This is me picking up some pieces and adding nuance to one of my usual hobby horses, that is communicative approaches to ancient/classical/historical languages.
- Does Grammar/Translation ‘work’?
I think this partly depends upon what we mean by ‘work’. My main interest is developing students who can read effectively in their second language – without translating in order to understand, and mentally operating in the second language.
I don’t think G/T normally produces this for most students, or even most students who respond well to G/T. It seems to me that G/T produces primarily students who translate in order to understand (as opposed to translating messages they have already understood). I don’t deny, that some long-time practitioners of G/T end up being very competent readers. I’ll get back to that below.
- Are communicative methods better than grammar/translation?
It’s hard to make a proper comparison, because really this requires a controlled, data-driven study in Second Language Acquisition, and while there is obviously some work going on, on that question, I have yet to read a full-blown comparative study on the question.
However, everything I’ve seen in SLA suggests that G/T isn’t ‘the way to go’. And given that G/T dates back about 200 years, and has been largely abandoned in modern language programs, and the contrast between G/T products and modern language programs, I think we need to consider that pound for pound, G/T is not the best method.
- Is it far to compare seminary programs with classics programs?
No, not really. But that’s because a typical seminary program fits Greek grammar into a single year, and then (if you’re fortunate enough to have a robust program) 2-3 years of New Testament texts in Greek. This is ¼ to 1/6 of a program. And it’s focused on intensive, not extensive, reading; on analysing texts at a micro-level and exegeting for meaning; on accessing technical discussions at a verse-by-verse level.
A classics program is 3-4 years of language and literature in that language. If it’s a traditional classics program, that’s at best a 50/50 split (if you do nothing but lang and lit in Greek/Latin). Having done a full Latin sequence, I have a fair idea of what that looks like and produces. Yes, classics produces better readers, but largely because it’s a lot more exposure to texts in the target language.
And this, I’d contest, is ultimately why G/T produces readers – not a superiority of method per se. Translating is a way of making a target language message comprehensible, and sheer volume of comprehensible input is what produces language acquisition over time. G/T will do that. I’m just not convinced it does that as effectively as it could.
My main push-back to G/T is driven by the fact that G/T has this “grip” on both classics educators, and biblical language instructors. There’s a conservatism that thinks G/T is (a) the way it’s always been, and (b) the tried and true method, that (c) ancient languages are ‘different’ and cannot be taught communicatively, (d) etc., etc..
I have plenty of appreciation for grammar, for translation, for G/T methods, but I have no appreciation for traditionalist views that are ignorantly dismissive of alternatives, and critiques, of G/T.