The grammar-translation was developed through the teaching of Latin. This post will explain some of the traits of the grammar-translation model as well as reactions towards it.
The goal in grammar-translation is to learn read and write another language for the sake of developing mental discipline. This is consistent with the perennialist worldview of education at the time. Learning a language is focused on grammar rules used in manipulating the meaning of the text.
As such, listening and speaking are not a focus. This leads to the students’ native language being used as the mode of instruction and the foreign language is strictly for other purposes. A typical lesson involves copious amounts of translating with a goal of high accuracy.
Grammar was taught deductively which means that the teacher always explained the rules for the students who would then apply them. This is in contrast to discovery learning which relies on students learning principles of a lesson themselves.
Grammar-translation was essential the first formalized way of teaching a language. Even today, this approached is used for the teaching of English as well as many “dead” languages such as Latin, Koine Greek, and Classical Hebrew.
The result of this approach to learning a language was an endless amount of vocabulary without context combined with an emphasis on memorizing. Many a pastor and theologian bemoan their days of taking biblical languages. This was partially due to how the language was taught. Many programs require memorizing an extensive list of word and declensions even though there are dictionaries, lexicons, and concordances readily available.
There are some advantages to this approach. For learning to communicate on an academic level via writing this method is supreme. This makes sense as the student does not have to develop speaking and listening skills. In addition, understanding the rules of a language provides insights into how and why of using it.
The grammar-translation method was easy to administer for teachers while boring for students. For teachers who lack verbal ability, it allows them to provide some sort of understanding of the language to their students. This method is also beneficial to large classes where it is difficult to monitor behavior.
With time, language teaching was becoming more and more important. Combine this with the dissatisfaction that was arising from the grammar-translation and there arises a shift and push back against the grammar-translation.