pilot_2270 wrote:I find it interesting that this guy, Xiaomanyc, uses Anki flashcards to learn sentences from L1 to L2, e.g., from English to Chinese.
Meanwhile, Matt vs Japan uses Anki flashcards to learn sentences from L2 to L1, e.g., from Japanese to English.
And Luca Lampariello uses bidirectional translation where he goes from L2 to L1 and translating back to L2, e.g., looking at a Polish text and translating it to English and translating it back to Polish.
In the end, I think translation is a very useful tool (as an aside: is this any different from traditional grammar-translation exercises in textbooks?). But for some reason, translation is vilified and immersion is prioritized almost to the exclusion of other activities.
That depends by whether you mean actual traditional grammar-translation or the expansive definition immersive teachers tend to use.
The most specific description I've seen of "grammar-translation" is for it to mean the old-school approach to reading Latin and Ancient Greek, where you study grammar in order to be able to read extracts from classical texts, and translation exercises are used to force the student to process the meaning and allow the teacher to diagnose problems for correction. My father did Latin at high school, and that was the technique still used then. A large part of his course involved reading Caesar's Campaigns in Gaul in the original.
I believe that this is the oldest and original meaning of the term, and though I can't be 100% sure, I'll run on the assumption that it is.
That means grammar-translation is based on the following principles.
- L2->L1 translation only.
- Use of authentic materials i.e. materials written in the target language for a general audience, not specifically for language learners.
- Goal is developing comprehension skills.
Of course, not all activities in a GT classroom would necessarily follow this pattern, and you might well see short sentence translations as grammar practice before moving on to the big translation, but that's the "grammar" part , not the "translation" part.
Now of course these same techniques were applied to living languages too at one point, so French, German etc courses tended to focus on reading and understanding, with translation to L1, but that was well over a century ago. Some (bad) teachers may have continued doing things that way, but things did change.
Even the seemingly simple change of switching from L2->L1 translation to L1->L2 translation fundamentally alters the whole thing, because now we're working on production skills, and by definition the learner's translation is not authentic materials -- so that's all 3 principles of GT gone, so despite superficial similarity, it is no longer GT.
Of course, modern language classrooms (ie. classrooms of modern language, not *modern classrooms of language) didn't go fully L2->L1, and the early approach adapted from GT incorporated both L2->L1 and L1->L2, but this was still different enough from Latin and Greek GT that calling them the same thing is misleading.
Learning to understand language is a whole lot quicker than learning to produce it, so the rate with which new features are introduced is much, much slower. That means that the L2 passages presented to learners aren't going to be authentic texts any more, but rather texts written specifically for learners, consciously demonstrating the language points that the learner is expected to be able to reproduce.
There is a world of difference between "The cat sat on the mat. It was a beautiful cat. It had black hair and blue eyes." and Cicero's accusation of Catalina in the Roman Senate.
To describe these two things as the same thing based on the superficial similarity in activities is to miss the point of both.
But it doesn't stop there.
Mainstream modern language teaching evolved and developed significantly over the course of the 20th century, with massive swings in technique. There were radical trends like "natural methods" and "the audiolingual approach" that got a strong foothold in education at certain points in history, making the use of the term "mainstream teaching" meaningless, but this term is typically used to describe teaching methods that have a line of inheritance from GT... and these are often lumped into GT.
The classes I had at high school in the 90s were mostly bookwork, with limited speaking practice. Most of the written exercises were translation, but the translation exercises were mostly individual sentences, and passage translation (the translation of one or more paragraphs of text) was included sometimes, but not in all lessons. People try to call it GT, but the "translation" in "grammar translation" was the end goal -- learning to translate. If you don't end every unit trying to translate a passage, are you learning to translate? It's very different.
Last time I saw a high-school language textbook, there wasn't a single passage-translation exercise in it.
So we're left with a very broad spectrum of techniques that people clump under a single label, and you can define 3 very distinct points on the spectrum that demonstrate the folly of trying to describe them as being the same thing:
- Reading complex authentic texts in L2 and rewriting them in L1, preceded by grammar activities to make it easier to read the texts.
- Writing translations of simple L1 texts in L2, preceded by grammar activities to develop the skills needed to produce the translation.
- Doing short grammar activities involving translation.
Grammar Translation is a term that has been broadened and broadened to the point of meaningless. Nowadays, it doesn't describe a method of teaching, but is just used as an insult by people who believe in immersive education to bash any classroom that uses any amount of translation, however little.