and when it is delivered in a timely fashion to prevent mistakes becoming habits.

That being said, it’s important to recognize the limitations of audiolingualism and incorporate a variety of teaching methods and approaches into your language classroom. Try exploring the use of a more communicative approach? One that emphasises real-life communication and interaction could help students develop the ability to use language in more meaningful ways and engage with the language on a deeper level. 

Whatever language you teach and whatever approach you use to teach it, Sanako’s market-leading tools include a wealth of unique features that help language educators teach languages more efficiently and more successfully. It’s why the world’s leading educational institutions choose Sanako as their preferred supplier to support online and in-person lesson delivery.


If you are interested in learning more about how Sanako products support language teachers and students and would like to see how they could benefit your institution, click here or the banner to learn more!

Call to action image with a button and a product screenshot


References used in this article:

The Audiolingual Method – Brigham Young University –