Methodology: the grammar translation method
By Jonathan Marks
Level: Starter/beginner, Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced
A discussion on the use of the grammar translation method in English teaching.
There are many books mentioned that grammar translation is a out of date teaching method andthere isn't any theory behind it. Personally, I know that it still be used in some fields, such as engineering. Is it true that there isn't any theory behind it? If not, what is the theory that grammar translation belong to? When is better to use grammar translation approach?
Grammar translation (hereafter GT) was originally associated with the teaching of Latin and – to a muchlesser extent - ancient Greek. Interestingly, as Howatt (1984:131) points out, 'grammar' and 'translation' are actually not the distinctive features of GT, since they were already well-accepted as basic principles of language teaching. What was new was the use of invented, graded sentences rather than authentic(!) literary texts in order to make language learning easier.
The aim of teaching Latinand Greek was (and is) obviously not so that learners would be able to speak them. The aims were/are rather:
to develop logical thinking
to develop intellectual capacities and to have a generally educational and civilizing effect
to develop, at least in the better learners, an ability to read original texts in the languages concerned
to improve the standard of learners' L1
(This last pointis certainly true for English. There's a long tradition of setting Latin up as a model for English, and trying to squeeze English into the framework of Latin grammar, even among those professionally engaged in working with languages - as recently as a few years ago, one correspondent seriously suggested in a letter to The Linguist (“the official journal of the Institute of Linguists”) that athorough knowledge of Latin is an essential requisite for being able to use English properly! And in the introduction to one Latin primer I've got, the author writes that pupils who drop Latin after one or two years “will not have wasted their time, for they will have spent many lessons in learning how their own language works.”)
There have been various criticisms of the use of GT for the teaching ofmodern languages, and particularly English. Let's have a look at some of these objections and see if they really justify consigning GT to the dustbin of history.
* GT emphasizes the written language at the expense of the spoken. But being able to speak, and to understand the spoken language, are higher priorities than reading and writing for most learners.
Even if we striveto provide plenty of speaking practice, it's probably a good idea to include time for writing as a regular thread in lessons. Writing gives learners time to be reflective, to experiment and see the results of their attempts, to stop and consider “Is this OK?”, “Is this really what I want to say?”, “Is there a better way of expressing this?” - and to consult dictionaries, grammar books, otherlearners and the teacher to help them answer their questions and doubts. Sometimes we might specify the content of writing exercises precisely, and on other occasions we can give a more open-ended instruction such as: “Write some of the sentences that we've been practising (orally) in this lesson” or “Write a paragraph using some vocabulary that was new for you in this lesson.”
Objection two * GT uses a graded grammatical syllabus, and assumes that learners will progress towards mastery of the language by gradually accumulating an accurate command of each item in the syllabus. But most learners, and especially adults, want/need to start using the language straight away; they haven't got time to learn it first and only then start using it.
We can adopt a two-track approach, where...
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