Posted: May 5, 2008 in Education

Application of methods used in Latin and Greek to teaching of modern languages. Rules of grammar, not the language itself, are all important. Verb declensions are set out tables, vocabulary lists to be learned, leading to translation from mother tongue into target language and vice-versa. Little or no attention to pronunciation.

Assumption was that language consists of written words and of words which exist in isolation, as though they were individual bricks which could be translated one by one into their foreign equivalents and then assessed according to grammatical rules into sentences in the foreign language.

Underlying justification for such a method rested upon belief that what should be taught was not the language itself but the faculty of logical thought and provided valuable mental discipline, equal to the classics.

  • the learner would acquire the skill of translating in writing from MT to FL and from FL to MT
  • spoken form of FL played very little part in the learning process
  • language was merely a deductive process: from data or a set of rules presented, learner had to create sentences in FL through transfer techniques.


1 Even if learning a language by Grammar-Translation method trained mind in logical thought, there is little evidence to suggest that this faculty is transferable to other walks of life beyond the language classroom.When is written translation of actual use to the learner? Only perhaps after school in industry, commerce, foreign correspondence, advertising, export orders – European marketBut how many pupils of modern languages will actually end up here?
2 This method gives pupils the wrong idea of what language is and of the relationship between languages. Language is seen as a collection or words which are isolated and independent and there must be a corresponding word in the native tongue for each foreign word he learns (CF present day candidates rendering of ‘Quelle est !a matiere?”Je suis seize’)

3 Deplorable to assume that language is only acquired through translation skills, and this at the expense of oral skills (imagine disaster in, comprehensive schools with mixed ability classes)

4 Low translation standard – caused by grammatical techniques which force learner to deduce FL sentences ‘by selecting from a multiplicity of rules and exceptions and individualized words. Inevitable that language learning process should fall down.

In 5 year ‘O’ level courses, candidate faced over 1000 rules, together with exceptions, in preparation for examination based on translation.

After 5 years learning a language, the average ‘0’ level candidate could make up to 160 errors in translation paper and fail this part of the exam.

5 In GB translation used to constitute the greater part of ‘O’ and ‘A’ level exam ( oral getting 20% and 12% respectively ). Was this really useful / – only served small minority of learners.

6 IQ of average grammar school child not high enough to cope with this method
(imagine response of mixed-ability group in comprehensive school!)

7 Prof Carl Dodson: “Any system which allows only the few to acquire true knowledge, very often in spite of the system, can no longer claim self-perpetuating power”

Language teachers -a dying breed? – lack of language teachers / lack of students beyond Yr 9!

8 Worst effect of this method is on pupil’s motivation. Because (s)he cannot succeed – leads to frustration, boredom and indiscipline.

Even among more able pupils who may be able to achieve a higher level of success, there is feeling that this is all there is to language learning. Not a rewarding or satisfying activity.. Language learning should be fun and bring some joy and pride in achievement with it.

Below is an example of the rigours of learning via the pure Grammar Method as illustrated by Professor Carl J Dodson.

Working through the mechanics of this imaginary language and undertaking the translation exercises shows how much this approach relies on cognitive ability.

C.J.Dodson.’Language Learning and the Bilingual Method’

Masc Fem Neut PL 1 -en
Nominative Me Men Mas Len Sing 2 -a
Idiotive Det Def Dof Ten 3 -o
Imaginative Jeb Kin Los Fen
Illogitive Tal Sib Pen Ken 1 -ens
Plural 2 -ato
3 -unt
sabla (m) chair abro under list put
maldi (f) table lef on cord throw
labro (f) book parti against nu to be
gardi (m) Boy
randos (n) floor
borden (n) ceiling


If an object. is under 2 ft high from ground level, the Idiotive case is used.
If an object is 2 t over from ground level, the Imaginative case is used

A chair is always considered to be less than 2 ft high, no matter what its actual height may be.
Direct = object Illogitive

Example: The chair is under the table / Det sabla nmabro kin maldiTranslate the sentences:-

1) The book is under the chair.
2) The boy puts the book on the table.

3) The boy puts the book on the floor.

4) The boy throws the book against the ceiling.

5) The boy throws the books against the ceiling


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