History

The Grammar Translation Method is an old method which was originally used to teach dead languages which explains  why it focuses mainly on the written form at the expense of the oral form. It was designed according to the faculty psychology approach which was very popular during the 18th and 19th century. It contended that ” mental discipline was essential for strengthening the powers of the mind”. The way to do this was through learning classical literature of the Greeks and Romans.

Method

  • Use of mother tongue.
  • Vocabulary items are taught in the form of word lists.
  • Elaborate explanations of grammar.
  • Focus on the morphology and syntax.
  • Reading of difficult texts early in the course.
  • Practice focuses on exercises translating sentences or texts from mother tongue to the target language and vice versa.

It is surprising to see that the Grammar Translation Method was still in use in some classrooms during the late decades of the 20th century. May be, it’s  because it bears some advantages.

Advantages

  • Translation is the easiest and shortest way of explaining meaning of words and phrases.
  • Learners have no difficulties to understand the lesson as it is carried out in the mother tongue.
  • It is a labor-saving method as the teacher carries out everything in the mother tongue.

Criticism

  • What the method is good at is “teaching about the language” , not “teaching the language”.
  • Speaking or any kind of spontaneous creative output was missing from the curriculum.
  • Students lacked an active role in the classroom.
  • Very little attention is paid to communication.
  • Very little attention is paid to content.
  • Translation is sometimes misleading.

Because of all these disadvantages, instructors  tried to find better ways to remedy the pitfalls of the grammar translation method. The Direct Method was the answer.

Reference:

Brown, H. Douglas, 2006. Principles of Language Learning and Teaching, Fifth Edition, Pearson ESL.

Richards, Jack C. and Theodore S. Rodgers (1986). Approaches and methods in language teaching: A description and analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Other sources: wikipedia – GTM