Total Physical Response

Total Physical Response (TPR) is a method of teaching language using physical movement. ‘TPR is based on the principle that learners learn best when they are wholly engaged (both physically and mentally) in the language learning process’ (Thornbury 1999: 55). TPR introduces the language through the use of commands (imperative sentences) and the students have to demonstrate their understanding through action.

It was promoted by James Asher, an American professor of psychology, in the 1960s. It is associated with the theories of the first language acquisition, where very young children respond physically to their parents instructions. They acquire a high level of listening fluency before they make utterances. A second language can be learned in the same way as the first through the same natural process.

Here there are some characteristics of this method:

  • Comprehension abilities precede productive skills in learning a language.
  • Skills acquired through listening transfer to other skills.
  • Teaching should emphasize meaning rather than form.
  • Teaching should minimize learner stress.
  • The emphasis on comprehension and the use of physical actions to teach a foreign language at an introductory level. (Richards and Rodgers 1987: 87-88)

Total Physical Response starts from the premise that comprehension is developed before speaking. When the level of comprehension is achieved, it could be made the transition to speaking. Translation does not help students to retain words for a long period of time. When students translate, there is a short-term comprehension and students forget quickly what they have learned. TPR is an alternative to translation and can achieve long term-retention. Students act out different tasks given by teacher and retain particular words, commands in English.

According to Asher there are three influential learning hypotheses:
1. There exists a specific innate bio-programme for language learning which defines an optimal path for first and second language development.
2. Brain lateralization defines different learning functions in the left and
right-brain hemispheres.
3. Stress (an affective filter) intervenes between the act of learning and what is to be learned; the lower the stress, the greater the learning. (Richards and Rodgers 1987: 89)

Richards, J and Rodgers, T 1987 ‘Communicative language teaching. Approaches and methods in language teaching.’ CUP, 64-86
Thornbury, S 1999 How to teach grammar Pearson Education Limited.


prof. Ana-Maria Chirilă

Școala Gimnazială Iustin Pîrvu, Poiana Teiului (Neamţ) , România
Profil iTeach:

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