What is the Grammar Translation Method?


Teaching English as a second language is not always easy because of the challenges involved in developing language skills that differ from those of the native language. However, the demand has increased based on the requirement of language usage in various spheres of life. Therefore, it is a high-demand subject of instruction in Australia. For instance, immigrants in Austalia enroll in schools that use English as the first language. Besides, the number of students whose English is not their native language has increased, and schools across the country enroll many L2 students. Hence, instructors encounter difficulties teaching such students, especially when mastery of the target language is required. Thus, a practical teaching approach is necessary to support learning (Munday, 2013). While various methodologies to teaching L2 learners exist, one commonly used approach is the Grammar Translation Method.

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Description of the Method

The Grammar Translation Method refers to an approach to teaching second language learners. The method is mainly based on translating passages written in the native language to the new language students are learning. When instructing using the approach, students are given an explanation relating to the target language’s grammar rules, syntax, and etymology (Assalahi, 2013). The description of aspects is in a more linguistic than communicative manner. It focuses on literature and grammar, and teachers make little or no attempt to teach pronunciation. Advanced students may use the Grammar Translation Method to translate entire text word-for-word. The approach has two primary objectives, which include allowing students to read and translate texts written in a native language and developing an overall intellectual capability of the student (Munday, 2013). Therefore, the approach is useful and effective for learners to develop intellectual competence in a target language.

The Grammar Translation Method is founded on the written word and texts. Typically, the method presents the rules of a specific item of grammar, illustrating its application by targeting a second language through translation (Pym, Malmkjær, & Gutiérrez-Colón, 2013). The aspect of grammar is used many times and practiced through writing words and sentences and translating them into the native language. The process involves the creation of a vocabulary list with new lexical items (Campbell, 2014). Therefore, the teacher should provide the vocabulary of the two languages to enable students to translate text effectively from one language to another (Assalahi, 2013). In general, the student should be competent in the native language to successfully translate passages into the new language. However, support from the teacher plays a significant role in the effective use of the Grammar Translation Method.

Historical Background

The Grammar Translation Method developed from the classical approach in the ancient teaching settings. The classical method was used in the 16th Century in teaching Latin and Greek to people interested in developing linguistic and intellectual capabilities (Richards & Rodgers, 2014). Although the two languages are not currently prevalent, they were prominent during such times because people interacted with them to promote intelligence. The translation of text using the language during its early days focused on grammar and rote learning of vocabulary. They did not focus on listening comprehension or speaking since Greek and Latin were not learned for oral communication but were basically academic subjects (Lee, Schallert, & Kim, 2015). The teaching method was formalized in Germany later in the eighteenth century. However, just as the use of the method of teaching Greek and Latin, people did not make actual efforts to use them in speaking.

There was no emphasis on speaking and listening comprehension because Latin and Greek were taught more as academic subjects rather than a means of oral communication (Richards & Rodgers, 2014). When Greek and Latin popularity dropped, the approach started to be used for academic purposes. Educators began teaching other foreign languages in the nineteenth century. As a result, the procedure became commonly used in educational settings as a translation-based approach to developing competency in the target language. Various scholars, such as Khan, Mansoor, and Manzoor (2016), have criticized the strategy for several shortcomings that will be discussed later in the section on the drawbacks of the approach. Thus, although the approach is still practical and commonly used, educators should understand the shortcomings.

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Theoretical Foundation of the Method

According to Pym, Malmkjær, and Gutiérrez-Colón (2013), the Grammar Translation Method is applied in structured classwork where the teacher controls all activities. The basic approach to using the language is analyzing and studying the target grammatical rules, normally in a particular order. They match the languages’ grammar using the classical method. The theory of translation learning developed in the 1980s and early 1990s, when using “old-fashioned” approaches to language learning became common. Although many reasons for the increasing use of the Grammar Translation Method were evident, the primary aspect was the need to make language learning an academic exercise rather than an approach to assist students in using the language (Richards & Rodgers, 2014). Therefore, focusing on grammar would facilitate learning about the new language rather than learning it.

Effectiveness of the Method

The efficacy of the Grammar Translation Method is proven in research and practical settings. Natsir and Sanjaya (2014) posited that although the method seems dull and tedious to L2 learning, it has been used over the years with a high level of effectiveness. The authors suggested that millions of individuals have effectively learned new languages to a high level of competency using the Grammar Translation Method. Notably, Laviosa (2014) indicated that students have been successful in learning a foreign language using the approach after contact with native speakers of the target language. However, some particular students respond better to the Grammar Translation Method because it provides them with defined instructions and a significant sense of accomplishment after learning the grammar rules of the target language (Assalahi, 2013). However, other students might require the security of the native language and the chance to associate grammatical structures to equivalents in the source language.

The effectiveness of the Grammar Translation method emanates from the fact that it embraces various language-teaching approaches. In general, learning foreign languages is considered a mental discipline. It involves reading the text in its native form and translating it into the target language to retain meaning. Since students might have challenges achieving the same level of communicative competence in the second language, they strive to attain intellectual development. Furthermore, students retain their native language while they use the target language as the reference system (Khan, Mansoor, & Manzoor, 2016). Therefore, the process has critical cultural implications since learning the target language does not necessarily affect the source language. The method also allows students to practice manipulating grammatical structures using a language that is familiar to them.

Using the Grammar Translation method involves a focus on learning literary texts in a way that develops writing and reading abilities. Therefore, a student understands quickly when the teacher uses the process because he or she provides a list of vocabulary and grammar rules that are easy to follow. Furthermore, the method does not take much time to complete the syllabus. Using the technique, the learner forms exact pictures in mind, making it suitable for average and below-average learners (Laviosa, 2014). The teacher helps students clearly understand words and sentences to translate them from the native language. Therefore, since the teacher provides the grammar rules and the list of vocabularies, they can teach a class with a large number of students.

Regardless of the benefits and effectiveness of the Grammar Translation Method in teaching a second language, it has some drawbacks that scholars should understand. Richards and Rodgers (2014) posited that it is one of the teacher-centered methods. Therefore, students lack adequate control over the class work when using the Grammar Translation Method. Consequently, it can only be used in the presence of a teacher and highly structured classrooms. Given that only the teacher speaks during the lesson, oral work does not occur in the classroom (Lee, Schallert, & Kim, 2015). Consequently, if the teacher is absent, learning does not happen unless students completely master the translation process. Thus, the approach is not highly motivating for students to use and learn because they lack control.

Although the language is useful for linguistic or intellectual purposes, it is less suited for those seeking propensities in oral communication. Furthermore, the focus on memorizing bilingual word lists and grammar rules does not motivate students to communicate in the language they are learning. Language learning involves a process in which students rely on their native language to learn another. Therefore, the overemphasis on translation does not free learners from depending on the first language. The focus remains mainly in the native language, while the importance of the target language is largely ignored. Students are not motivated to speak the target language. For instance, when an aboriginal student is learning English, only the native language remains vital in communication. Furthermore, according to Assalahi (2013), the student does not develop critical thinking skills in the target language and may become mentally lazy. Unlike story-telling, the method does not involve students mentally.

The Reasons for Selecting the Method

The Grammar Translation Method is already used in various countries across the world, including the United States, with considerable success. It is an inspiring approach to teaching languages from a linguistic or intellectual point of view. Like many other language approaches and methods, the Grammar Translation Method was used in the past tense (Natsir & Sanjaya, 2014). Educators used it as though it never existed anymore and had died out and probably replaced by other strategies. However, when examining the main features of grammar-translation in language learning, one realizes that the classical approach did not disappear (Lee, Schallert, & Kim, 2015). The Grammar Translation Method has several of its traits being central to language teaching since it was first used in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Therefore, the approach is still valid today and useful in teaching the second language in Australia.

The method has been used in other countries, including Britain, France, and Germany, to teach foreign languages. Therefore, Australia can borrow from the European models of the Grammar Translation approach to teach diverse languages to their students using the native language grammar rules. Although the method is limited to learning a language for intellectual and linguistic purposes, it can support learning for communication (Natsir & Sanjaya, 2014). For example, teachers can use the method together with other L2 learning approaches to achieve a high level of competency in all aspects of the language, such as pronunciation, writing, and reading. Therefore, the Grammar Translation Method is a useful technique that can be used alongside other approaches to teaching foreign languages in Australia.


As it is palpable from the analysis, the Grammar Translation Method is one of the commonly used techniques of teaching L2 students. The method considers language learning a linguistic and intellectual activity rather than a communicative process. The approach involves translating passages from the native (source) language to a target language using a vocabulary list and rules of grammar. The classical approach to learning has been used for centuries to teach Greek and Latin. However, it has been incorporated into the contemporary curriculum to teach languages for intellectual stimulation. Although the approach is functional in teaching language for intellectual and linguistic purposes, it has been criticized for hindering the communicative objectives of language learning. It concentrates on reading and writing but without much focus on pronunciation. However, alongside other L2 teaching approaches, the Grammar Translation Method can be used in language learning in Australia.



Assalahi, H. M. (2013). Why Is the Grammar-translation Method Still Alive in the Arab World? Teachers’ Beliefs and Its implications for EFL Teacher Education. Theory & Practice in Language Studies, 3(4), 1-6.

Campbell, S. (2014). Translation into the second language. London: Routledge.

Khan, A. B., Mansoor, H. S., & Manzoor, S. (2016). The effectiveness of grammar translation method in teaching and learning of English language at intermediate level. International Journal of Institutional and Industrial Research, 1(1), 22-25.

Laviosa, S. (2014). Translation and language education: Pedagogic approaches explored. London: Routledge.

Lee, J., Schallert, D. L., & Kim, E. (2015). Effects of extensive reading and translation activities on grammar knowledge and attitudes for EFL adolescents. System, 52, 38-50.

Munday, J. (2013). Introducing translation studies: Theories and applications. New York, NY: Routledge.

Natsir, M., & Sanjaya, D. (2014). Grammar Translation Method (GTM) Versus Communicative Language Teaching (CLT): A review of literature. International Journal of Education and Literacy Studies2(1), 58-62.

Pym, A., Malmkjær, K., & Gutiérrez-Colón, M. (2013). Translation and language learning: The role of translation in the teaching of languages in the European Union. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Richards, J. C., & Rodgers, T. S. (2014). Approaches and methods in language teaching. Cambridge CA: Cambridge University Press.

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