No grammar, please!

The early reformers in language teaching included Roger Ascham and his famous Schoolmaster (1570) and a lesser known, extraodinary writer called Joseph Webbe, best known for his Pueriles Confabulatiunculae (1627), ‘Children’s Talk’, a textbook for the teaching of Latin at school through dialogues!  Ascham’s main objective was to make the study of grammar subservient to the study of original texts, teaching grammar not as an end in itself but to better understand the quality of the texts. He taught grammar by what would today be called the inductive method. In contrast, Webbe discarded grammar altogether. The proper starting point for language learning in his view was the exercise of communication skills which would (‘whether we will or no’) lead to knowledge of grammar through use, an extremely modern idea.  The grammar, in his words, is ‘thrust upon us without labour’. The contrast between Ascham and Webbe repeated itself two hundred years later with Henry Sweet playing the role of Ascham and the proponents of the Direct Method that of Webbe. (Howatt, A.P.R.: A History of English Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984: 33-7)

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