The Total Physical Response

25 Oct

The Total Physical Response

 The Total Physical Response (TPR) is a method of teaching based on the relationship between dialogue and action, and provides a physical involvement in the learning process. It was developed by James Asher, a professor of psychology at San Jose State University, California. It draws on various traditions, such as psychological development, learning theory, pedagogy and other humanistic sciences.

 The theoretical foundation of the TPR is the belief that learning a foreign language is carried out in the same stages of the acquisition of the mother tongue of the child. Asher claims that direct dialogue in children consists mainly in commands, to which the child responds physically, before producing the verbal responses. He says that the adult should simulate the process by which the child acquires his mother tongue.

 Asher reflects on a vision based on the grammar of the language.

 Its main features are:

– connecting actions  to words.

– dividing  students into small groups.

– the teaching is characterised by playful artistic and kinetic elements.

 Asher sees verbs, especially the imperative tense as the predominant language centre, around which  language notions are organised. The overall objective of the TRP is to teach oral proficiency in the starting level. Understanding is crucial and the ultimate goal is to teach the basic skills of dialogue through songs, games and constant repetition  in order to help  set structures and words quickly and, above all, in a fun way.

 Asher sees TRP as a method directly connected to the right side of the brain, while for other studies the learning of second languages is closely connected to the left side of our brain. Asher says that the child acquires the basis of language through motor movements and ensures that another important component of language is the absence of stress.

It is also suggested that we should introduce only a fixed number of items at a time in order to facilitate the differentiation and assimilation. “In an hour it is possible for students to assimilate between 12 and 36 lexical items regardless of the number of members of the group and the development of practices” 


During the Total Physical Response method the student has as his/her primary objective to listen and participate. Students must listen carefully and respond to the commands given by the teacher. It is expected that students will be able to respond, recognise and produce new combinations with the notions that have already been taught.

 This way, the students themselves are able to assess their own progress. Doing so you will be encouraged to speak only when you feel able to do so – that means, when a sufficient basis of language will have been absorbed.

The teacher plays a very important role as he/she will be the one who will decide what to teach. In these cases it is recommended that the teachers write down a comprehensive summary of the program to be presented during the class also explaining the materials that will be used.

The teacher has the responsibility to use the language as good as possible so that students acquire the basic rules of the language itself.



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