What is TPRS?

Progressive language programs are now using the TPR Storytelling to teach languages.

While many high schools now use TPRS, adults may have a more difficult time finding anything more effective than the standard Tuesday night class at the community college.  Fluency Fast Language Classes is the only national program we know of that uses TPRS to teach languages to adults in 4 days.  TPR Storytelling is a method for teaching foreign languages that was invented by Blaine Ray, a Spanish teacher in Bakersfield, California, in 1990. Concerned that his students were disinterested in the unexciting process of learning a language from a textbook, he began to use James Asher’s Total Physical Response to teach Spanish. Asher says that students acquire their second languages as they acquired their first languages. Our students learn as babies learn. Therefore, we should not expect them to produce the language before they have had an ample amount of time to listen to it. Blaine experienced great success, and the students began to be excited about his class. Although TPR has been the most effective method for acquiring a second language since it was invented in the 1960s, Blaine found that after hitting the “TPR wall,” he was unsure of what to do to move from the imperative to the narrative and descriptive modes of speech. He found that changing from commands to the third person singular allowed him to tell stories, a long-term memory technique. He found that asking the students to act out the parts of the characters in the stories preserved the highly effective physical element that had been so powerful in Classical TPR. As the technique was developed over the years, it became an all-encompassing method and methodology. The method combines Dr. James Asher’s Total Physical Response (TPR) with Dr. Stephen Krashen’s language acquisition strategies, allowing us to teach grammar, reading and writing along with vocabulary.

The TPRS Objective

Workshop participants at the Von Ray/ Karen Rowan TPRS Workshop in Denver, July 2002, act out a story during a coaching session.

As TPRS was originally developed, the objective was to create a method that would prepare students for the College Board Advanced Placement Exam from level 1. Blaine Ray and Joe Neilson’s book series, Look, I Can Talk, Look, I Can Talk More, Look, I’m Still Talking and Look, I’m Truly Talking creates fluent speakers and writers of the second language. In addition, teachers report higher AP scores, with some students passing the AP exam in as few as 3 years of language study.

Although nationwide fewer than 10% of our high school students proceed to the highest levels of foreign language offered in our schools and even fewer proceed to college foreign language studies, we have seen enrollment in our programs increase by as much as 400% after TPRS programs were introduced.

TPR Storytelling begins with the introduction of vocabulary and complex structures. The teacher then
“asks” the story using a questioning technique called “circling.” The first two steps are followed up with reading. Students rapidly acquire the second language just as Dr. Krashen imagined: effortlessly and involuntarily. The method relies heavily on the five hypotheses of The Natural Approach: the acquisition hypothesis, the input hypothesis, the natural order hypothesis, the affective filter hypothesis and the monitor hypothesis, which are explained in detail in Foreign Language Education the Easy Way, by Dr. Stephen Krashen.

A TPRS program is not complete without a very heavy emphasis on reading. Blaine Ray has written several easy readers for the first and second levels. We also recommend a Free Voluntary Reading program. Krashen’s research supports the assertion that children need two things in order to learn to read in any language: access to books and a quiet, comfortable place to read. We also read to our students, just as we would if they were our own small children, learning their first languages for the first time.

Why TPRS Works

The most important element of a successful TPR Storytelling program is the awareness that our focus is our students, not our book or even our story. A good relationship with students is the foundation of a TPRS program. We establish this connection by personalizing our stories. Every story is bizarre, in order to maintain the interest of our students, and personalized, because the only thing our students are truly interested in is themselves. The instructional pace should be based entirely upon an assessment by the teacher of how thoroughly the students have internalized the language. The number one, most important element in any TPRS program is the quantity and quality of the unconditional love, positive feedback, pats on the back and hearty applause provided to the students by the teacher. Most teachers feel that they have begun to implement TPRS effectively after approximately 4 workshops. Attending TPRS workshops and reading Fluency Through TPR Storytelling, by Blaine Ray and Contee Seeley are the first steps to creating a TPRS program. Although the techniques, the 7 steps and beginning and advanced strategies for creating a phenomenal TPRS classroom can be taught and learned in workshops, it is teachers who dedicate themselves to expressing love and approval towards their students that keep their students coming back year after year to acquire enough language to become bilingual —- and that can’t be taught.

How to use TPRS to learn another language

If learning a language has ever been a goal, the method we recommend is TPRS, which can be found now in many high schools throughout the country.  If you are a parent, ask the school if they are using TPRS or more traditional methods.  If you are an adult wanting to learn another language, go to www.fluencyfast.com and find a Fluency Fast language class near you.

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