Total Physical Response was developed by James Asher, a professor of psychology who viewed successful learning as a paralell process to child first language acquisition.
The method owes a lot to some basic principles of language acquisition in young learners, most notably that the process involves a substantial amount of listening and comprehension in combination with various physical responses well before learners begin to use the language orally. It also focused on the ideas that learning should be as fun and stress free as possible, and that it should be dynamic through the use of accompanying physical activity. Asher’s emphasis on developing comprehension skills before the learner is taught to speak links him to a movement in foreign language teaching sometimes referred to as the Comprehension Approach (Winitz, 1981). This refers to several different comprehension-based proposals which share the belief that:
- comprehension abilities precede productives skills in learning a language
- the teaching of speaking should be delayed until comprehension skills are established
- skills acquired though listening transfer to other skills
- teaching should emphasise meaning rather than form
- teaching should minimise learner stress
‘Most of the grammar structure of the target language can be learned from the skillful use of the imperative’ – Asher (1977)
Asher sees TPR as directed to right-brain learning, whereas most teaching methods are directed to left-brain learning. Asher holds that child language learners acquire language through motor movement – a right brain hemisphere activity. Right-hemisphere activities must occur before th eleft hemispher can process language for production.
- to teach oral proficiency at a beginning level
- comprehension is a means to an end
- specific objectives are dependent upon individual learner needs
Types of learning and teaching activities:
- Imperative drills area major activity in TPR
- Role plays and slide presentations. Slides are used to provide a visual centre for teacher narration which is followed by commands and questions for the students.
Role of Learner:
- The learner adopts the role of listener and performer of the teacher’s commands
- Reponds physically. Learners respond both individually and collectively.
- The learner has no control over the lesson content and the classroom is mostly teacher dominated.
Role of teacher:
- The teacher plays an active and direct role and is ‘the director of a play in which the students are the actors’ (Asher, 1977).
- Teacher should have detailed lesson plans as action is fast moving, leaving little time for acting spontaneously.
- Classroom interaction and turn taking is teacher directed rather than student directed.
Asher pointed out that TPR is best used in conjunction with other approaches and most practitioners of TPR use it this way. It is ideal for teaching young learners and beginners and is in line with Krashen’s hypothesis that regards provision of comprehensible input and reduction of stress as key to successful second language acquisition.