The Grammar-translation method is not new. It has had different names, but it has been used by language teachers for many years. At one time it was called the classical languages, Latin and Greek (chastain 1988). Earlier in this century, this method was used for the purpose of helping students read and appreciate foreign language literature. Finally, it was thought that foreign language learning would help students grow intellectually; it was recognize that students would probably never use the target language, but the mental exercise of learning it would be beneficial anyway.
As we enter the classroom, the class is in the middle of reading a passage in their textbook. The passage is an excerpt entitled ‘The Boys Ambition” from Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. Each student is called on to read a few lines from the passage. After they have finished, they asked to translated into spanish the few lines they have just read . The teacher helps them with new vocabulary items. When the students have finished reading and translating passage, the teacher asks them in Spanish if they have any questions. One girls raises her hand and says, ‘what is paddle wheel?’ The teacher replies, ‘Es una rueda de paletas.’ Then she continues in Spanish to explain how it looked and worked on the steamboats which moved up and down the mississippi River during Mark Twain’s childhood. Another student says, ‘No understand “gorgeous.” ‘The teacher translated, ‘Primoroso.’ Since the students have no more question. In addition to questions that ask for information contained within the reading passage, the students answered two other types of questions. For the first type, they have to make inferences based on their understanding of the passage. After one-half hour, the teacher, speaking in Spanish, asks the students to stop and check their work. One by one each student reads a question and then reads his or her response. If it is correct, the teacher calls on another student to read the next question. When the have finished this exercise, the teacher reminds them that english words that look like Spanish words are called ‘cognates’. When all of these cognates from the passage have been identified, the students are told to turn to the next exercise in the chapter and to answer the question. The next section of the chapter deals with grammar. The students follow in their books as the teacher reads a description of two-word or phrasal verb. These are listed following the description, and the students are asked to translated it.
THINKING ABOUT EXPERIENCE
This has been just a brief introduction to the Grammar-Translation Method, but it is probably true that this method is not new to many of you. You may studied a language in this way, or you may be teaching with this method right now. Whether this is true or not, let us see what we have learned about the Grammar-Translation Method.
REVIEWING THE TECHNIQUES
Ask yourself if any of the answers to the above questions make sense to you. If so, you may choose to try some of the techniques of the Grammar-Translation Method from review that follows.
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. Often the questions are sequenced so that the first group of questions asks for informationcontained within the reading passage.
Students are given one set of words and are asked to find antonyms in the reading passage. A similar exercise could be done by asking students to find a synonims for a particular set of words.
Students are taught to recognize cognates by learning the spelling or sound patterns that correspond between the languages.
Deductive application of rule
Grammar rules are presented with examples. Exceptions to each rule are also noted.
Students are given a series of sentences with word missing.
Students are given lists of target language vocabulary words and their native language equivalents and are asked to memorize them.
Use words in sentences
In order to show that students understand the meaning and use of a new vocabulary item, they make up sentences in which they use the new words.
The teacher gives the students a topic to write about in thetargetlanguage. The topic is based upon some aspect of the reading passage of the lesson.
You have now had an opportunity to examine the principles and some of the techniques of the Grammar-Translation Method. try to make a connection between what you have understood and your own teaching situation and beliefs.