Grammar teaching, grammar translation: Q&A video

In this video, I answer two interesting questions we got from one of our course participants:

Is the grammar translation teaching method still used in secondary school?

How is it best combined with other methods?


Here is the video, followed by the transcript:

Hi and welcome to this Q&A session. Today, we’re going to answer a question from one of our course participants about grammar translation. So Martina asks:

Is the grammar translation teaching method still used in secondary school?How is it best combined with other methods?

Two important and interesting questions. Now, in terms of whether Grammar Translation is still used, there’s one important caveat, which is: what do we understand by grammat translation? If we are talking about strict adherence to the method used centuries ago, then I think the answer would probably be no. There are lots of factors at play in today’s secondary schools including, among other things, technology, availability of authentic materials, the introduction of CLIL, interdisciplinary projects, and the fact that students themselves speak different first languages, so they wouldn’t always be translating into their L1. So all this leads me to think that strict adherence to GMT is pretty unlikely.

However, if we consider GMT a little more loosely as using deductive rather than inductive teaching, then yes, the likelihood that it’s still in use is higher. It’s also the case that there isn’t a lot of empirical classroom research on this in the Italian context, which makes it difficult to assess the extent to which it may be the case. I’m personally not one for making assumptions and piling on school teachers for being «old-fashioned», especially without evidence to back these claims. Even if we know that GMT is deeply rooted in our educational system because of the importance of teaching Ancient Latin and Greek, which were the original languages associated with GMT, I think lots of teachers have innovated and moved towards inductive teaching, and some coursebooks have nudged teachers in this direction too.

Now, in terms of how to combine it with other methods, I think it’s important to specify again that these methods and their boundaries aren’t written in stone, so teachers shouldn’t be looking at them as individual, self-contained units. In terms of grammar teaching broadly speaking, what we do know is that a lot of grammar acquisition happens without the learner realising, a little like when we learn a grammar pattern by noticing it in songs. According to research, explicit grammar instruction, in which we explain a grammar rule to our learners, may be useful but only in small doses. It should be part of an approach in which learners are exposed to a lot of input, produce output, have opportunities to notice and try out the language, and when a gap arises between what they know and what the language is like, then some moments of explicit instruction may be appropriate. One such approach is called Focus on Form, and we discuss it in our course Language Teaching Methodology.

So, rather than adhering to a specific method, which may be too limited, I think the best thing for teachers is to do activities that follow these principles. Doing tasks, from the TBLT approach, is one way of doing this. Another important point is that, as we explain in our course Language Teaching Methodology, teachers nowadays hardly ever follow specific «methods», unless this is somehow mandated. We tend to talk more about eclectic teachers, who pick and choose techniques and activities that are appropriate for their classes.

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