Topic 13 – History of the evolution of the teaching of foreign languages: the grammar-translation methods to current approaches.

Topic 13 – History of the evolution of the teaching of foreign languages: the grammar-translation methods to current approaches.














It is very well known that language is a purely human activity , so much so that Aitchison entitles her work about Pycholinguistics “The articulate Mammal” states that “language involves the communication of ideas from the mind of speaker to the mind of a listener”

If we take into account the above the mentioned ideas , it is no wonder then , the importance given to the study of languages from every early stages in human history and hence , to the study of languages , too , as a means of establishing communication with the people our early ancestors came in contact.

However , the problem , un solved as yet , which arose from the very begining in the language learning and teaching is that why we can learn without problem a L1 and why is too dificult a L2.

Mary Finocchiaro who said that the best method is “a method which will work with your student population , with your school organization , with your personality , and in your environment”


a)The Grammar Translation method.

The grammar-translation method was the first applied to the teaching of classical languages such as Latin or Greek

It was particularly influential in the 19th century.

The name of the method derives from the fact that it consists mainly in the teaching the foreign language grammar and the main technique used is translation from and into the target language.


-The students learnt grammar rules and vocabulary(trough bilingual lists).Therefore learning mainly involves the mastery of grammatical rules , and memorization of long lists of vocabulary.

-Each pupil is required to read literary works since literary language is considered to be superior to spoken language.

-The emphasis is laid on written skills : reading and writing. The pupils do reading comprehension activities and write compositions.

-It is a teacher centred teaching. The student assumes a passive role and there is very little student-student interaction

-Grammar is taught deductively.



The grammatical rules and the examples are studied and the students do exercises in order to apply these rules. The students memorize grammatical rules , verb tenses , etc.


The students must find antonyms or synonyms in the text from a list of word given.They may also be asked to explain the meaning of some words in the passage or make sentences with them.


The pupils are asked to translate a reading passage from or into the foreign language.But they should try not to translate everything literally.


The students are asked to write a composition about a particular aspect of a reading text.Then they do a summary of the reading passage.


The direct method started to be developed the late XIX century.

It is based on the active involvement of the learner in speaking and listening to the foreign language in realistic everyday situations.

This method aims at getting the students to communicate in the foreign language.No use is made of the learners mother tounge. The method is thus against translation.


The main characteristic of this method are the following:

-Language is mainly taught through speech.Speaking skills are emphasized.

Phonetic is very important in the early stages of learning.

-The use of the mother tongue is avoided as mucha as possible and translation reduced to the minimum,

-Grammar is taught inductively.

-Vocabulary is given more importance than grammar. The teacher explains the new vocabulary through action , drawings , mime or examples. The pupils have to use the new words in sentences .Instead of learning vocabulary in isolation , they , they practise it in the context of conversations and discussions.

-The learner assumes a less passive role.


-Question and answer

The students are asked question which they must answer using full sentences.The students are also required to ask question.

The teacher can also ask question where a particular grammatical structure is practised and the student have to answer correctly.


The teacher reads the passage three times. The first time at a normal speed while students just listen. The second time the teacher reads each sentences so that the y have time to write what they hear. Finally the teacher reads the text at normal speed and the students check what they have written.

-Self correction.

The teacher encourages the students self corretion.So if a student makes a mistake the teacher gives him or her an alternative answer to his/her reply , and the student has to choose between his/her answer and the answer given by the teacher.


a)The Audio-Lingual method.

The audio –lingual method originated in the USA during World War II.

It was widely used during the 50s and the 60s, and was based on Structuralism and Behaviourism.

Structutalism holds that the grammar is a set of rules that govern structures. This means that the foreign language structures must be taught

On the other hand , Behaviourism had a great influence over structuralism , resulting from the methodology based on stimulus-response-reinforcement.


-This method argues for the use of the foreing language for communicative purposes

-The new language is presented through dialogues learnt through repetition and imitation

-The method follows as inductive approach to grammar teaching. Grammar is taught through exercises and drills

-The aural skills are developed before the writer skills..

B)Techniques and activities.

Memorizing dialogues.

The lesson usually begins with dialogues which the students memorize. To do so , they play one role and the teacher plays the other or with others students.


Drilling is a technique based on the behaviourist principle under which one learns through repetition and imitation.It is a form of linguistic discipline requiring the learners to perform correctly regardless of whether they have to think about what they are saying.

There are different types of drills:

-Repetition Drills

-Substitution Drills

-Transformation Drills: The teacher gives the students an affirmative sentence and they put it in the negative.

-Expansion Drills:: When a dialogue is too long and difficult to memorize , the teacher breaks it into several parts and the students have to repeat each sentence until they are able to repeat the whole dialogue.

Gap Filling

The students have to complete a dialogue by filling in the blanks with the missing words.

b)The Silent Way

The Silent Way was develop by Gattegno(1975)

The most fundamental principle underlying in this method is that the student are responsible for their own learning. They encourage to become independent.


The main characteristics of this method are the following:

-The foreign language learning process begins with the study of the foreign sounds associated with colour

-The structures of the language are practised in situations provided bay the teacher.

These structures are constantly reviewed.

-The teacher tries to create an enjoyable atmosphere in the class.We encourages the students to express their own thoughts and feeling and to cooperate with one each other since it is believed that they can learn from another.

On the other hand , the teacher provides feedback to help the students overcome any negative feeling which could interfere in the learning process.

-The four skills are developed from the beginning but there is a sequence in that the student learn to read and write what they have previously practised orally.

-The students self –correction is encouraged

b) Techniques

-Sound-colour chart

The chart contains blocks of colour which correspond to the foreign sound easily and make syllables and words with them.


A rod is apiece of wood with words on it that the students have to combine in order to make meaningful sentences.


Suggestopedia is a method devised by the Bulgarian Doctor Lozanov , who emphasizes the importance of the psychological environment in the learning process.

The setting is crucial:sofas , soft lighting , classical music.

The aim is to get the students to relax and be self –confident.This leads to what he calls “hypermnesia”

A) Characteristics

-The emphasis is laid on the use of everyday language

-The students use both verbal and non-verbal communication.

Lozanov holds that non-verbal communication has an influence on how message is interpreted.

-Vocabulary is given a lot of importance

-Speaking skills are emphasized.

b) Techniques


The students close their eyes and after a minute or so listen to the teacher who , in a soft voice , describe a scene or event in such a way that the pupils seem to be really there.

Role – play

Primary and Secondary activitation

The students read aloud the dialogue introduced by the teacher. For the secondary activitation they take part in activities aiming al using language for communicative purposes.

d)Community Language Learning( CLL)

CLL is a method based on the Counselling-Learning approach developed by Curran.He discovered that adults usually feel threatened when they are in a new learning situation because of the change inherent in learning.

The main characteristics of this method are the following:

-The aim of foreign language learning is to use the language for communicative purposes

-The students are responsible for their own learning. The teacher plays the role of a counsellor.

-The students , in a circle , talk to one another in their mother tongue and the teacher helps them to translate their speech into the target language.

The pupils do pronuntiation , grammar or vocabulary exercises related to this text

-During the lesson , the students are encouraged to say how they feel.

-Listening and speaking are emphasized.

e)The Total Physical Response method.

The TPR was devised by Asher. It is built around coordination of speech and action: language is taught through physical activity. Understanding and retention are best achieved through movements of the students bodies in response to commands

This assumption is related to the brain lateralization of learning functions. This means that language is acquired through motor movement , a right-hemisphere activity. This activities must occur before the left-hemisphere can process language for production. Thus speaking follow comprehension.

Other characteristics of this method are the following:

-Asher claims that teaching should minimize learner stress.

-As already mentioned listening precedes speaking. After responding to the oral commands , the students learn to read and write them.

-Grammar is taught inductively.



During the 1970 , there was a widespread reaction against methods that stressed the teaching of grammatical forms and paid little or no attention to the way language is used in everyday situations.This reaction crystallized in the communicative approach.

The communicative approach covers several methods.It is a student-centred approach which emerged in the 80 and which lays the emphasis on the communicative purpose of language.

The aim is not only to teach the language , but to teach how to use it.

Other characteristics of this method are the following:

-It favours a notional-functional approach organization.

-Authentic materials are used

-Both accuracy and fluency are important

-The four language skills are developed at the same time

-The activities must engage learners in communication : games , roleplays , information gap activities . problem-solving activities.They talk or write freely and use language to communicate ideas , not only to practise language.

-The students assume an active role and the teacher acts as a monitor.