By the mid 19th century, many language educators began to react negatively towards the grammar-translation method. This post will examine several concerns of the grammar-translation model and the proposed early solutions to these concerns.
Among some of the problems people had with grammar-translation includes was the inability to communicate verbally and lack of context. The lack of verbal communication was a major problem particularly when grammar-translation was used to teach living languages such as English. For many, learning a living language involves learning to speak it and the grammar-translation model does not provide this.
A closely related problem was a lack of context. A large part of communication is the setting in which it takes place. Another term for this is pragmatics. The setting along with body language (paralinguistic features) determines a large portion of understanding in communication. This is all ignored with the grammar-translation method as it is focused on text exclusively.
Several 19th-century language teaching innovators offered answers to these problems. Prendergast was one of the first to notice how children learn language through context. He also found that children memorize commonly use phrases for future use. From these two observations, Pendergast proposed a structural approach to language learning in which the most basic units of a language are taught first followed by more complex ideas.
Gouin also studied how children learn language He proposed that language learning was easiest through using language to accomplish sequenced events that were related. For example, students might learn several phrases using the word door such as “I walk toward the door” and “I stop at the door”. Students would then learn the verb of such phrases like “I walk” and “I stop”. This experience happens in several different ways in order to help the student understand what “walk” and “stop” mean.
Gouin also supported the use of paralinguistic features such as gesturing in order to help explain ideas in a conversation with students. This support of body language influenced several methods of teaching English.
The reformers of the 19th century notice something about language that is obvious to us today, and that is the need to learn to communicate verbally.This led to many proposed reforms. However, few have heard of these reforms as they did not spread throughout the world of language teaching. This is due to inferior ways of communicating when compared today.
Though lacking recognition. The reforms suggested in the 19th century have become a part of standard practice for any teachers today.