Effective communication is the root of most, if not all, success within society. Expressing needs and wants, carrying out professional duties, and working out finances with a partner all require standard comprehension of the language in use. The earliest theory that accounts for native language development is behaviorist approach. Skinner (1957), in his book Verbal Behavior, argued that children learn language based on behaviorist reinforcement principles by associating words with meanings; for example, when a child says ‘milk’ correctly, and the mother gives him or her some as a result, the child will find this outcome rewarding, therefore enhancing and reinforcing the child's language development (Ambridge & Lieven, 2011). In essence, using language correctly is positively reinforced when the child acknowledges meaning through his or her words and phrases. In similar ways, we can think about behaviorism and language learning regarding adult ELLs. Adults learning English as a second language seek to be rewarded for their accuracy and successful transition into a new environment via language and cultural capital, but they also seek reassurance from their professors and an expecting American, monolingual public. According to a Huffington Post article, a whopping 72 percent of Americans said it was “essential” for immigrants to learn English (Benedetti, 2016). Here, I will briefly discuss behaviorist theory as it applies to foreign language methodology and how these methods result in greater comfort for the adult ELL.
The behaviorist paradigm is supported by stimuli response chains; this means that a student learns through repeated stimulus-response learning, particularly as developed in Skinner’s operant conditioning model, which considers all “learning to be the establishment of habits as a result of reinforcement and reward" (Wilga Rivers, 1968, p.73). Skinner's account was soon after heavily criticized by Noam Chomsky’s (1965) universal grammar theory. Chomsky argued that children would not acquire the tools needed for processing meaning and syntax if the language acquisition mechanism was dependent on repetition and rewards alone. Although repetitive activities and reinforced behavior are criticized by Chomsky’s universal grammar theory, we can still attest to the fact that, for adult English learning, repetitive activities, and societal and in-class praise is central to second language acquisition. Chomsky’s notions, although ‘damaging’ to the integrity of behaviorism, also play an important part in adult second language learning. The ELL’s ability to access some L2 grammatical patterns depends on noticing similarities in L2’s structure as it relates to L1. For example, a native Spanish speaker will notice English’s syntactic forms by recognizing that English follows the same word order as Spanish’s, this being subject, verb, object.
Practice makes perfect, and repetition is part of the drill
TESOL methodology books often tell teachers not to use drills in in-class tasks. Certainly, there are some negative drawbacks in having students repeating “noise without content”—this comes back to Chomsky’s rejection of behaviorist theory in language learning. However, “oral and grammar drills help build phonetic accuracy over time” (Scrivener, 2011, p.170).
Adults must recognize forms of grammar to consciously make meaning of the words and rules presented to them. The audio-lingual method, which is centered on teaching grammar structure patterns with the help of repetition and reward systems, helps students grapple with language courses that fail to interiorize grammar for writing composition (Fajardo, 2011). The noticing hypothesis ties it all together by stating that through noticing incoming, repetitive stimuli “learners pay attention to the form and meaning of certain language structures in input” and will therefore “contribute to the internalization of grammar rules” (Batstone, 1996, p.273).
Recognition through repetition builds confidence
The seemingly present operant behaviorist sensitivities within these TESOL methodologies make one thing clear: if adult ELLs are capable of detecting grammatical patterns and/or improve accuracy through audio-lingual tasks time and again, then he or she will feel self-sufficient or reach that outcome. Consequently, the reward here is not candy or a glass of ‘milk’ for saying the words correctly; instead, it is praise from professors, peers, and themselves that they are gaining. Self-realization is a strong component of self-propelled motivation. Disappointment in a learning situation dissolves a student’s motivation, causing learned helplessness or amotivation (Igoudin, 2008, p.. If students are to repeat vocabulary words accurately or notice grammatical patterns via tasks that require repetition, then we can expect gradual achievement with each try—this brings forth self-confidence and therefore eagerness to continue learning.
Although behavioral foreign language teaching methodologies are conducive to accuracy and higher levels of motivation and self-esteem, we must keep in mind that the use of various methodologies is crucial for reinforcing form, usage, and comprehension of a foreign language. Ideal task sequencing starts with repetition or pattern noticing and ends with creative output of said grammar and phonetic ‘stimuli.'