The Grammar-Translation method

The Grammar-Translation method

The grammar-translation method was the dominant foreign language teach­ing method in Europefrom the 1840s to the 1940s, and a version of it continues to be widely used in some parts of the world even today. Earlier in the 20th cen­tury, this method was used for the purpose of helping students read and appreci­ate foreign language literature. It was also hoped that through the study of grammar of the target language students would become more familiar with the grammar of their native language, and that this familiarity would help them speak and write their native language better. Finally, it was thought that foreign language learning would help students grow intellectually; it was recognized that students would probably never use the target language, but as the mental exrcise of learning it would be beneficial anyway.

The basic principles of this method:

1. Afundamental purpose of learning a foreign language is to be able to read its literature. Literary language is superior to spoken language. Students’ study of the foreign culture is limited to its literature and fine arts.

2. Instruction is given in the native language of the students. There is little use of the target language.

3. An important goal is for students to be able to translate one language into the other. If students can do that they are considered successful language learners. The ability to communicate in the target language is not a goal of foreign language instruction.

4. The primary skills to be developed are reading and writing. Little atten­tion is given to speaking and listening, and almost none to pronunciation. There is early reading of difficult classical texts.

5. The teacher is the authority in the classroom, though he does not have to be able to speak the target language. It is very important that students get the correct answer.

6. It is possible to find native language equivalents for all target language words. Learning is facilitated through attention to similarities between the target language and the native one.

7. It is important for the students to learn about the form of the target lan­guage. Deductive application of an explicit grammar rule is a useful pedagogical technique. Students should be conscious of the grammatical rules of the target language.

8. Language learning provides good mental exercise. Wherever possible, verb conjugations and other grammatical paradigms should be memo­rized.

Techniques used in this method:

translation of a literary passage;

– reading comprehension questions;

– antonyms/ synonyms;

– cognates;

– deductive application of rules;

– fill-in-the-blanks;

– memorization;

– used words in sentences;

– composition.

But the greater demand for ability to speak foreign languages was begin­ning to take place. So various reformers began considering the nature of lan­guage and of learning. Among these reformers were two Frenchmen, C.Marcel and F.Gouin, and an Englishman, T.Pendergast. Through their separate observa­tions, they concluded that the way the children learned language was relevant to how adults should learn language. Marcel emphasized the importance of under­standing the meaning in language learning. Pendergast proposed the first struc­tural syllabus. He proposed arranging grammatical structures so that the easiest were taught first. Gouin believed that children learned language through using it for a sequence of related actions. He emphasized presenting each item in context and using gestures to supplement verbal meaning. The reformers also believed that the language teaching should be based on scientific knowledge about lan­guage, that it should begin with speaking and expand to other skills, that words and sentences should be presented in context, that grammar should be taught inductively, and that translation should, for the most part, be avoided. These ideas spread, and were consolidated in what became known as the Direct Method, the first of the “Natural Methods”.