Using "total physical response" with young learners in Oman

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Date: January-February 2014
From: Childhood Education(Vol. 90, Issue 1)
Publisher: Association for Childhood Education International
Document Type: Report
Length: 4,343 words
Lexile Measure: 1340L

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Among several approaches to teaching and learning a foreign language, Total Physical Response, or TPR, is one that simulates the way children naturally acquire their mother tongue. Instructors give commands to students in the new language, and students respond through gestures. This article showcases a language learning project that the Ministry of Education in Oman adopted in collaboration with the University of Leeds, using TPR to make English language learning simulate real-life situations. It explores the effectiveness of the curriculum and examines the extent to which TPR has yielded its expected results in this particular context. The article also considers the limitations of using a singular approach to second and/or foreign language learning.

Total physical response (TPR) is a language teaching method that was developed in the 1970s by American psychologist James Asher, a professor at San Jose State University, California. The method is intended to simulate the way children acquire their mother tongue. Asher (1974) notes that children first learn their mother tongue through responding physically (e.g., pointing, nodding, waving, shaking their heads, and other meaningful actions) to the commands their parents give before they are capable of uttering words. TPR works in the same way: the teacher commands "open your book," "point to the door," "raise your hand," etc., and the whole class responds physically. This method is linked with the "trace theory" in psychology, which implies that the more the target language is associated with physical actions, the stronger its recollection is in the memory (Brown, 2007). Asher (1984) further notes that children initially observe and comprehend the language their parents use for a short period, which Asher calls the "Silent Period," and then begin to produce the language. Accordingly, he points out that students should not be forced to produce the language immediately and oral practice should be delayed in language classrooms until the students are ready.


One of the major principles of TPR is lowering the affective filter to facilitate the learning process. Students' anxiety should be lowered to that of a more natural setting so that they do not feel threatened in a language classroom (Asher, 1984). TPR creates a motivating environment by encouraging students to participate and involve themselves in actions, which builds their enthusiasm as they feel free to move around. Therefore, TPR students experience the language in a relaxing and comfortable atmosphere (Larsen-Freeman, 2000). Such an approach definitely injects fun and amusement into the learning, and students feel relaxed enough to imitate their teacher and express themselves kinesthetically.

Comprehension is an integral aspect of TPR. Teachers should initially pay attention to students' comprehension of language and delay a focus on speaking until a later stage (Asher, 1969). Thiele and Scheibner-Herzig (1983) also confirm that students' comprehension should come before oral practice. Thus, students should not be forced to respond to the language until they are ready; they must be exposed to plenty of language input until they feel confident to produce their own output (Asher, 1984)....

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A357965665