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How to ensure grammatical rigour without resorting to translation

So, this post follows on from the previous one about translation.

To recap: in essence, my view is that translation (both from and into the target language) can have a valuable place. Translation into the target language has a particularly beneficial effect on accuracy and can be a concise way of practising and testing a range of grammatical structures. Translation from the target language is a good source of comprehensible input and ensures students look at the detail of a text, but it is, it should be added, too much about the accurate and idiomatic use of the first language.

The cost of translation, particularly into the target language, is that it takes away time from target language input which, I maintain, remains the principal way of bringing about comprehension and fluency. So can we kill two birds with one stone? Can we have foreign language input whilst ensuring grammatical rigour?

I would answer with a clear yes and it involves a tried and tested approach of selecting and grading language, doing controlled practice of all sorts (repetition, question-answer, oral drilling of various types (tense changing, word replacing, gap filling etc), explaining how the language works and allowing for freer practice once a new grammatical structure has been understood and practised. The first language can be largely avoided by recourse to gesture, mime, pictures, film and use of cognates. The rigour comes from repetitive practice and in the insistence on accuracy. The fun and motivation comes from doing it well and allowing for creative activity too. The process of practising and the focus on accurate form are a type, though maybe not the best type, of comprehensible input, so the natural processes of acquisition can go on "in the background", at the sub-concious level. (You would have to read some Stephen Krashen to see this claim refuted - in brief he argues that as soon as you focus on form you are seriously limiting the natural processes of language acquisition.)

Translation (both ways) can come in at some point as a reinforcement activity.

The strong form of the communicative movement, with its focus on functions and notions, with relatively little focus on grammar, has probably got a bad name for target language use. Traditionalists see it as woolly, confusing for students and lacking in rigour. The approach I advocate, which is nothing new and which is, in a sense, a weak form of the communicative approach, works if you give it enough time. It can produce fluent learners with good grammatical control and conscious knowledge.

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