The grammar-translation method is a method of teaching foreign languages derived from the classical (sometimes called traditional) method of teaching Greek and Latin. In grammar-translation classes, students learn grammatical rules and then apply those rules by translating sentences between the target language and their native language. Advanced students may be required to translate whole texts word-for-word. The method has two main goals: to enable students to read and translate literature written in the target language, and to further students’ general intellectual development.
Principles and goals There are two main goals to grammar-translation classes. One is to develop students’ reading ability to a level where they can read literature in the target language. The other is to develop students’ general mental discipline. The users of foreign language wanted simply to note things of their interest in the literature of foreign languages. Therefore, this method focuses on reading and writing and has developed techniques which facilitate more or less the learning of reading and writing only. As a result, speaking and listening are overlooked. Method Grammar-translation classes are usually conducted in the students’ native language. Grammar rules are learned deductively; students learn grammar rules by rote, and then practice the rules by doing grammar drills and translating sentences to and from the target language. More attention is paid to the form of the sentences being translated than to their content. When students reach more advanced levels of achievement, they may translate entire texts from the target language. Tests often consist of the translation of classical texts. There is not usually any listening or speaking practice, and very little attention is placed on pronunciation or any communicative aspects of the language. The skill exercised is reading, and then only in the context of translation. Materials The mainstay of classroom materials for the grammar-translation method is the textbook. Textbooks in the 19th century attempted to codify the grammar of the target language into discrete rules for students to learn and memorize. A chapter in a typical grammar-translation textbook would begin with a bilingual vocabulary list, after which there would be grammar rules for students to study and sentences for them to translate. Some typical sentences from 19th-century textbooks are as follows: The philosopher pulled the lower jaw of the hen. My sons have bought the mirrors of the Duke. The cat of my aunt is more treacherous than the dog of your uncle.
Reception The method by definition has a very limited scope. Because speaking or any kind of spontaneous creative output was missing from the curriculum, students would often fail at speaking or even letter writing in the target language. A noteworthy quote describing the effect of this method comes from Bahlsen, who was a student of Plötz, a major proponent of this method in the 19th century. In commenting about writing letters or speaking he said he would be overcome with "a veritable forest of paragraphs, and an impenetrable thicket of grammatical rules. According to Richards and Rodgers, the grammar-translation has been rejected as a legitimate language teaching method by modern scholars: [T]hough it may be true to say that the Grammar-Translation Method is still widely practiced, it has no advocates. It is a method for which there is no theory. There is no literature that offers a rationale or justification for it or that attempts to relate it to issues in linguistics, psychology, or educational theory.