Another language learning myth I see all around me at work as colleagues are sent off for French class is that language is best taught through grammar lessons. Hmmm…that was popular thought 2 centuries ago. Since then, there’s been a lot of research done about how people’s brains really do acquire a language …and grammar classes is not one of them.
The Grammar/Translation Method of language instruction is, in fact, one of the most ineffective methods of language teaching—and yet it is alive and well in many parts of the world, including (and surprisingly so) in certain capital cities of certain bilingual countries (ahem, C_n_d_).
Grammar-based methods have been justifiably criticized for teaching about the language without ever teaching students how to use the language. Learners can take grammar-based language classes for years and years, yet never know how to communicate in real life.
Why do language schools continue to use this method despite its ineffectiveness?
1. It’s the easiest way to teach a language.
2. The teacher is in control the entire time.
3. It lends itself to relying on a textbook and exercises.
4. It is traditional. Many people think this is the only way to teach a language.
5. It doesn’t require specialized training on how the brain acquires information.
6. It is very easy to assess.
Using a more linguistically appropriate method or combination of methods is much more difficult for the teacher. It requires:
1. understanding how to analyze needs and assess language competency (apart from a written test)
2. giving up control and allowing students to practice (i.e., it will be noisier)
3. a lot of hard work in the course design and lesson planning stage
4. a different structure that is much more student-centred
5. acceptance on the part of students to participate in methods that go beyond lecture, notes, written excercises and grammar tests.
A combination of methods and techniques are the tools of a professional language instructor who is more than just a native speaker. And it results in learners being able to do more than just conjugate verbs and answer grammar questions. They can actually understand and use the language.