Language labs went out with the 20th century. Language labs came into existence in the late 1940s and early 1950s when modern foreign language programs were starting to develop in universities. Labs were constructed where students were gathered together and collectively followed a prescribed audio programs. This followed the behavourist model of language teaching. That was long before the communicative method was ever developed.
The purpose of language labs was for students to gain auditory exposure to the language they were studying. This was a big deal back then. Students had far fewer opportunities to travel. There was no such thing as the Internet. There was no foreign television programming. And phone calls to family members who were living abroad were horrendously expensive.
That’s all changed. In today’s world of digital everything, audio exposure to foreign languages is readily available at little to no cost. Satellite radio, Internet radio and podcasts are all available. Even as far back as the 1980s, visionary scholars began to see that one day, language labs would become extinct (Chen, 1996; Froehlich, 1982). They were right. In the twenty-first century, constructing language labs is not a wise use of a school’s limited money, time and other resources.
Note: This blog post was one of a number that served to inform a larger article that can be found here:
Eaton, S. E. (2010). Global Trends in Language Learning in the Twenty-first Century Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED510276.pdf
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.