We refer to these courses by acronyms because the names are too long. DLI stands for Defense Language Institute. FSI stands for Foreign Service Institute. Both organizations are part of the US government. The US government's purpose for these organizations is to teach foreign languages to the military and diplomatic corps to serve the nation's interests. They are not designed for travelers' needs, or dilettantes. The courses are designed for professionals who need to work with the language to serve their country.
The courses were never intended for self-instruction. Neither the DLI nor the FSI said: "OK people, here's your book and tapes. Go home. Read the lessons. Listen to the tapes. There'll be a test later. Good luck!". There was a 6-8 hour Monday through Friday class going over the material with native-speaker instructors. The course book and tapes were for the student to use in class and
at home to prepare for class and review. The instructor would reinforce the lessons, provide supplemental activities and give explanations where needed.
The self-learner has access to the instruction materials but not the instructor nor the supplemental activities. Self-learners must find their own way to make up for this outside of the course. In addition, the courses we have today dating from the 1960's, 1970's, 1980's are based on the audio-lingual method
of learning. The audio-lingual method fell into disfavor in the latter part of the 20th Century:
Wikipedia wrote:In the late 1950s, the theoretical underpinnings of the method were questioned by linguists such as Noam Chomsky, who pointed out the limitations of structural linguistics. The relevance of behaviorist psychology to language learning was also questioned, most famously by Chomsky's review of B.F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior in 1959. The audio-lingual method was thus deprived of its scientific credibility and it was only a matter of time before the effectiveness of the method itself was questioned.
In 1964, Wilga Rivers released a critique of the method in her book, The Psychologist and the Foreign Language Teacher. Subsequent research by others, inspired by her book, produced results which showed explicit grammatical instruction in the mother language to be more productive. These developments, coupled with the emergence of humanist pedagogy led to a rapid decline in the popularity of audiolingualism.
Philip Smith's study from 1965-1969, termed the Pennsylvania Project, provided significant proof that audio-lingual methods were less effective than a more traditional cognitive approach involving the learner's first language
To me this seems like a setup of an "either/or" dichotomy which need not be made by self-learners. Successful self-learners all end up "cobbling together" the resources and methods they need to learn a language to a high level. Often, they use very different methods in combination to learn. No course, on its own, for self-learners is sufficient to gain a high level in the language. Even for classroom instruction, students must do a significant amount of work on their own outside of courses/classes to consolidate and advance their language skills beyond their instruction.
Using the FSI and DLI courses for self instruction doesn't mean that other resources must be excluded. It is not an either/or dichotomy. Why not use, say FSI Spanish Programatic Course alongside the "Destinos" video course; or Pimsleur?! Why not do Assimil Spanish and then follow it up with FSI Basic Spanish to consolidate what was learned and drill it home?! Part of the reluctance to use complimentary materials is impatience among self-learners. Using two complimentary courses takes more time and effort. A monolingual beginner is battling not only the particular language they're learning but also learning a second language in general. FSI and DLI are not hand-holding courses. If a self-learner gets "bored" with the instruction method, then there's nothing in the courses to bring that learner back around to enthusiastically doing the lessons- no hand-holding; no short lessons; no humor.
This "boredom" can be a difficult obstacle to overcome for some learners. The boredom actually has more to do with motivation than with the method of instruction. To learn any language as a self-learner, motivation must be internal. They have to want
to learn. If they do want to learn, they will persevere, they will be consistent. They will be consistent. They won't let the roadblocks and challenges stop them.
Every single course has faults, strengths and weaknesses. Every method of learning has advantages and disadvantages. Successful learners recognize this concept. They accept it and adapt to it. After having recently done an Assimil course- "Le Catalan Sans Peine", I can attest to this. I found the course, while effective thanks to my previous related language background, to be lacking in sufficient repetition, exercises and drills that I would've liked to have. If there had been a DLI Catalan Basic Course... I certainly would've jumped on it.
The main difference between FSI and the old DLI Basic courses is that, to me, DLI tends to tie concepts together better between the drills, dialogs and readings. Used in some combination with a more modern course like Assimil or Teach Yourself, I believe helps to fill in the gaps and weaknesses of both approaches.
As to modern language, yeah, a 50 year old course is not modern. The core language, verbs and their tenses/conjugations; basic vocabulary; basic grammar, these don't change. Modern vocabulary and usage are out their and easily available for learners to learn and model. I wouldn't let this stop me from using a highly effective and thorough method to learn a language- either as a main course or a supplement.
We are woefully lacking in knowledge of the current methods of instruction for the Defense Language Institute and the Foreign Service Institute today. Do they still use a "take home" course book and audio or are the courses more web based, and as such, can't really be released to the public as the older courses were? I'd love to hear from those who have taken courses at DLI and/or FSI since the year 2005 to describe what language instruction is like there now.