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Posts Tagged ‘Total Physical Response’

Language Learning - Total Physical Response Revisited

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Total Physical Response, or TPR, is a method developed by Dr. James J. Asher to teach foreign languages through a kinesthetic, movement-based paradigm. TPR was developed by observing the way babies learn language from their parents.

Before a baby learns to talk, she first learns how to respond physically to simple commands, like “Stop!”or, “Look at Mommy.” The child’s physical response assists her to internalize the commands, and subsequently helps her crack the code of her mother tongue. When this has occurred, the child learns to reproduce the language spontaneously. TPR seeks to reproduce this learning process in the classroom.

TPR is very compatible with what mainstream educators refer to as the kinesthetic learning style. Kinesthetic learners absorb new information best when they are in motion. Students whose primary learning style is kinesthetic frequently struggle in a traditional classroom, because most teachers prefer quiet, well-behaved children to students who jump out of their seats and fidget.

However, as educators become more familiar with various learning styles, special accommodations are more and more often given to kinesthetic learners. A pre-school teacher shows children how to form letters by having them trace the letters in sand. An elementary teacher tosses a ball to a child who tosses it back as they take turns counting by twos. Total Physical Response is very kinesthetic, as its major premise is that babies process language through movement and that older students can do the same.

TPR became popular with some educators during the 1970s but has failed to gain acceptance in the mainstream. Critics of TPR believe that it relies too heavily on imperatives–in other words, giving students commands to perform a certain action. What is the use, they argue, of knowing only how to give commands in the target language? TPR may be difficult for shy students, and a TPR classroom may seem loud and unruly. However, for kinesthetic language learners, TPR could be a lifeline. Proponents of TPR claim that it works well for students from a variety of ability levels, including those who have learning disabilities.

Although TPR is probably not adequate on its own to teach fluency in a second language, it might be useful for teachers to stick into their back pockets and pull out on occasion as a compliment to other teaching models. The kinesthetic aspects of learning should not be ignored, because everyone has some degree of kinesthetic intelligence. Certainly, knowledge of Dr. Asher’s research into language assimilation can only be an asset to any language teacher, whatever his or her primary mode of instruction.