I do appreciate the answer to this question varies on where you are in the world but I'm happy to hear of different approaches from different countries. I'd be particularly interested in responses with respect to New Zealand, Australia and the UK.

Fourty odd years ago, when I was in high school, I had French lessons. There was quite an emphasis on the grammar of the language. In a sense our learning was "hung" on the grammatical frame of the language.

Today, almost at the opposite extreme, I have been enjoying using Memrise to refresh my memory of French vocabulary. The Memrise course in question mentions grammar only in passing--the emphasis is on acquiring words and phrases. What grammar is mentioned is a means to an end.

I do understand that a Memrise course isn't "learning French" but it's made me curious. How does a modern high school level French course work? What is the frame on which the language is "hung". How does the classroom teaching compare to Memrise and other online courses?

  • As your opening paragraph indicates, this question is very broad. Could you perhaps narrow to a specific country or region, to avoid being Too broad?
    – Flimzy
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 6:11
  • @Flimzy thanks for your comment. I've added a sentence onto the opening paragraph to indicate my primary area of interests.
    – glaucon
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 4:44
  • As a rule (in the US these days) class is taught in the target language. It goes something like this. One day you'll have a lesson on a new grammar topic. You'll do some workbook pages at home on that topic and the next day you'll go over them in class. The next day you'll hear some students give oral presentations; the next day it'll be a film or a song; the next day you'll read a story or poem together; the next day you'll have a test; and repeat.
    – SAH
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 2:50

3 Answers 3


Language teaching has swung through some pretty large swings over the last hundred years.

First off, there's approaches to language learning without any coherent methodology and there are also misapplications of methods for purposes for which they were not intended.

As mentioned in another answer, there's an approach now called grammar translation. The idea is that you learn the grammar of the language and with a dictionary are then capable of translating primarily written materials into your language. GT is primarily suited to reading ancient languages where the value of production is minimal and the point is to be able to decipher the text precisely.

This was supplanted by the audio lingual method. Here, you're going to be hearing and seeing a lot of things in the language and speaking, and you will be required to produce in that language.

A further method is the "Berlitz method" or others like it which are all about immersion.

More recently, there's also TBLT (Task-based language teaching), which is based on functional and situational use of language. There's also PPP (presentation, practice production), which says the instructor should demonstrate, then students practice, then students produce novel items.

That's a lot of words. tldr: there are lots of theoretic approaches to language teaching. On a practical level, the differences are often (but not always) small. The proliferation of these methods is motivated by theoretical considerations about the nature of language learning. The reality is that language learning takes time and each method has advantages and disadvantages with respect to different goals. (E.g., I don't care if I can't say a single sentence in Latin (or for that matter Danish) since my goals are reading philosophical texts, but I care greatly if my Japanese is conversant and whether I can produce comprehensible e-mails and hopefully academic papers).

I would doubt you had a pure GT approach in your high school. I would guess there some eclecticism in the teaching method used at your school.

For instance, here in Japan, grammar translation (common but officially not allowed) is a crutch for instructors who themselves do not speak English to have something to say to their students where their knowledge is superior.

If you want to read me Wikipedia has several good entries on language teaching/learning methods (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language_pedagogy)


Your experience in high school was probably based on the grammar translation method. This approach emphasizes learning, as you can guess, grammar as well as how to translate phrase. Speaking is normally not a focus for this approach but reading and translation of text.

This method remains popular to this day and is used in particular for teaching biblical languages such as Hebrew and Greek since the students do not need to be able to speak the languages but translate them for homiletical and exegetical purposes.

If you look at the about page at memrise they share three core principles for their approach.

  1. Sensory memorization
  2. Fun
  3. Community

Sensory memorization is based on cognitive models of information processing. By providing an experience, such as fun, it helps with learning. There are several language approaches based on this (See natural approach).

Fun helps with motivation. Not much else left to explain here.

Community helps with the social needs of students. This is consistent with an interactional approach to language teaching as used by Communicative language teaching.


This is a complement to Darrin Thomas's answer.

Grammar is very important in a language and essential in actually learning a language. However, it can be seen as frustrating. When you learn Grammar, you don't learn new sentences, new uses, expand your apparent proficiency. You essentially make sure that what you say is better said.

High-school courses are often mandatory. As such, they know you won't leave if you are frustrated. So they can spend more time in teaching grammar, which is seen as a more academic (old?) approach.

Online courses have other requirements. If the student faces a wall, they may get frustrated and lose interest or go somewhere else. So they instead use the Candy-Crush approach of having smaller goals, easier to attain, to build and keep the student motivated with a higher sense of achievement. And that usually includes less sit-in grammar lectures.

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