Insight On Total Physical Response From An EFL Notebook And ESL Teacher Talk

I was pleased to find an interview with Sue of An EFL Notebook at ESL Teacher Talk – not only because it’s always a bit of an interesting surprise to hear the voice of someone you’ve only had contact with through the web, but mainly because she is a highly qualified teacher (as well as teacher trainer, DELTA Assessor, school owner, and holder of an MA) with a wide knowledge base. In an interview entitled Integrating Various Methodologies Into The Classroom , Sue spoke about Total Physical Response (TPR), Community Language Learning, and Suggestopedia – three methodologies which people may be familiar with in some way, but around which there is still a lot of mystery, for me at least.

I’d encourage you to listen to the interview in its entirety to get the fullest information on these methodologies – but I can briefly summarize Sue’s words on TPR here.

Sue explained that TPR rests on the premise that language can be learned (which implies formally learned, as foreign language traditionally are) or acquired (as most of us learn our own language); TPR aims to help people “acquire” language rather than “learn” it. Aside from the obvious difference that many second/foreign language learners are adults and not children, language “acquirers” also typically have a “silent period” where they aren’t expected or put in a position to produce language – they just receive input.

With TPR, the teacher creates a situation where students can show they understand by doing something rather than by speaking; they speak when they are ready. Students do need receptive practice (to hear and recognize something) before they are pressed to use it.

The application of TPR is rather obvious with commands (“stand up”, “sit down”, “shake hands”), but it can also be “if you are wearing a jacket, change places with the student on your left” or “If you were in class yesterday, stand up.”

This was interesting to me because while I came across TPR briefly in my teacher training, it did seem as if it was limited to simpler vocabulary and structures if it was essentiall commands. And of course it today’s language learning environment, which is highly focused on using and producing language, a methodology emphasizing student silence may be a hard sell. But understood like this, there are plenty of practical ways to incorporate this into the classroom. Stay tuned to the TEFL Logue for some possible TPR activities.

For more on Sue’s take on alternative methodologies (including Suggestopedia and Community Language Learning), check out her interview at ESL Teacher Talk, or her own site: ELT Notebook, specifically her post on Using The L1 In The EFL Classroom.