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Total Physical Response in a Beginning Language Class

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Total Physical Response in a Beginning Language Class

Shortly About Teaching Methodologies

Teaching English as a Foreign Language is a science and like all sciences has a set of principles upon which it is based. But unlike the better-known sciences such as biology, chemistry and physics, it is not objective or equation based in its approach. Therefore, Teaching English as a Foreign Language, like psychology and sociology, must rely on subjectivity in order to formulate its principles. These principles define the relationship between the teacher and the student or the student and other students. In general, models of second-language learning can be divided into traditional and alternative approaches. An EFL teacher must "find him/herself" in the current approaches to teaching English, to incorporate their language-learning strategies and techniques into each of his/hers lessons, to experiment with and adapt his/her style of teaching.


TPR represents one of the Alternative Approaches to the second-language learning and teaching developed by James J. Asher, a professor of psychology at San Jose State University, California in the 1960s.

This language teaching method includes theories of development psychology, humanistic pedagogy as well the dramatic or theatrical nature of language learning. The main idea of TPR is to introduce the language through the use of commands (imperative sentences) and has students demonstrate their understanding through action responses, individually and/or in groups. The emphasis is on developing comprehension skills before the learner is required to produce in the target language. Though the language is presented and taught in the form of imperatives, most of the grammatical structures of the target language and hundreds of vocabulary items can be learned from the skillful use of the imperative by the instructor. The success of TPR instruction lies in applying the method correctly by the teacher, which means the teacher who is skilled, sensitive and comprehensive person can attribute the most to the quality learning.

Background of the TPR approach

A number of studies in US have shown that only less than 5% of students, who start in a second language - continue to proficiency. The fact that six-year-old children, who without schooling, have mastered all the essential parts of the native language (although more exposed to the language than the students), while so many students drop out, suggests that there is something in the way young children learn that is at least less stressful if not also more effective in other ways.

In order to improve the way of teaching foreign languages and to solve the problems plaguing second-language learning, Asher has made some researches and investigations of the process of first-language learning and the relationship between language and movement.

While he was analyzing the process of first-language learning, he noticed that the children pass through silent period before they begin to speak and he found that about 50% of adults' utterances to children are commands.

Taking these two factors and children's language skills into account, he hypothesized that children can determine meaning by comprehending cause-and-effect relationship, by seeing changes that take place in their physical environment as a result of language use, and by understanding the relationship between the language used and the context of the situation.

The basic idea is that infants' exposure to language is virtually inseparable from physical activities. People talk to them while tickling them, feeding them, playing with them. The infants are immersed in a language they do not speak, in an environment that they explore with every part of their body. Their parents and people who take care of them walk and talk them through activities. So, they learn lots of vocabulary while someone stands behind them in the bathroom, soaping their hands, holding them under warm water, rubbing or scrubbing, all the while talking about what they are doing and what it feels like. In this way, movement and feeling are intimately tied to the process of internalizing the language.

Therefore, Asher gives three critical elements in the way children learn their first language:

1. The process of learning begins with development of listening competence before they develop the ability to speak. At the early stages of first language learning they can understand complex utterances that they cannot spontaneously produce or imitate.

2. Children's ability in listening comprehension is acquired because children are required to respond physically to spoken language in the form of parental commands. Most of the utterances directed at an infant relate to actions, and more than 50% are in the form of commands such as: "Come here!", "Sit down!" Look at Daddy!" Through action and observation, the child's whole body is involved in decoding the "noise" of speech into language.

3. After a period of listening during which the child has internalized an adequate cognitive map of language through listening, the child him/herself begins spontaneously to produce utterances.

Explanations of the process of first-language learning led Asher to his Total Physical Response Approach which is actually based on recreating the first language learning process in the second language classroom, because the human brain and nervous system are biologically programmed to acquire language in a particular mode. Asher sees first and second language learning as parallel processes. Second language teaching and learning reflect the naturalistic process of first language learning.

In the process of employing the imperative drill in language teaching and developing comprehension skills before production, there is a use of incubation period (period of silence) which is necessary in order the learner to absorb and cognize the language in all its aspects. Therefore the language teaching should be based on the "natural basis" and active production (speaking and writing) and should never be encouraged or expected until the student has had many opportunities of cognizing the language passively (through listening and reading).

TPR is most effective in the early stages of language learning and Asher has stressed TPR should be used in association with other methods and techniques.


Theory of language.

The approach is based upon grammar-based views of language.



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