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Teaching a second language was, throughout the years, a constant experiment with different techniques and approaches, bringing shifts and changes on the whole experience. As Celce-Murcia said, in the history of teaching L2, there were approaches on the use of language (speaking and understanding) and on the analysis of language (here, the most important aspects were the grammatical structures). The problem was that there were no records of the methods used for teaching a second language until the beginning of the 17th century.
In the beginnings of translation, classical Greek and Latin, considered linguas francas, were used in religion, philosophy or politics. The Bible was translated from Hebrew to Greek and later to Latin, and the educated elite was capable to read and write in one or both languages. The appearance of the printing press made possible the learning/teaching of more than just Greek and Latin, and the shift from grammar structures on analysis of the languages.
Comenius, a famous language teacher and methodologist of the 17th century, published books on his teaching techniques and some of them were:
– The use of imitation to teach grammar rules
– Repetition
– The use of minimum vocabulary at first
– Helping students with practice
– The use of pictures for teaching
Different methods and techniques of teaching a second language proved useful for teachers through time because it affects both the teaching and its outcome, and:
“a knowledge of methods helps expand a teacher’s repertoire of techniques. This in itself provides an addition avenue for professional growth, as some teachers find their way to new philosophical positions, not by first entertaining new principles. but rather by trying out new techniques.”
The view on translation approaches and techniques is not thoroughly elaborated because translation studies investigate what translation means and not so much the ways translation could be used for learning purposes. Translation is regarded as a rather limited method due to the narrow perception of what it is considered and not what it could offer. In the last decade, researchers moved towards qualitative inquires on translation, after spending years on empirical descriptions and behavior of translation approaches. Critical interpretations of these approaches seek to connect the translator with historical contexts.
Nida considered that there are two systems of translating: one is the application of established rules for translating (strictly designed), the second is more elaborated, split in a) analysis of the message to its grammatical structures and meanings of the words, b) mental transfer from one language to the other and c) restructuring, where the transferred message is restructured to be comprehensible in the target language.
The current need is to make a clear distinction between translation as a facilitator to understand a text in a different language (real translation) and translation as an activity in second language teaching/learning processes (pedagogical translation). As Becerra-Solis and Aguado-Marques stated , the distinction between the two is clear because, while in real translation the translated product is the goal of the process, in pedagogical translation, the translated product is the means to achieve knowledge of L2.
The role of translation in teaching a second language is emphasized in several known approaches and techniques like Grammar-Translation Method, Audio-Lingual Method or the Communicative approach, but not only. There are different approaches focused on translation and on the result of translation in achieving proficiency in a second/foreign language, but Nida identified two problems in all approaches to theories of translating:
1) The tendency of researchers to underline the benefits of a certain approach and its applicability
2) The main concern on denotive meanings rather than on associative ones
Still, after a period of time, these methods and approaches’ distinctive markers become well-known and an objective inquiry on them is possible. Also, most of the following methods and approaches are useful and used to teach/learn grammar, even if they were later considered an impediment for a successful practice of a second/foreign language.

The Grammar-Translation Method appeared in the 18th century in Prussia, when a French course book and an English course book for secondary schools were published. It was thoroughly developed in the 19th century and it was primarily used to teach second languages in Europe from 1840s to 1940s. Its aim was to help learners to read classical literature. L1 in presenting L2 grammar rules was used, and these rules were presented gradually.
In Grammar-Translation Method, language is reduced to the grammatical formation. The focus is on the sentence and there must be a certain word order according to given rules. The memorization of these rules and of vocabulary lists is the main means to learn. Accuracy in translation was considered an obligation. The main goal of method was for learners to be capable to find equivalents in translating processes. The materials used in classroom are the grammar book and the dictionary. Celce-Murcia summed up the characteristics and results of the method:
1. The native language is used for instructions
2. The second language is barely used
3. The grammatical analysis is highlighted
4. Difficult classical texts are used from the start
5. Translation of sentences from L2 into L1 is common
6. The students are unable to use L2 for communication as a result
7. The teachers are not required to speak the target language themselves
The main criticism on the method is about its disregard for communication and interaction and its lack of motivation. The main technique of teaching/learning-translation caused stress to students. The memorization of lists of words and grammatical rules was the main key to have a success, the incapacity of memorizing them led to the incapacity to complete translation tasks. Grammar Translation may be popular with beginners, but because of its characteristic of learning long lists of words and finding equivalents in translation activities, it does not allow proficient learners to progress.
Like Grammar-Translation Method, the Formal Linguist Method, examines formal aspects of the language and does not put an accent on meaning. The method uses translation just like GTM and the result is some sort of literal translation, failing to give a meaningful translation of proverbs, for example.
The Cultural Model uses translation of language in terms of culture and context. For this approach, language is considered culture and translating is a view on the world. While some believed that two languages are not socially similar enough for a translation to succeed, the majority considered that translation should be between cultures, not languages. Split in Ethnographical Semantic and Dynamic Equivalence, the Cultural Model seeks a way to use translation as a means for teaching/learning.
The Ethnographical Semantic Method looks at the meaning of the language and it considers it as part of the language itself. The basic characteristics of ESM is the consideration of languages completely different, with nothing in common and the way teachers instruct learners to contrast different cultures and to conceptualise the world. The Dynamic Equivalence Method has a totally contrasting belief to ESM and considered that different languages are similar on the message they transmit, and it emphasized the reader’s response. The conclusion drawn is that while ESM works on langue, the DEM works on parole.
The Text Analysis Method is based on pragmatics, semiotics, sociolinguistics, stylistics, rhetoric and communicative theory. One of this method’ s assumption is that context is the main core of text interpretation/translation and puts an emphasis on the connection between text and context.
For the Hermeneutic Method, translation is seen as an interpretation and subjective and teaching is not systematic and easy. The Hermeneutic Method is not suitable for beginners because of the encouraging to criticize texts and recreate them, failing to bring the necessary information to achieve a higher level of understanding and learning a second language.

The Audio-Lingual Method appeared when the U.S.A. entered World War II and the development of second language programmes for military personnel took place to ensure a L2 conversation. The main aspects of the method were to obtain a native-like accent and proficiency in a short period of time. Similar to the Grammar-Translation Method, the focus was on memorization of lists of words and repetition, but not on grammar structures. Drilling, fill-in the gap exercises were the main teaching devices. Although it used translation, outside the L2 classroom, it was not permitted.
Some of the Audio-Lingual Method characteristics are:
– Dialogues are used at the beginning of each lesson
– Due to the belief that language is a habit formation, imitation and memorization are very important
– Grammar is taught in sequences and inductively
– Each skill is used separately
– There is high emphasis on pronunciation
– Very few vocabulary words are used at the beginning
– Correction of learner errors take place constantly
– There is no regard on language meaning or context
– The teacher is required to have proficiency only on structures, vocabulary
– Learning activities and materials cannot be altered
Due to a demand for functionality and communicative potential of the L2, the method was not used anymore by the end of the 1960s. Still, researchers cannot deny the importance of translation used as a means to comprehend and learn a second language.
The Communicative Approach appeared at the end of the 1960s-the beginning of the 1970s, in Britain, with the intention to fulfil the needs of the residents from the Commonwealth countries. It was provided a framework for syllabus based rather on functional skills than on grammatical structures. The main purpose of the approach was to develop the communicative competence of learners, to gain the ability to comprehend and to use four parameters of communication: possibility, feasibility, appropriateness and completeness.
The use of translation in the Communicative Approach was considered only a tool to ensure that the learners know what to be done. It was also regarded as a teaching strategy for the learning process. Still, translation was not accepted as a learning activity. The features of the approach are:
– The goal is to help learners to communicate
– The content of the language course should include semantic and social notions, not just structures
– Regular use of pair work and group work
– Use of role-play to practice L2
– Use of authentic classroom materials and activities for real-life situations
– Use of translation to help learners understand the task
– Integrated skills from the start
– The teacher is a facilitator of communication, only after a corrector of errors
– The teacher should be fluent in speaking the second language
The implementation of the Communicative Approach draw attention on teaching materials, teacher training, testing and evaluation. The main issue was if a communicative approach can be used on every language level and grammar structures should be completely disregarded or revised.
Although there were several methods and approaches used for learning/teaching a second language, most of them considered the use of the first language an impediment for the acquisition of L2. Since the end of the Grammar-Translation Method, translation was frown upon and it was not used after the end of the Communicative approach period. Linguists considered that the acquisition of the second language was attainable only with the use of the target language alone.
After the Grammar-Translation Method, teaching/learning grammar was considered unnecessary and the focus was on gaining communication skills, knowledge of L2 vocabulary and practice of the target language. In the traditional language classrooms, grammar along with vocabulary and pronunciation, is taught and learners are given new ways to practice. Nunan talks about the “contrastive hypothesis”, in which, using the native language, interferes with the practicing of the second language, thus learners commit errors, especially if the two languages are very different on structure. The “positiveness” appears when the two are very similar.
Researchers concluded that teaching grammar can be deductive or inductive. Most of the teaching methods and approaches, throughout the time, were deductive. Learners received the information regarding grammatical structures, explanations and examples, the remaining was the practice. Consequently, learners are exposed to the meaning and use of grammatical structure.
In inductive teaching, grammatical structures are considered selected materials showing the use of the target language within a context. An exposure to these examples “induce” language rules and therefore students discover the way the language works. As whether a method or an approach is deductive or inductive, the researchers looked at those methods/approaches’ characteristics.
In some of the methods and approaches presented on pages 3-6, the teaching is inductive like Audio-Lingual and Communicative Approach, while Grammar-Translation is deductive. Due to the belief that inductive approaches and methods used for teaching grammar are superior, most materials and methodologies used in classrooms are similar.
Going from the assumption that only an approach could improve the learning process, teaching is similar everywhere and thus the result seems to be the same. The problem is that this kind of teaching method or approach disregards the needs of the learners and does not consider the possibility that a more traditional or deductive approach is suitable for them.
There are educational systems which choose a deductive type because it is considered more time-effective, it has a greater cultural awareness of language learning, it is applicable for big classrooms and more appreciated for its evaluation objectivity. Grammar teaching approaches are rather exclusive, ignoring other functions of the language, and teachers must be careful in applying them. The deductive ones put the teacher in the centre of the whole teaching process, with L1 as a teaching tool for explaining the grammatical rules and translation as a learning activity. Although it is useful for low level learners, who are not used to the second language structures, the disadvantage is that it is not productive with proficient learners.
The difference between deductive and inductive approaches for teaching/learning grammar is that, in deductive approaches, the students are introduced with the name of the tense and its rules, while in inductive ones, they must discover them. Choosing an approach or another, deductive or inductive, should take into consideration the learners’ level of knowledge of L2. A proficient learner could easily recognize a grammatical structure, something that a beginner might find as a difficult task.
Some opinions rely on the consideration that a mix of deductive and inductive teaching is useful in classrooms, while other opinions consider this a confusing process for young learners, for example. Thornbury made a list of advantages and disadvantages of using a deductive approach in classroom:
Advantages Disadvantages
– It’s time-saving
– Grammatical rules are explained, making their comprehension easy
– It can be easily applied on students’ level of knowledge
– It confirms students’ expectation about learning
– It permits teachers to deal with language issues as they come, not to anticipate them – A grammatical presentation from the beginning of the lesson may not be welcomed
– The use of scientific terminology may not be understood
– The teacher’ s role diminishes students’ interaction and involvement in the teaching process
– It builds the idea that knowing the grammatical rules is the only way to learn the language

Thornbury adds along with Grammar-Translation, Audio-Lingual, Communicative Approach for teaching grammar, the Direct Method and Natural Approach. Unlike Grammar-Translation Approach, the Direct Method puts focus on oral skills. Although there was a syllabus of grammatical structures, explicit grammar teaching was not allowed. Learners were supposed to acquire it as the way they did with the native language’s. Krashen’s Natural Approach demanded learners to be exposed to “comprehensible input”. Like the Direct Method, the Natural Approach considered that learners were able to gain knowledge of L2 the same way as first language acquisition. Explicit grammatical rules were not taken into consideration.
Consciousness-Raising rejects Natural Approach which splits the learning in conscious and unconscious processes. The approach also rejects the linear form of grammar learning and seeks a deeper view of it. Some researchers do not accept the concept that second language acquisition is accumulated gradually and a direct exposition to grammatical rules should be replaced by an inductive manner, thus Consciousness-Raising turns into a process. Others considered that there should be made a distinction between explicit knowledge (received information) and implicit knowledge (an analytical process of language features). The outcome of analysing Consciousness-Raising on grammar is that it can be done explicitly and implicitly, and a traditional form-focused approach should not be the goal for teaching grammar.
For Ellis , consciousness-raising offers learners explicit knowledge, helping them to create implicit connection systems. Long considered that there should be four reasons to avoid the “methods trap”, the first being the fact that all methods believe in error corrections. The second reason is that lesson transcripts excerpts cannot be easily identified as part of some method or another. Next is that there are no long-term advantages or disadvantages of using a certain method. The last reason, according to Long, is that methods do not exist because teachers have their own way of teaching, regardless the support for a method or another. The concluding idea is that teachers care more about what they can achieve in classrooms than the method they use, the most important part being the pedagogical process.
According to Nunan , there are two types of grammar: prescriptive and descriptive. While prescriptive grammar is about language structures, the descriptive grammar is about the way people use the language. In the classrooms, grammar tends to be more prescriptive than descriptive, turning into a minus for the learners. Proficient learners, whose knowledge of grammatical structure is advanced, need a descriptive manner to improve even more their acquisition of L2.
From the appearance of teaching methods, the syllabuses used were different form one method to another, and most of them were grammar-based. Translation was considered a tool for learners to understand the tasks, and only in Grammar-Translation Method, was used as a learning activity. Some methods like Natural Approach or Total Physical Response rejected grammar and the use of L1 in classrooms, emphasizing the necessity of using L2 to facilitate its acquisition.
As Nunan stated:
“The notion that the learning of grammar is a linear, step-by-step process has largely been replaced by an organic, even metaphorical, view in which the development of grammatical competence is seen in terms of process as well as product”


For the past century, grammar teaching had its ups and downs. Methods and approaches for teaching a second/foreign language placed grammar on extremes: some put emphasis on its use, others dismissed it altogether. Translation had had an even gloomier faith. After the period of Grammar Translation and Formal Language Methods had passed, translation was considered an impediment to acquiring L2 competences, not allowing learners to gain proficiency in using the language.
The methods and approaches for teaching grammar and using translation (as a tool for understanding the required tasks or even as learning activities) had a variety of activities that even today teachers find them useful in classrooms. After years of experimenting one method or another, the educators drew the line to appreciate what mistakes not to make and that, to improve their learners’ proficiency in L2, they can mix activities from different methods and approaches.
The following samples of exercises and lesson plans are based on the main three methods (Grammar-Translation, Audio-Lingual Methods and Communicative Approach) which used translation as a learning method, or at least as a tool to help learners to comprehend the assigned tasks. Also, Grammar-Translation and Audio-Lingual Methods considered grammar important to understand the formation of a language.
Grammar Translation Method was based on translating texts, long lists of words and learning grammar structures with no chance to use the language practically. The activities did not require knowing how to speak the language. The learners had to recognize grammatical rules and their application as in the following examples. The enunciation was in the learners’ native language.

Examples of activities:
1) Completeaza urmatoarele propozitii cu forma corecta a verbelor din paranteza:
a) Sam ……………………. very hard at the office. (work)
b) John …………………. his grandmother today. (visit)
c) Mother ………………. dinner. (cook)
d) We ……………. to school by bus. (go)
e) Ann and Mary …………. their essays. (write)
One characteristic of the method was the translation of sentences or texts. Learners had to be accurate as possible.
2) Traduceti propozitiile :
a) “They are likely to be held up in a traffic jam as this is a rush hour.
b) Nu te-am mai vazut de-un car de ani. Pe unde ai mai calatorit?
c) It pleased me to be offered that long-wished for opportunity when I least expected it.
d) In satul nostrum posta vine din doua in doua zile si de aceea am aflat atat de tarziu.
e) The chapel was within walking distance and the kids were taken there in twos.
f) Dupa parerea mea, nu are dreptate si am sa i-o spun de la obraz.”
3) Traduceti urmatorul text :
“Outside, a heavy rainstorm came blinding down between the mountains which rose on either side of the single railway track. The mountain tops were hidden in a grey waste of sky, but their sides, scarred by ore workings, fell black and desolate, blemished by great heaps of slag on which a few dirty sheep wandered in vain hope of pasture. ….” (A.J. Cronin, The Citadel)

Fill-in the blanks type of activities also required learners to have proficiency of the target language’ s structures.

4) Completeaza conversatia cu un adverb de frecventa:
a) He …………. plays on the computer.
b) I am …………. late for school.
c) I …………take a bath at night.
d) Pete…………. gets angry.
e) Ramon is ……. hungry.

Although there was a high emphasis on the L2 structures, teachers were not requested to be able to speak it. The lesson plans used for teaching were based mainly on grammar and translating activities. The lessons were teacher-centered, learners were not given the opportunity to speak the target language, having a passive role in the classroom.
Sample of Grammar-Translation Lesson Plan (adapted for Romanian):
“1. Warm Up/Review
11:00 am. Ask for volunteers to provide the Romanian equivalents of words they should already know (casa, bucatarie, baie, hol, etc). Correct if necessary, but not in terms of pronunciation.
2. New Material
11:05 am. Provide examples using short phrases that contains the words that you are going to teach. Have students read aloud, go through the entire phrase. Then return to the beginning and, calling on students at random, have them translate the sentences into Romanian. New vocabulary (ex. basement, cellar, attic, etc) can be introduced at this time (by translation). Mistakes should be corrected, with special attention paid to today’s topic: parts of the house. For example:
May I go to the bathroom please? = Pot sa merg la toaleta, va rog?
My sister is in her bedroom = Sora mea este in dormitorul ei.
My mom is cooking in the kitchen = Mama gateste in bucatarie.
11:10 am Grammar explanation: Parts of the house.
Explain (in Romanian) the use and meaning of each word and point out any discrepancies between English and Romanian usage.
Room balcony bathroom bedroom dining room basement cellar
Study toilet door doorbell window roof sitting room garage living
kitchen staircase/stairs apartment garden chimney attic room

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