Learning & Teaching Foreign Languages

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Behaviourism

LANGUAGE LEARNING THEORY

Foreign language teaching and learning was influenced by behaviourist psychology in combination with a structural approach to linguistics from the 1940s to the 1960s. Following Saussure, language was viewed as a system of word-meaning associations (signs) which interlocked with one another as categories and in sequences (Bloomfield).

The linguistic system of the mother tongue is learned gradually by reaction to stimuli in the environment, i.e., talk by parents. According to the Audio-Lingual Method which combined linguistic structuralism with behaviorist psychology, foreign language should be taught by presenting linguistic items systematically and repeatedly to induce appropriate linguistic behavior (Fries) and avoid inappropriate responses (errors).

Learners should practice the language through imitation (mimicry of discrete contrasts, minimal pairs) and memorisation (pattern practice or drills, the repetition by learners of restricted amounts of oral language input), rather than acquire abstract knowledge.

Foreign language learning may be inhibited by first language habits (Lado, contrastive analysis hypothesis , transfer).

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