Tag: Grammar Translation Method

Grammar Translation Method

I’ve read several times that, in the “post-methods era”, a new direction in ELT is “principled eclecticism”. In order to be a principled eclectic, however, some understanding of various approaches and methods, and their principles, seems necessary. Also for those who are not that far in their ELT career, for example those who are currently on teacher training courses, some insight into various approaches and methods in ELT over the decades is useful, if not a requirement.  Thus I’ve decided to start a series of blog entries looking at various approaches and methods in detail. The aim is to provide a basic guide or overview of the backgrounds and main principles of various approaches and methods, without passing judgment.

I’m going to start with the Grammar Translation method, as many books and courses on this topic do.

If you feel that anything is unclear, or that I’ve missed any key points, please add your comments below!

Grammar Translation Method


–          In the 17th – 19th centuries and emerging belief was that language learning could/should be modeled on the study of classical Latin literature, and include an analysis of grammar and rhetoric.

–          The method advocates the rote learning of grammar, the study of declensions/conjugations, learning by translating, writing example sentences, and highlighting parallels in bilingual texts.

–          Studying Latin was said to develop intellect and was an end in itself, as it required ‘mental gymnastics’

–         In the 18th century, people began learning ‘modern’ languages  in schools. Contrary to what we know today, speaking was not the main goal and there was little relation between the language learnt and the  lang of ‘real’ communication.

–        In the  19th century, the standard way of learning languages was through grammar. Textbooks by Seidenstücker or Plötz, for example, aimed to codify languages into frozen rules of morphology and syntax to be explained and memorized. The immediate aim was the application of these rules in exercises invented for this purpose, which often mechanical translation.

–          This ‘method’ (and offspring of German scholarship) became  known as the Grammar Translation Method, and dominated language teaching from the 1840s to 1940s.

–          Some of the commonly known ‘excesses’ of the methods were introduced due to the desire to prove that learning modern foreign langauges was as intellectual as studying classics.

–          Despite being shunned by so many theorists and teachers, the method is still used today, especially where teachers wish to  focus in on reading skills for literature, though there seem to be very few strong advocates of the method nowadays.


–          The main goal is being able to erad literature in the foreign language, and this skill is trained through the analysis of grammar  and the translation of (mainly literary texts.

–          No systematic attention is paid to speaking / listening

–          The vocabulary taught is selected based on what occurs in the reading texts

–          Practice is highly controlled and is based on sentences – because translating an entire text would be too difficult for most learners.

–          Emphasis is placed on accuracy of the translations / sentences produced in the foreign language.

–          Grammar is taught deductively

–         Learners’ L1 is often the medium of instruction.