How to Apply Language Theories to Teach Effectively

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The behaviorist theory of language use and learning came into existence in 1957 through the works of some psychologists, notably B.F Skinner.

It came as a reaction against the traditional method of teaching/learning with its preoccupation with learning and other mental activities.

The behaviorist theory agrees that human beings can acquire or learn a human language just like any other form of learning as a behavior.

It believes that language is not a body of knowledge but a set of habits to be mastered by people through practice.

This is why its method, strategies, principles, and procedures are based on practice, imitation, repetition, and extensive drilling. The principal focuses of the theory are:

  • That Language learning is a mechanical process of habit formation through physical conditioning, that is, S – R where S (Stimulus) could be a statement, desire of learner, etc, to motivate production. R – (Response) could be an oral response in writing.
  • That the spoken form of language should be treated first before the written form, to engender good learning.
  • That the pattern of language should be generalized for purpose of drilling learners up to the point of automatic reproduction.
  • That the notion of the concept of meaning should be learned in a matrix of allusions.
  • That learning should be by inductive approach or strategy, e.g, known to unknown.

Theory Application to the Teaching and Learning situation 

The main teaching method underlying the behaviorist theory is the Audio Lingual Method. It is synonymous with the Army Method or the Direct Method of Language teaching.

Audio Lingual Method

 Inductive approach

According to the proponents of this method, language teaching and learning can only be achieved by an inductive approach or inductive strategy. The inductive strategy involves moving from known to unknown.

The teacher is expected to observe a pattern in the target language, make a general realization of the patterns and then classify them. The samples of the language based on the classified patterns are carefully selected and presented in the classroom for thorough learning.

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Each pattern is perceived as behavior or skills to be practiced during a lesson. This means that the teacher has a great deal to do with samples assembling in advance of his lesson.

The method insists that only correct patterns are to be selected and used, otherwise, students will be internalizing the wrong skills of behavior in the language.

Pattern drills

According to the audio-lingual method, pattern drills are the most significant and effective technique for foreign language learning and this technique is to be used extensively.

Generally, this requires the extensive oral practice of carefully constructed language samples which are classified into a pattern to achieve automatic mastering of the sample.

For pattern drills to be effective and meaningful, samples constructed should show resemblances and must center on specific language problems to be overcome through repetition and imitation after the correct model.

Language laboratory

For the audio-lingual method, the language laboratory is necessary for the extensive oral practice of the language items.

The language laboratory is designed to create the necessary condition for listening to take place, i.e, stimulus-response-reinforcement condition.

In the language laboratory, students are expected to listen to the oral language, make a response after the model speeches and receive appropriate reinforcement through playback feedback, throughout the approach to learning in a step-by-step manner.

 Language teacher

The audio-lingual method expects a particular language teacher to present the various language skills to his learner in the order of listening, speaking, and writing.

This order is only in terms of emphasis to govern the skill impartment, not the order for introducing them in the classroom.

This means that emphasis or priority is to be given first to listening and speaking skills throughout training in the language. Students are to be given plenty of oral language with the visual skills coming second.

Grammar

In terms of grammar, the audio-lingual method maintains that grammatical learning is to be kept to a minimum and when it is taught it should be presented in a situation that is meaningful and appropriate.

Rules of the grammar of the language in question must not be taught, and explanations and descriptions of samples of the language should be given only when they are required.

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Where the teacher is to do this, they should be given after the students have mastered the samples.

Vocabulary

Vocabulary in the target language is to be taught only in context. This is because meaning in any language is not fixed.

MENTALIST THEORY

The mentalist theory came up in the 20th century period between 1965 and 1968 as a reaction against the Audio-Lingual Theory. The theory believes that language is a rule-governed behavior that governs individuals in their language learning capacity.

It is the inborn capacity of human beings that enables them to learn the target language just as they can acquire their first language.

Developmental process

It is the belief of the mentalist school that foreign language learning is a developmental process and not a mechanical process of habit formation as claimed by the audio-linguist.

Thus a child is endowed with an innate ability that enables it to acquire a language as a maturation process.

This capacity is referred to as a Language Acquisition Device (LAD). The device can formulate a hypothesis about the rules of the language to which it is exposed.

All that is necessary therefore is to trigger off the mechanism by exposing the child to the appropriate language community.

Stimulus-Response Reinforcement

People can learn a language at the same time and in the same way, not because they are conditioned in the same way in a Stimulus-Response Reinforcement situation, but because being equipped with the same device they can formulate hypotheses and learn the language in the same way at the same rate and at the same time.

The process of hypothesis formulation is an unconscious one. In other words, a child is not aware that he is doing so. But as he formulates the hypothesis, it is tried out in his use of the language.

Then, he checks the correctness or acceptability of his usage by listening to the response from speakers of the language around him.

If the response is good he assimilates it, but if bad, he rejects it and tries another rule. It is through this way that the child advances from simple to complex usage of the language by trial and error process. The child grows in his mastery of the language until maturity is attained in adulthood.

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Cognitive Code Learning Method

Language teaching method

This is a key method of language teaching derived from the Mentalist theory of language learning. This method holds the opinion that language analysis is more useful than analogy in language learning.

Repetitions

A child learns a language by having the language in rules described or explained to him, not by rote learning or repetition of memorization of samples of the language in real situations.

He learns the language through a careful understanding of the rules underlying the various structures that make up a language. The rules are subsequently internalized and then converted into language behavior.

This means that on the day to day basis, the child must talk from his store of the rules (knowledge) of the language in him to use the language.

Presentation of visual materials

Generally, cognitive code learning emphasizes or gives priority to the presentation of visual material of the language to the learner. This is why emphasis is given to reading and writing as against listening and speaking.

The method places or perceives grammar in terms of notions that, according to the mentalist, are evidence of the universal categorization of language. Meanings to them are absolute in any given language and are as stated in the dictionary.

In this regard, they reject the postulation of the audio-linguistic that language is socially determined.

The principles or views of the cognitive code learning theory and method can be reduced or summarized to these assumptions or slogans.

  1. Human languages are innately attributable to human beings. That is, all normal human beings possess the natural requirement to learn the language.
  2. Language is creative or productive that is why children are capable of constructing new sentences which they have never heard before.
  3. Language acquisition is developmental or maturational since children generally follow various stages of assimilation or internalization before they begin to speak like adults.
  4. Language is rule-governed and is based on notions or concepts. Because of this, there are universal categorizations of language materials (i.e across various languages) which are generally accepted language features that are available from one language to another, e.g, noun, verb, adjective, phoneme, phrase, sentence, etc.
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