Gregory Boyle

My teaching approach

Compare and contrast 2 methodologies for teaching foreign language. (1000 words)

The Grammar Translation Method vs the Direct Method By Gregory Boyle


The Grammar Translation Method of teaching foreign language has its roots in the late 20th century and first half of the 21st century, until the Direct Method (also known as Berlitz) arose as a response to some of its main criticisms, and a desire to shift the focus from the academic to the real world.

There is a fundamental difference of priorities separating the two teaching methodologies. The Grammar Translation Method favours reading and writing over listening and speaking skills. In contrast, the Direct Method puts the books to one side and focuses almost entirely on conversation (albeit including writing tasks for students at higher levels). This shift in emphasis has knock-on effects to all the different areas of teaching:

The syllabus defines the structure and progression of lessons over a period of time. The syllabus of the Grammar Translation Method is organised by grammar principle, with each chapter named “Present Perfect”, “Past Perfect”, etc. The Direct Method instead divides its syllabus by situation, such as “Daily Routine”, “Asking For Directions”, and “Buying and Selling”. The difference is that in Direct Method, grammar is acquired rather than explicitly learned. The learner is explicitly equipped with the vocabulary to cope with the situation, with the necessary grammar being subtly introduced (acquired) with each chapter. This more accurately reflects the way we learn in reality; as children, we develop new vocabulary and grammar relevant to each situation we experience.

The approach towards learning language also differs widely between the two methods. The Grammar Translation Method teaches in the native language (the mother tongue), translating words, phrases and texts to the target language (the language being learnt). Speech is neglected. The Direct Method is a radical departure, practising permanent speech in the target language, however primitive the student’s level of comprehension. Language is graded according to the level; immediate to high levels will practise fluid conversation, and early levels will be spoken to very slowly, using pictures and gestures to aid communication. The theory is that this immersive learning approach, though more stressful to the learner, promotes more rapid acquisition of the target language, and generally this works in practice.


The teacher-student relationship is another area where the Grammar Translation Method has been criticised, particularly for its lack of interaction. The Grammar Translation Method works on the passive teaching model, where teachers dictate their knowledge to students who have little input to the class - a very one-way form of interaction that does not encourage speech from the learner. The Direct Method works on the active teaching model, where teachers and students interact in a way that reflects conversation, as students are not only encouraged, but required, to speak. There is a practical reason for the Grammar Translation Method’s approach to interaction, as it is difficult to implement a high level of interaction with 20-30 pupils, as is the norm in schools and universities to this day. The Direct Method’s approach to interaction is

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obviously ideal, but not practical on scale, as is typical in institutions with larger class sizes.


When confusion arises regarding a word or phrase, how is this resolved? A quick explanation in the native tongue (as preferred by the Grammar Translation Method) may seem like the most effective means of resolution, but this is not the case. Studies have shown that a simple explanation yields a low level of retention ; knowledge is not retained for reference at a later date. Instead, demonstration of the meaning in the target language using synonyms, opposites, gestures, examples, and pictures - whilst often more time-consuming - is ultimately far more effective. Making the student work to assemble meaning in the target language enforces the information in their minds, and makes them far more likely to retain it.

If “practice makes perfect”, how best should a student practise? Activities mark another important area of distinction between the two methodologies. As previously stated, the Grammar Translation Method prioritises reading and writing over speaking and listening. This is reflected in the activities, which typically involve translation of texts, from long paragraphs to short gap-fill activities. The Direct Method encourages variety in the activities, ranging from speaking tasks with pictures and gestures, to activities with written texts provided as sources for discussion. This variety develops reading, listening and speaking skills, with written skills developed at higher levels - for example in specific applications, such as writing a business letter.

Error correction

Basic errors are common and inevitable in lower level students, but they can also persist in intermediate and high level students if not addressed early. Error correction is a subtle task, as overcorrection can disrupt the flow and confidence of the learner. The Grammar Translation Method does not shy away from correction, with a tendency to correct each error as it is made, rather than at the end of the thought. This works well for text, but over-correction can harm confidence, which is essential in speech. With this in mind, the Direct Method has a higher tolerance for mistakes, favouring expression over absolute, black-and-white correctness, at least for lower levels. Corrections are made subtly with gestures that don’t disrupt the flow of the speaker, or verbally at the end of the expression. This approach develops much better speaking abilities in early learners, but comparatively poor writing skills, with frequent spelling mistakes.

for understanding is essential, but what are should teachers test for, and how should they test for it? The Direct Method tests frequently for aural understanding, by asking the students to use a new word in a sentence. Such aural testing (of listening and speaking skills) occurs constantly during a lesson of the Direct Method; every interaction between teacher and student is effectively a test, as it will become immediately clear if a student lacks understanding of a concept. The Grammar Translation Method tests relatively infrequently in this regard, as classes are one-way, not interactive. Tests are formal exams and have a bias towards testing reading and writing skills, again reflecting the shift in priorities.


The Grammar Translation Method focuses on teaching reading and writing as these are the easiest to teach in large classrooms, but these skills are not the most relevant for language application outside of the classroom. The Direct Method may not work as well in large institutions, but in my opinion it is by far the most effective method. In focusing on the more important skills of listening and speaking, the Direct Method better responds to the primary need

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of the learner - to be able to engage in conversation - our most common form of interaction. Unfortunately, business drives development, so until Direct Method can be taught as cost- effectively as the Grammar Translation Method, the traditional style will continue to dominate our institutions.

1157 words. 

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