“Total Physical Response (TPR) is ideal for beginners but has been used effectively up to the intermediate stage…”

The Total Physical Response (TPR) method asks language learners to respond physically to commands in the target language, which are first modeled by the instructor.  Once students have acquired the vocabulary necessary to understand a series of commands, the instructor delays modeling the command.  Soon, the instructor can completely remove the model of the command and simply ask students to perform on their own.  Adding novel commands, or recombing vocabulary in a new way, is another way TPR builds comprehension.

Dr. James J. Asher, professor of Psychology at San Jose University, California is the founder and originator of the Total Physical Response Method.

Dr. Stephen Krashen of the University of Southern California is a leading expert in brain research and language acquisition.  He is often more associated with the more developed TPRS methodology but his research, in fact, is the foundation for both approaches which are similar and interrelated.

Total Physical Response (TPR)  is ideal for beginners but has been used effectively up to the intermediate stage for all ages, both students in Kindergarten and adult English Language Learners (ELL).  It is deceptively simple and is often dismissed out-of-hand but TPR, in the hands of an experienced teacher, can work wonders.  More than merely a method to learn vocabulary, TPR has been used to help students acquire more than 100 essential grammatical structures.

“Quite obviously, this is not a text-book oriented approach.  The training and experience of the teacher is key and the results are amazing.”

The approach has three powerful features:

1.  Rapid understanding of the target language in chunks rather than word-by-word.

2.  Long-term retention that lasts weeks, months, even years.

3.  Makes learning another language thoroughly enjoyable, a rare phenomenon in foreign language courses where 95% of the students simply “give up” out of despair.

Master Teacher, Berty Segal Cook 

Total Physical Response (TPR) has been effectively fitted to the classroom environment by Master Teacher, Berty Segal Cook and promoted by Contee Seely, co-author of the “Green Bible” of TPRS, Fluency Through TPR Storytelling, together with Blaine Ray (the founder of the TPRS method).

TPRS was first called Total Physical Response Storytelling but, then, the name was changed to Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling.  It is the natural development of the TPR method and goes even further in helping students with literacy skills (i.e. K5 and Primary) to acquire even more mastery over the target language.

“There is a lot of friendly rivalry between the two sides of this integrated methodology.”

TPR is clearly focussed on the real beginner at any age level but is particulary useful for those in a pre-literacy stage (i.e. Kindergarten).  At the same time, amazing results in fluency and acquisition of both vocabulary and grammatical structures (whether or not they are recognized and named as such) have been achieved by experienced teachers thereby providing a much appreciated foundation for ongoing language learning with the TPRS methodology.

At the same time, the TPRS teachers have developed their skills so well that they have had success as well with “literacy challenged” groups (though usually at a later life stage).  TPRS with verbal storytelling strategies (which temporarily downplay the “reading” aspect of the method) has also been very effective in working with real beginners and getting them started in the language acquisition process.

Obviously, a combination, integrated approach is best and a TPRS teacher is well advised to be proficient in TPR strategies as well and vice-a-versa.

Often, depending on the target language and the first language of the student, there is a background of cognates and recognizable forms and sounds to help the TPRS trained teacher work with real beginners. It remains to be seen if a purely TPR approach is necessary for learning a language that is truly “foreign” to the learner and providing a “real” beginner environment for the teacher.


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