There are probably many TESOL teachers who are perhaps unaware of the role Latin has played in shaping the world of TESOL today. Latin has had a tremendous influence on how language teaching has been shaped as Latin was one of the first languages that were systematically taught on a large scale. As such, Latin provided the foundation for how language was taught for several hundred years.
Latin at its Role in Language Teaching
Speaking several languages was the norm for most of known history in most parts of the world such as Europe. However, with the dawn of empires such as the Greek and Romans, there came a need to have a dominating language over local languages.
The language of Rome was primarily Latin. As such, this led Latin to the spreading of Latin throughout the Western world. What was unique was how long the Roman Empire lasted. After over 1000 years, Latin was the language of education, business, and government. It was embedded in tradition and not just an outside language imposed on locals.
With the decline of the Roman empire came a growth in the use of other languages in Europe such as English, French, Italian, etc. This contributed to Latin being taught as a subject because of the prominence it uses to have. Change is difficult and abandoning a language that was so ingrained in Western civilization was not easy for scholars.
Another reason that Latin was still taught after its decline was for purposes of strengthening the mind. Educators believed that study of Latin would improve intellectual prowess of students because of the challenge of learning it.
The Teaching of Latin
Latin was taught to young people through a focus on grammar rules, declension, and conjugation of verbs. Students also translated passages to and from Latin to developing writing skills.
A deductive approach was used in developing a knowledge of the grammar. Students were taught the rules of the grammar first and then provided with opportunities to apply them. There was no discovery or inductive approaches to learning.
Furthermore, students only learned to read and write Latin. This is partly due to the fact that Latin had died as a verbal language. Therefore, there was no development of conversational skills or practical application.
Latin and Modern Language Teaching
The approach of Latin with its focus on grammar and translation was how other languages were first taught by the 19th century. Since there was no other example of how to approach language teaching it only made sense to copy how Latin was taught. Everybody was focused on text but never on context.
People learned to communicate in through text even though they were studying living languages. Every language was taught as a mental exercise rather than as a skill for practical use.
The teaching of Latin led directly to the development of the grammar-translation method. This method laid the foundation for reactionary methods that are a part of the field of TESOL.