The Grammar Translation Method

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An article discussing the grammar-translation approach to language learning.

At the height of the Communicative Approach to language learning in the 1980s and early 1990s it became fashionable in some quarters to deride so-called "old-fashioned" methods and, in particular, something broadly labelled "Grammar Translation". There were numerous reasons for this but principally it was felt that translation itself was an academic exercise rather than one which would actually help learners to use language, and an overt focus on grammar was to learn about the target language rather than to learn it.

As with many other methods and approaches, Grammar Translation tended to be referred to in the past tense as if it no longer existed and had died out to be replaced world-wide by the fun and motivation of the communicative classroom. If we examine the principal features of Grammar Translation, however, we will see that not only has it not disappeared but that many of its characteristics have been central to language teaching throughout the ages and are still valid today.

The Grammar Translation method embraces a wide range of approaches but, broadly speaking, foreign language study is seen as a mental discipline, the goal of which may be to read literature in its original form or simply to be a form of intellectual development. The basic approach is to analyze and study the grammatical rules of the language, usually in an order roughly matching the traditional order of the grammar of Latin, and then to practise manipulating grammatical structures through the means of translation both into and from the mother tongue.

The method is very much based on the written word and texts are widely in evidence. A typical approach would be to present the rules of a particular item of grammar, illustrate its use by including the item several times in a text, and practise using the item through writing sentences and translating it into the mother tongue. The text is often...
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