UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A survey of the language laboratories in British Columbia. Brown, Gilbert Gordon


During the past two decades or more there have been many innovations in the teaching of modern foreign languages in the province of British Columbia. Perhaps the most significant change has been the added importance that has been placed on the aural-oral approach in foreign language teaching as opposed, to the reading approach introduced in the nineteen thirties. This new emphasis on oral work created a need for a means of providing suitable facilities whereby students could gain the drill and practice necessary in order to become reasonably proficient in understanding and speaking a foreign language. In an endeavour to provide this practice, teachers of foreign languages started supplementing their classroom work by the use of phonograph records and films. Since that time, there has been a steady increase in the use of these teaching aids. During World War II, as a result of the great demand for people who could understand, and speak foreign languages, training aids were used extensively by the Services in an attempt to introduce mass instruction in languages. This practice spread to the schools and colleges. On the phonograph records, which were used to supplement the text book, pauses were left during which the student repeated the phrases he heard. Thus, the principle of active participation rather than passive listening began to influence regular classroom teaching. This use of phonograph records provided the germ for the idea of the language laboratory which first came into being 1941 in the United States and in 1946 in Canada. Starting first in the universities and colleges, the idea soon spread to the high schools. The first high school language laboratory was installed in 1948 in the United States and in 1959 in Canada. The first language laboratory in British Columbia was installed in 1958 at the University of British Columbia, and the first high school laboratory was installed in 1961 in the Mount Elizabeth High School at Kitimat. However, a more primitive type of laboratory, a classroom laboratory, was started in 1959 in the Lester Pearson High School in New Westminster. The fundamental purpose of the language laboratory is to improve the student's ability to comprehend the spoken language and to increase the fluency with which he is able to speak it. The laboratory increases the time spent by each student in listening to and speaking a foreign language. It serves to increase the effectiveness of the time a student is with a teacher and gives the student a great deal more practice; the laboratory becomes the drill-master and leaves the teacher free to teach. One fact must be stressed, however, the language laboratory is merely an aid in language teaching; its purpose is to supplement the work done in the classroom, never to replace it. This survey discussed the origin of the language laboratory, explained the structure of the laboratories in use to-day, described the teaching methods used in the laboratory, provided a concise account of the laboratory with reference to cost, equipment, techniques, advantages and disadvantages to students and teachers alike, and gave some indication of the role of the language laboratory in the future, suggesting areas in which further research, study and experimentation are required. The survey revealed that, although there is definite proof that some students have shown improvement in two of the four language skills; aural comprehension and speaking, there is little or no definite proof that there has been any improvement in the other two skills; reading and writing. It further revealed that there is disagreement among teachers who are actually using a laboratory as to the best type of equipment, the most effective length of a laboratory period, the best techniques to use, the question of whether or not students should record their responses and how often this should be done, and various other problems. In view of these findings, the central contention put forward was that, although the language laboratory has some definite advantages, there are definite disadvantages as well and there if, therefore, an urgent need for more experimentation, and answers are required to several questions before it can be said that the language laboratory has a place in every high school in British Columbia.

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