Raj Jhangiani

My teaching approach

Grammar Translation Method vs. Communicative Approach



The Grammar Translation Method and the Communicative Approach have both played important roles in the field of language teaching, but which is better? This essay will introduce both teaching methodologies, attempt to explain the flaws and merits of each one, finally concluding with the writers opinion as to which is the better method to facilitate language acquisition.


Before we dive in, let us first understand the ultimate goal of all methods of foreign language teaching – ‘To achieve fluency in the target language’ (TL). Essentially, to give the student the ability to speak, read, write and listen readily and effortlessly. This ultimate goal is important when comparing and contrasting teaching methods. Some methods are extremely proficient at improving one of these areas but lack considerably in improving the others.


The Grammar Translation Method (henceforth GTM) places its main focus on written texts, with the primary skills seen as reading and writing. It originated from the practice of teaching Latin and Greek, and therefore, is perhaps seen as the most antiquated or dated method of teaching.


In GTM, the teacher is the focal point of the class. He or she has full authority, with students there to learn from her expertise. The teacher teaches the grammatical structures and rules of the language, while the students learn these rules and use them to complete exercises. These exercises can be; speaking, reading and writing, but tend to fall more towards reading and writing. Typical exercises include translating sentences from the native into the TL or vice versa, to fill in the blanks and to correct errors in a sentence. Due to this structure, the majority of classroom time is given to a teacher’s grammatical explanations, with the students saying very little and probably taking notes in their native language.


None of this seems to create an encouraging environment to breed fluent speakers. GTM’s strength lies in giving students a mastery of structure and grammatical rules of the TL (a mastery greater than that of native speakers often), but, in my opinion, it seems to fall painfully short on teaching students to actually use the language and understand the context. I believe it to be an outdated and tedious method, with memorization and repetition learning as the basic learning techniques, which cannot help to arouse students’ interest or build their self-confidence. This opinion is shared by Richards and Rogers (2001)


“Though it may be true to say that the Grammar-Translation Method is still widely practiced, it has no advocates. It is a method for which there is no theory. There is no literature that offers a rationale or justification for it or that attempts to relate it to”.



An alternative approach to GTM is the Communicative Approach (CA). CA’s foundation is to develop communicative competence. It’s basis for this is that “being able to communicate requires more than linguistic competence; it requires communicative competence — knowing when and how to say what to whom” (Oxbridge).


This essentially means that the teaching method focuses on communicative tasks, which give the learner ‘real world’ situations. Instead of simply ‘studying’, games and activities are used to push the student to understand and to use the TL in functional situations. This approach of ‘learning by doing’ and student participation, helps the learners to acquire grammar points and structures in a more natural way.


Contrary to GTM, CA is a very ‘student-centric’ method, focusing on the students using the language (in context) and with teacher talking time being kept to a minimum, especially in advanced classes.  The TL is used to communicate in class, giving the student a sense of immersion.


However, there are negatives to CA. Some believe that there is not enough emphasis on accuracy, with the students being allowed to make mistakes more frequently than other methodologies. It can also be argued that CA is too removed from the standard model of teaching, with the teacher seen as only a guide to games and activities, which can make the student feel that no actual learning is taking place.



One can summarise from the above analysis, that I believe that the more modern CA method is a far better teaching methodology than the traditional GTM method. During my school years, I have had classes in French, German and Latin, all taught using a methodology akin to that of GTM. I feel that I learned very little about any of the three languages. 13 years later, I remember very little of what I was ‘taught’ and I was never encouraged to use any of the language in a communicative way.


I do believe that GTM has it’s merits. Teaching Latin using GTM for example, can push students analytic skills and further general intellectual development. It has also been proposed that our first language forms our way of thinking and, to some extent, shapes our use of the foreign language (choice of words, word order, sentence structure, etc.). Therefore direct translation using GTM, helps us understand the influence of one language on the other. Furthermore, due to the more authoritarian outlook of the methodology, mistakes are always corrected, with accuracy being the highest priority. GTM therefore should therefore lead to very correct use of the language, and students will usually understand how and why they made a mistake.


However, when it comes to the goal of reaching fluency in a language, or even being able to converse simply (a common goal for learners of a second language), I believe the method is hugely flawed due to the lack of emphasis on actually speaking and on actually using the language in common situations.


In my opinion, the CA method not only puts the learning focus on the most important element (speaking), but also strives to make the learning process more useful, natural and, most of all, enjoyable. By using activities and games based on real-life situations, the students use the language in the context that they require, and while accuracy is important (especially in high level students) the main aim is fluency. Therefore, not all mistakes are corrected. I believe this is good approach, because it allows students to speak more freely in the TL, and this will lead to them being understood, even if there are minor mistakes.


We have looked at GTM and the CA in detail in the above essay, considering both their strengths and weaknesses. My conclusion is clear; I believe that GTM is an outdated teaching method, with little-to-no evidence supporting it’s value in language learning. I think the CA method on the other hand, puts all of the focus of language learning onto the correct areas. Students learns through function, not form, and learn the language in a more natural (and fun) way. Constant use of the target language gives students good listening practice, while the more relaxed approach to mistakes gives them more confidence to speak. The games and activities aid input and retention, while keeping the students engaged and relaxed.


I believe the GTM approach applies an old, traditional model of the classroom dynamic to language learning and in my opinion, it should never be used to teach a language when the goal is fluency.


The CA approach has been developed much more recently, by experts and analysts in the field of language learning who understand learning process and how students acquire a second language. Due to this, the methods and practices are much more suited to the main goal of ‘communicating’ and the ultimate goal of ‘fluency’.


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