Has the "direct method" of language learning been shown to be superior to translation-based methods?



The textbook I'm using to learn Latin, called Lingua Latina per se Illustrata, is an example of the "direct method" of language instruction. The text is entirely written in Latin, and progresses slowly from very basic vocabulary and syntax to more advanced concepts.

Here's what the first page looks like, opposite an image of a map showing the locations of various locations in Southern Europe:

LLPSI first page

My question is, have any studies been done that demonstrate that this method of language instruction is superior to methods that use both L1 and L2 as part of the instruction? Has it been found to produce better results in particular types of students?


Posted 2016-04-05T17:33:49.097

Reputation: 502

Unless the example handbook is used to teach Latin in Latin, it is not an example of the direct method, since the direct method is a teaching method.Christophe Strobbe 2016-11-30T14:59:09.237

@ChristopheStrobbe This book is a Latin course written in Latin. It is an example of the direct method.michau 2016-11-30T17:11:18.390

@michau Are you aware that Familia Romana and Roma Eterna are part of a larger series, in which several volumes are not in Latin, e.g. a Latin-to-English glossary?

Christophe Strobbe 2016-11-30T17:46:32.263


@ChristopheStrobbe I didn't know about the other books. But this one is described as follows: "Lingva Latina provides a Latin text that students can read and understand immediately without any need for translation. In this text every sentence is intelligible per se because the meaning or function of all new words and forms is made clear by the context or by illustrations or marginal notes". If that's not a direct method, then I don't know what is.

michau 2016-11-30T19:17:18.590


@michau The quote describes self learning. The direct method) is used to describe teaching (i.e. by a teacher), not self learning.

Christophe Strobbe 2016-11-30T19:25:16.967

1@ChristopheStrobbe OK, so you're saying that we shouldn't classify self-learning approaches using categories similar to the ones used for teaching approaches? I see a lot overlap there, and I think that categories such as direct approach, audio-lingual approach, lexical approach etc. are useful for self-learning courses, too. But that's a matter of subjective opinion, I guess.michau 2016-11-30T20:49:48.350

1You mention "translation-based methods", but you don't define what you mean by that in your question.user3169 2016-04-06T02:01:38.413

I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it needs additional information regarding "translation-based methods" in order to give an adequate answer.user3169 2016-04-06T02:02:27.247

@user3169 I've clarified; see what you think.Nathaniel 2016-04-06T02:03:26.003

I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's going to vary too much depending on the relation between L1 and L2.virmaior 2016-04-06T05:18:03.720

1To word it another way, yes, this can work for Latin (I think), because your L1 mental parser is well-suited to deciphering most types of Latin already, (parts of speech are similar to what you know, L1 has a lot of derived vocabulary from L2 etc.). Now, try it with Finnish as L2 or Japanese. But without specifying the L1 / L2 relation, there's no single answer.virmaior 2016-04-06T05:19:42.097

1Two questions in one. Books have been written (or will be in the future no doubt) about compared advantages of different language learning methods. If the direct method which is over a 100 hundred years old had proved so efficient, specialists of language learning would probably not have bothered setting up other methods. I would say anything works with bright and motivated students. Maybe the question could be reduced to type of students, or pros & cons of direct method vs method A or B...Laure 2016-04-05T18:04:43.827

When you learned L1 (the language you learned as a child), you had no other guiding language available, and that worked out well, though it took years to accomplish. No reason to complicate learning L2 with use of L1. True it takes more time, but it simplifies the process considerably. Possibly L1+L2 instruction is feasible when speed is essential for some reason.user3169 2016-04-08T22:39:12.360

Wikipedia#Merits_of_direct_method) provides a good list of the strengths and weaknesses of this method, although it's somewhat light on references to back its claims.Flimzy 2016-04-19T20:01:32.297



The direct method was, for its time, a revolutionary way of learn to communicate verbally in the target language. Up until that point, new languages were learned most often through grammar-translation methods.

Direct method is superior for learning to communicate verbally compare to translation methods. However, the Coleman Report (1929) stated that teaching a language through learning to read it was more appropriate for Language schools in the US.

This leads to the conclusion that the best method depends on what the goals of the learners are.

See Robert Owens (2012): Language Development: An Introduction. Pearson.


Posted 2016-04-05T17:33:49.097


3I think this is a good answer, but could stand to be expanded, and links to sources would be much appreciated.Flimzy 2016-05-10T19:13:49.500


Direct methods are statistically considered as superior (Source) to translation methods in letting the learner to communicate faster with others as direct methods focus on allowing the learner to be actively involved in listening and speaking the new language:

This method is also known as the oral or natural method. It is based on the active involvement of the learner in both speaking and listening to the new language in realistic everyday situations. The process consists of a gradual acquisition of grammatical structure and vocabulary. The learner is encouraged to think in the target language rather than translate. He or she hears and uses the language before seeing it written. The writing is done with homework that reinforces what has been learned during the lesson...

The Direct Method gives the learner the ability to communicate quickly because he/she is encouraged to be creative during practice. It gives, by far, the widest range of capability to understand what another person says to you and in developing your capability to speak. This is the method of choice for instruction with a live trainer and where speaking and listening are most important.

If the learner values speaking and listening over grammar and language structure, direct methods are best compared to translation methods. Of course, it really depends on what you want to learn (Source, which is a Microsoft file which must be downloaded from the link):

Methods are held to be fixed teaching systems with prescribed techniques and practices, and approaches are language teaching philosophies that can be interpreted and applied in a variety of different ways in the classroom. All these language teaching methods has its advantage, but as well as its disadvantage. The educator should select the method of teaching according to the situation and the suitability to the students.

If the first source is credible and reliable (in which it should), the second source should also prove that direct methods are superior to translation methods only when the learner is focusing on listening (and understanding what they are hearing) and speaking the new language without involvement of their mother tongue.

Anthony Pham

Posted 2016-04-05T17:33:49.097

Reputation: 3 777

1I looked at the first link and see no indication that the direct methods are statistically superior. The site claims superiority of the direct method, but there is nothing about how this conclusion was drawn, and whether it involved any statistics.michau 2016-11-30T17:13:51.580