TPR and reflections from a learner’s perspective

Language teaching and learning has seen a variety of methods and techniques since the The Grammar-Translation Method. There are so many methodologies and innovations to language teaching and learning. In this post, I’d like to go back in time method-wise and focus a little on TPR (Total Physical Response developed in the 60’s and 70’s) and share a recent experience I had as a learner in a beginner Spanish language class.

Total physical response came about from the belief that a foreign language could best be learned by lots of exposure to the target language. The emphasis is on a great deal of listening in the beginning stages of learning the target language. The argument put forward for this was that if you observe the way babies learn their mother tongue, they actually spend a long time soaking in the sounds and words before they are ready and can begin to reproduce the sounds and words they hear around them. This stress free low anxiety listening/exposure period allows the learner enough time to internalize the foreign language without being pressured to speak it right away.

Much like Desuggestopedia there is a sense of importance placed on a reduced affective filter to boost learning. Both methods are similar in the idea that learning is made easier when students are relaxed and when attention is given to using the language without a focus on grammar, and that eventually and gradually students would naturally absorb the forms and linguistic rules of the target language.

I’ve never taken a formal Spanish language class before and upon hearing that a language course nearby would be offering a beginner demo lesson, I immediately was interested and decided to have the experience. My Spanish language learning experience up to that point has been very irregular. It is an ongoing venture, an on and off practice and an effort to learn it mostly on my own. I often take long breaks which can last for several months. This is just to give you an idea of my Spanish learning endeavor. I would say I’m at beginner-elementary stage.

The lesson was very interactive right from the beginning. Engagement of the learners was built in the lesson with an emphasis on learner presence, enjoyment and physical actions. Grammar was not the focus. The teacher used a great deal of realia, repetition, humor, and a kinaesthetic / TPR approach. The students participated with physical actions, laughter, exclamations, and with a lot of repetition of words, phrases and simple questions. The lesson ended with volunteer students enacting a teacher led fun skit as the other students described and talked about the actions and feelings in the story being enacted.

From a language learner perspective, I realized as a beginner Spanish language learner, especially in a language class where you are with a group of other learners, it is important to feel relaxed. When students were called for an answer to a question for instance, this was not anxiety producing at all due to the questions requiring simple answers in words or phrases and the comprehensible repetitive focus on the language at hand. Another helpful factor for me was the meeting of visuals with the physical actions. This seems to me to have aided the learning experience and made it memorable.

From a language learner viewpoint, would a TPR approach be just as exciting and helpful, if I were an intermediate level learner, for instance? From a teaching perspective, I do wonder whether it is really necessary to carry around and utilize so much realia to teach a language?

I’d like to end this post with the following photo (from April 2015) I took by the Gelidonia lighthouse on the Lycian Way in the South of Turkey.  Located between Adrasan and Kumluca, the lighthouse was built around 1934 and overlooks this amazing, breathtaking and peaceful Mediterranean seascape. I feel this photo quite represents one of the principles of the TPR approach that learning is enhanced when there is low anxiety, don’t you?



Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000) Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Second Edition. Oxford University Press.


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