This is only my second post and I am already pontificating
! Why are the FSI Language courses good?
Begging the question of whether or not the FSI courses are, in fact, good...Intensive Classroom Instruction
It would be useful to remember that the "FSI Basic" course materials that are available on the FSI-Language-Courses website and elsewhere, while quite impressive, represent only a portion of the total materials that were available to the U.S. Government employees who benefited from classroom instruction in groups of 4 to 6 students and who were required to interact with the teacher and with each other in the target language. Theirs was a "total immersion" environment, which helps explain the effectiveness of the overall teaching approach.Audio-Lingual Method
At the time the "FSI Basic" courses were used, the teaching approach employed was the "audio-lingual method"
. It was quite popular in the 1960's, even in academic circles. There is an interesting summary of the method on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audio-lingual_method
. In some of the FSI course manuals, this is described as "over learning
." For independent learners who adapt well to this teaching method (drill-drill-drill), it is the presence of the thousands of sentence pattern dills
that renders these "legacy" courses effective, which in turns explains their continued popularity. Obviously, if an individual does not adapt well to this type of intensive practice, he will most likely find the materials boring, will not persevere and will abandon this method in favour of something that he finds more appealing. Programmed Learning
In addition to the audio-lingual method used in their "Basic" courses, the FSI published a few courses that employed the "Programmed Learning
" method of instruction. There is an interesting summary of the method on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Programmed_learning
. I completed all four of the FSI courses. It is possible that, at the time the FSI published their "Portuguese Programmatic" course, a basic course for this language did not exist and that they decided to integrate the programmed learning method into their course structures. While the method differs from the audio-lingual approach, the FSI adaption includes thousand of "Practice Drills" that resemble the sentence-pattern drills of the audio-lingual method. In my opinion, the Portuguese course is truly excellent! Subsequently, the FSI published their "Spanish Programmatic" course even though there existed a basic course for this language. Although it is very similar in form to the Portuguese course, in my opinion, it is marred somewhat by the inexplicable use of a non-standard phonetic spelling for the Spanish text for about the first half of Volume 1. The FSI also published an extremely basic "German Programmatic" course that was conceived to assist students prepare themselves for the rigours of the German Basic course. Ah, but the "cherry on the sundae" was without doubt the FSI Italian Programmatic course! If ever there was a case where a reasonably sound idea was totally misunderstood and so thoroughly misapplied as to discredit the original idea, it was the FSI Italian Programmatic course. Fashions Change
Fashions change, even in academic circles, and the audio-lingual method is no longer in vogue. In fact, many champions of other language-teaching methods take a malicious pleasure in discrediting
the audio-lingual method (I suspect that this is part of human nature). One approach that seems to have displaced it is the "student-centered"
approach to teaching, for which this is an interesting article in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Student-centred_learning
. The FSI seems to have abandoned the audio-lingual method completely and, for a number reasons, perhaps budgetary, perhaps a change in teaching philosophy, began introducing the rather cursory and rushed-in-appearance FAST (Familiarization and Short Term Training) courses that, with the notable exception of the FSI Italian FAST
course, are not worth much interest, assuming that reasonable commercially-prepared alternatives exist.It Works For Me, However ...
As I adapt well to "drills", I greatly appreciated using the FSI Basic
courses for German and Spanish. In addition, I have used the Glossika Mass Sentence
practice sets, despite their weaknesses, in my attempts to improve my fluency. Having said that, I would add that is extremely important
to engage with native-speakers of the target language and to expose oneself to native materials as much as possible.