History of the Grammar-translation Method
No full and carefully documented history of grammar-translation exists. There is evidence that the teaching of grammar and translation has occurred in language instruction through the ages (Escher 1928; Kelly 1969); but the regular combination of grammar rules with translation into the target language as the principal practice technique became popular only in the late eighteenth century. One of the best known of such teaching grammars was Meidinger’s Praktische Franz sische Grammatik (1783). The combination of brief presentations of grammar points and massive translation practice as a distinct teaching strategy was also applied in Ollendorff’s language courses which came into popular use around 1840. The sequential arrangement used by Ollendorff in his lessons became standard: a statement of the rule, followed by a vocabulary list and translation exercises. At the end of the course translation of connected prose passages was attempted (Kelly 1969:52). Ollendorff’s method was praised by contemporaries as an active, simple, and effective method, because as soon as a rule had been presented it was applied in short translation-practice sentences. Other textbook writers, for example, Seidenstcker and Ahn, in each coursebook, chapter, or lesson, combined rules, vocabulary, text, and sentences to be translated as the typical pattern of the grammar translation method. In the mid-nineteenth century, Ploetz in Germany adapted Seidenstckers French textbook for use in schools and thus grammar-translation became the principal method of teaching modern languages in schools. In his elementary grammar (1848) Ploetz laid emphasis on the practice of verb paradigms, while in the more advanced Schulgrammatik der franzosischen Sprache (1849) systematic grammar was the central theme of the course. In the final decades of the nineteenth century grammar-translation was attacked as a cold and lifeless approach to language teaching, and it was blamed for the failure of foreign language teaching. The majority of language teaching reforms in the late nineteenth century and throughout the first half of the twentieth developed in opposition to grammar-translation.
In spite of many attacks, grammar-translation is still widely employed today, if only as a contributory strategy in conjunction with other strategies. A glance at many currently used textbooks, particularly in the less commonly taught languages, confirms the strong hold of grammar. translation. In language programmes in the universities in English speaking countries translation of texts from and into the foreign language has remained a standard procedure. In the early sixties Dodson (1967) reaffirmed teaching techniques based on a grammar. translation strategy under the name of “bilingual method”. The cognitive code-learning theory to be discussed later in this chapter (sec pp. 461 ff.) has taken up again some of the features of the grammar-translation method.