The Behaviorist Approach

Parent talking to childLook at the following extract:

Child: Nobody don’t like me.
Mother: No, say ‘nobody likes me’.
Child: Nobody don’t like me.
(Eight repetitions of this exchange)
Mother: No, now listen carefully; say ‘nobody likes me’.
Child: Oh! Nobody don’t likes me.

(McNeill, 1966)

The behaviourist approach to language learning grew out of the belief that students could learn a second language by being taught to produce the correct “response” to the appropriate “stimulus”. The student would then receive either instant positive or instant negative “reinforcement” in the shape of either correction or praise from the teacher.

The resulting methodology, audio-lingualism, was a very heavily teacher-centred approach consisting of a lot of “mimicry and memorization”. The linguist Leonard Bloomfield claimed that “language learning is over-learning” and this, in effect, was what audio-lingualism was based on.
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