The Role of Repetition Through Successive Approximations in the Acquisition of the Basic Skills*


  • Katherine M. Littell

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      Katherine M. Littell (Ph.D., Columbia University) is Assistant Professor of German in the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics at Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania

  • *

    This is a revised version of a paper presented at the 42nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Teachers of German in Bonn, Germany, 27 June–2 July 1974.


ABSTRACT  Repetition has been used as a language teaching device since antiquity and is the basis of the modern audiolingual drill sequence. Recent research indicates that many of the uses of repetition prescribed by the audiolingual method, such as the use of tapes in the language laboratory and in classroom drills, have not resulted in the student progress anticipated. An explanation for this phenomenon may be that the speed of phonic presentation on the tapes is too fast for the students' rate of listening comprehension, making it impossible for sounds and words to be identified in meaningful sequences. If the speed of presentation is reduced to a level at which the student fully comprehends all material on the tape, it seems reasonable to infer that the rate of listening comprehension will be increased substantially in terms of short- and long-term mastery. The purpose of the present research was to examine language acquisition within the four skill areas of listening, speaking, reading, and writing, as it is affected by both non-distorted retardation and repetition of speech. The subjects were divided into three groups: Group I heard taped materials which were reduced in speed to a point where comprehension was assured: Group II heard three repetitions, proceeding in three equal increments from base-level comprehension to normal speed; Group III experienced the taped material at normal speed. All modifications in speed were effected by the speech compressor and were undistorted. During this experiment, the subjects' performance was differentially affected as a function of sex, language ability, and treatment, indicating a need for greater differentiation of teaching strategies within generally defined methodologies.