Both the grammar translation method and communicative language teaching are teaching methods for acquiring a foreign language. Whereas the grammar translation method focuses on the translation of certain grammar rules and the translation of vocabulary, the communicative approach aims for acquiring the skill of communication for the learner Scrivener (2011). Both methods are effective in their own way, although the communicative approach focuses on the actual goal of language, namely communication between human beings. In this essay the grammar translation method and the communicative approach will be compared and contrasted, laying special emphasis on the assertion that the communicative approach is more effective for the learning and understanding of a foreign language than the grammar translation method. First of all, a remarkable difference in language usage is noticeable when comparing the two methods.
While the grammar translation method exclusively uses the learner’s mother tongue, the communicative approach uses nothing else but the actual target language. With the use of the mother tongue, it is easier to understand grammar and meaning of words. (Rhalmi, M. (2009). This is a required skill to decipher written texts. When only using the foreign language, the level of oral communication increases. (Rhalmi, M. (2009). To find out which of both outcomes has a bigger value, it needs to be clear what the original goal of language is. Communicating is a required skill to survive. Oral communication is something that dates from the origin of the human kind. The invention of written language is a lot more recent. (Bright, W. (n.d). This proves that language is originally used for communication. Given this point, there can be concluded that the outcome of the communicative approach has bigger value to language’s actual goal. In contrast, a really attractive feature on the grammar translation method is its easily understandable explanation of grammar, words and phrases. Because of the fact that all the explanation happens in the mother tongue, it is easy for the learner to understand what is being said.
Also, learners acquire a better capacity of understanding synonyms in the foreign language, due to the fact that they have already learned the meaning. Secondly, the communication between teacher and learner is flawless. Since the teacher and the learner speak the same language, the teacher can easily verify whether the pupils have learned what is just explained. (Fitriyanti, R. (2011). Within the communicative approach, the communication between student and teacher is a lot more difficult and tedious in the beginning, which has to do with the use of target language only. However, the communication between teacher and learner is from much more value as the learner becomes more familiar with the foreign language (Abradi, C. (n.d). Because of goal aimed teaching in communicative language teaching, the communicative competence improves quickly (this will be explained later).
What this says is that the tedious communication at the beginning can better be seen as a learning moment, rather than a disadvantage. Thirdly, in both methods there is a completely different way of acquiring skills. With the grammar translation method the students are supposed to learn the rules about the target language when sitting down and listening to their teacher. Grammar structures are explained and vocabulary is taught through word lists with a translation. The learner’s practice to apply what they’ve learned exists out of exercises where the learner needs to translate sentences or texts from the native to the target language and the other way around. (Rahlmi, M. (2009).
Thus, this is a rather passive way of learning. The communicative language teaching lessons are quite different. These lessons contain meaningful activities in which the learner is required to interact. The activities are based on the interest of the learner to boost learning motivation. (Rhalmi, M. (2009). So, whereas the grammar translation method is rather passive, communicative language teaching is quite active. Passive learning is not really effective for the learner. (Ebbens, S (2013) states that a much better result of learning is caused by (inter)active practice.
To go on, the teacher’s role is quite different in both methods. With the grammar translation method, the teacher is basically the guide for the learning process. The method is teacher centred, which means that the class focuses just on the explanation of the teacher. The role of the teacher here is to provide information to the students (Fitriyanti, R. (2011). “Teachers in communicative classrooms will find themselves talking less and listening more–becoming active facilitators of their students’ learning (Larsen-Freeman, 1986)” The communicative approach is a student centred method. Although the teacher sets up the exercise, it is the learner’s performance which fills up most of the lesson (Orellana. (2007). The learning process is less effective when the teacher does most work in the classroom (teacher centred method) instead of the students doing most work in the classroom. (student centred method) (Ebbens, S (2013).
A fifth issue, on which the two methods can be compared and contrasted on, is its historical background. The fact that learners of the grammar translation method are not able to produce comprehensive output in the form of oral communication, became evident in the years 1939 until 1945 (World War II) when the grammar translation method was not teaching students the foreign language effectively enough to communicate with allies or to understand the communications of the enemy, which was required to survive. When this occurred, a new approach appeared known as the audio lingual method which was based on structuralism and (The Grammar-Translation Method, n.d,).
In 1957 the audio lingual method was criticised by the prominent linguist Noam Chomsky for its inability to teach learners to creatively apply language (Rhalmi, M. (2009). Partly because of this criticism, during the 60s of the 20th century, commutative language teaching was introduced in the classroom. (Rhalmi, M. (2009). This states that communicative language teaching was invented as a reaction on an alternative method for the grammar translation method. Thus, the communicative approach is actually already a more modern and adapted method of teaching the core goal language has.
To summarise the main points mentioned in this essay; The difference of language usage in both methods, the advantage in language usage of both methods, the way of acquiring skills in both methods, the teacher and students role, and the historical background of both methods. These points given, I can conclude that the communicative approach of teaching a language is more effective to teach the learner language’s original goal, communication, than the grammar translation method. Although, if one is talking about comprehensive output in the form of letters and/or written text translations, the grammar translation method is superior to the communicative approach.
Rhalmi, M. (2009). Communicative Language Teaching (The Communicative
Approach). Available: http://www.myenglishpages.com/blog/communicative-language-teaching-communicative-approach/. Last accessed 05/06/2014. Bright, W. (n.d). What’s the Difference between Speech and Writing?.Available: http://www.linguisticsociety.org//resource/whats-difference-between-speech-and-writing. Last accessed 05/06/2014. Rahlmi, M. (2009). Grammar Translation Method. Available: http://www.myenglishpages.com/blog/grammar-translation-method/. Last accessed 05/06/2014. Fitriyanti, R. (2011). Grammar Translation Method. Available: http://novaekasari09.wordpress.com/2011/06/12/grammar-translation-method/. Last accessed 05/06/2014. Abradi, C. (n.d). Advantages and disadvantages of communicative language teaching. Available: https://www.academia.edu/4743392/Communicative_Language_Teaching_theories_lesson_plan_and_application. Last accessed 05/06/2014. Orellana. (2007). The Communicative Approach in English as a Foreign Language Teaching Leer más: http://www.monografias.com/trabajos18/the-communicative-approach/the-communicative-approach.shtml#how#ixzz33uLe7fXe.Available: http://www.monografias.com/trabajos18/the-communicative-approach/the-communicative-approach.shtml#how. Last accessed 07/06/2014. The Grammar-Translation Method. (n.d). Available: http://hlr.byu.edu/methods/content/text/grammar-text.htm. Last accessed 02/06/2014. Scrivener (2011). Learning Teaching. 3rd ed. Londen: Macmillian. 31-32. Ebbens, S (2013). Effectief leren. Houten: Noordhoff uitgevers.