The Grammar Translation Method ( GT in short) which is regarded as the first method of language teaching, dominated foreign language teaching from the 1840s to the 1940s ( Richards and Rodgers, 2001).
It was originally used to teach the classical languages, Latin and Greek due to which it was also known as Classical Method. It is now more commonly known as the Grammar Translation Method. It has been used by language teachers for many years in most parts of the world including Nepal.
Grammar Translation Method, as its name suggests is a method of second or foreign language teaching which makes use of grammar study and translation as the main teaching and learning activities.
In other words, it emphasizes the teaching of second language grammar with the help of translation. Its cornerstones are the teaching of rules of grammar and translation of sentences and passages into the target language which promotes the use of rules taught.
GT method especially involves two components: i) the explicit study of grammatical rules and vocabulary and ii) the use of translation.
It hopes that through the study of the grammar of the target language, the students become more familiar with the grammar of the native language and that this familiarity helps them speak or write their native language better. In other words, foreign language learning helps students grow intellectually.
Theoretical Bases of Grammar Translation Method
Though the Grammatical Translation method is said to have no well-known theoretical base, Stern (1983;455) summarizes the following theoretical bases of it.
- This method interprets language primarily as a system of rules to be observed in the texts and sentences and to be related to first language rules and meaning.
- Language learning is an intellectual activity involving rule learning, the memorization of rules and facts related to first language meaning through massive translation practice.
- First language is maintained as the reference system in the acquisition of the second language.
- It is based on a faculty of psychology as mental training.
Principal Features of Grammar Translation Method
The grammar-translation method has two main features: i) teaching of language is the teaching of its grammar; ii) teaching the second language through translation. The major feature of the GT method as presented by Larsen Freeman (2000) and Richards & Rodgers (2001) are summarized as follow.
- A fundamental purpose of learning a foreign language is to be able to read its literature. In other words, literary language is superior to spoken language.
- Reading and writing are the major focus; little or no systematic attention is paid to speaking or listening.
- Words are taught through bilingual word lists, dictionary study, and memorization.
- The principal teaching technique is the translation from and into the target language.
- The ability to communicate in the target language is not a goal of foreign language instruction.
- Sentence is the basic unit of teaching and language practice.
- Accuracy, not fluency is emphasized.
- Grammar is taught deductively i.e. by presentation and study of grammar rules, which are then practiced through translation exercises.
- The students’ native language is the medium of instruction.
- The teacher is the authority in the classroom.
Classroom Procedures/ Techniques of Grammar Translation Method
The classroom procedures/techniques of the GT method focus on the presentation of grammatical rules and vocabularies by teachers and memorization of those rules and vocabularies by students.
The teacher presents the grammar rules with examples and explains them in students’ mother tongue and the students memorize them.
Similarly, the teacher presents the vocabulary items with their mother tongue equivalents and the students memorize them. Translations exercises i.e. L1 into l2 and vice versa are also done by the students in the classroom.
Some classroom techniques, as presented by Larsen Freeman (2002: 19,20), are presented below:
Translation of a literary passage
(Students translate a reading passage from the target language into their native language)
Reading Comprehension Questions
(Students answer questions in the target language based on their understanding of the reading passage.)
(Students are given one set of words and are asked to find antonyms in the reading passage)
(Students are taught to recognize cognates by learning the spelling or sound patterns that correspond between the languages)
Deductive application of rules
(Grammar rules are presented with examples)
Fill in the blanks
(Students are asked to fill the blanks with new words or items)
(Students are given a list of target language vocabularies and their native language equivalents and asked to memorize them.)
Use words in Sentence
(Students form new sentences to show their understanding of the new meaning and use of a new vocabulary item)
(The teacher gives the students a topic to write about in the target language)
Strengths of Grammar Translation Method
- It develops reading and writing skills.
- Grammar is taught deductively due to which students get explicit knowledge of grammar.
- A large number of students are benefitted at the same time.
- It is appropriate for all levels of students.
- Even less proficient teachers in English can handle the classes.
- It develops the vocabulary power of the students.
Weaknesses of Grammar Translation Method
- It does not prepare the students to use the target language communicatively.
- Listening and speaking skills are ignored.
- Accuracy may hinder fluency.
- Since it is the teacher-directed method, students remain passive.
- Grammar is taught deductively which is a monotonous procedure for learners.
- It has no strong theoretical foundation.
Though the Grammar Translation Method has these drawbacks/ weaknesses, this method has got a continuation as a method of foreign language teaching in several parts of the world including Nepal.
This method is used even today by teachers who have not had adequate training in modern language teaching methodology and/or lack resources to apply those methodologies in their classrooms.