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School of Languages, Cultures, and Race College of Arts and Sciences

History of the Language Learning Resource Center

From“The Handbook of Research for Educational Communications Technology”

“It is not until 1908 that there is any evidence of a laboratory arrangement of phonographic equipment” (Leon, 1962). By this is meant a dedicated facility for foreign-language study. This lab was at the University of Grenoble in France. An American, Frank C. Chalfant, who studied there in the summer of 1909, appears to have been the one who brought the idea back to this country. He installed a “phonetics laboratory” at Washington State College in Pullman during the 1911-1912 academic year. Pictures of this installation in use show students listening via networked earphones. This lab also had a phonograph recording machine so that students could compare their pronunciation with the native-speaker models.

Near the time that Chalfant established his phonetics laboratory, the U.S. Military and Naval Academy set aside rooms for listening to foreign-language records (Clarke, 1918). Another early facility was set up at the University of Utah in 1919 by Ralph Waltz (1930). He moved to Ohio State and built another lab about which he published several articles (Waltz, 1930, 1931, 1932). Waltz is usually credited with coining the term language laboratory in 1930 (Hocking, 1964). In fact, Chalfant had used it as early as 1916 in the Washington State College yearbook, the Chinookand probably in the regional foreign-language education circles of which he was a leader. In any event, the preferred term until after W.W.II was “phonetics lab.”

During the 1930s many institutions established labs (Gullette, 1932), but, as in the case of the phonograph, discussions of their use did not loom large in the methodological literature. For example, the Modern Language Journal’s annual annotated bibliography of monographs and articles only had four entries prior to 1945 besides the three articles by Waltz. The bibliography of the language laboratory for the years 1938-1958 compiled by Sanchez (1959) only added four items to the total for the pre-war period. Eddy (1944) and Whitehouse (1945) describe the equipment and use of two labs at the end of the period under consideration.