The grammar-translation method of teaching dates back to the 1500s when it was widely used for teaching latin. Nowadays, the grammar-translation method of teaching English is not widely adopted, although hybrid forms of the method can be found in some places. According to Jack Richards and Theodore Rogers in their 2001 book, Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching, this method is still used in some countries but has been rejected by a number of educational scholars.
During the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe, it was believed that the body and mind were separate and that teaching modern languages was not useful to the development mental discipline and therefore was not taught in schools. When modern languages did start to be taught in schools they used the same grammar-translation method as what was used for teaching Latin.
This method was also widely used in the United States at this time too. The goals of the grammar-translation method is two-fold. Firstly, it set out to give the student a reading ability to a level where they can read literature in the target language and secondly it was used to develop student’s general mental discipline.
Grammar-translation classes are commonly conducted in the native language of the students. Students learn the vocabulary and grammar rules from the teacher or a book and practice by doing drills and translation exercises both to and from the target language. The content is not so important and most attention is paid to the form of the sentences.
Translation is the key to this methodology as is reading and writing. There is not normally any listening or speaking practice carried out moreover, there is virtually no pronunciation practice for the students.
Pros and Cons
Well there are very few advantages of the grammar-translation method of teaching English, if any at all. There are, on the other hand, many disadvantages. There is absolutely no speaking involved in this method and therefore students might be able to read and write in English, but would never have the skills required for holding a conversation.
Moreover, this very rigid method also removes any creativity from the class, rendering the class very dull and somewhat boring for most students. Finally, because of this rigidity and lack of speaking practice, students may well understand the written language well, but have absolutely no working knowledge of English. For these reasons, this method has largely been replaced by other methods, but it is still used in hybrid forms in some parts of the world.
The Grammar-Translation Method of Teaching English
In my opinion, the Grammar-Translation method has a number of disadvantages insomuch that it lacks speaking practice (one of the 4 main skills alongside reading, writing and listening), reduces creativity in the class and leaves students with very little working knowledge of the spoken language.
Where this style of teaching might be appropriate, however, is where a student is seeking to translate text from one language into English or vice versa. Moreover, it would also be effective for students to learn grammar, which is essential for most ESL students.
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