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Types of learning and teaching activities

Imperative drills are the major classroom activity in Total Physical Re­sponse. They are typically used to elicit physical actions and activity on the part of the learners. Conversational dialogues are delayed until after about 120 hours of instruction. Asher's rationale for this is that "every­day conversations are highly abstract and disconnected; therefore to understand them requires a rather advanced internalization of the target language". Other class activities include role plays and slide presentations. Role plays center on everyday situations, such as at the restaurant, supermarket, or gas station. The slide presentations are used to provide a visual center for teacher narration, which is followed by commands, and for questions to students, such as "Which person in the picture is the salesperson?". Reading and writing activities may also be employed to further consolidate structures and vocabulary, and as follow-ups to oral imperative drills.

· Learner roles

Learners in Total Physical Response have the primary roles of listener and performer. They listen attentively and respond physically to com­mands given by the teacher. Learners are required to respond both individually and collectively. Learners have little influence over the con­tent of learning, since content is determined by the teacher, who must follow the imperative-based format for lessons. Learners are also ex­pected to recognize and respond to novel combinations of previously taught items:

Novel utterances are recombinations of constituents you have used directly in training. For instance, you directed students with 'Walk to the table!' and 'Sit on the chair!'. These are familiar to students since they have practiced re­sponding to them. Now, will a student understand if you surprise the individ­ual with an unfamiliar utterance that you created by recombining familiar elements (e.g. 'Sit on the table!').

Learners are also required to produce novel combinations of their own. Learners monitor and evaluate their own progress. They are encour­aged to speak when they feel ready to speak - that is, when a sufficient basis in the language has been internalized.

· Teacher roles

The teacher plays an active and direct role in Total Physical Response. "The instructor is the director of a stage play in which the students are the actors". It is the teacher who decides what to teach, who models and presents the new materials, and who selects supporting materials for classroom use. The teacher is encouraged to be well pre­pared and well organized so that the lesson flows smoothly and predictably. Asher recommends detailed lesson plans: “It is wise to write out the exact utterances you will be using and especially the novel com­mands because the action is so fast-moving there is usually not time for you to create spontaneously". Classroom interaction and turn taking is teacher rather than learner directed. Even when learners interact with other learners it is usually the teacher who initiates the interaction:

Teacher: Maria, pick up the box of rice and hand it to Miguel and ask Miguel to read the price.

Asher stresses, however, that the teacher's role is not so much to teach as to provide opportunities for learning. The teacher has the responsi­bility of providing the best kind of exposure to language so that the learner can internalize the basic rules of the target language. Thus the teacher controls the language input the learners receive, providing the raw material for the "cognitive map" that the learners will construct in their own minds. The teacher should also allow speaking abilities to develop in learners at the learners' own natural pace.

In giving feedback to learners, the teacher should follow the example of parents giving feedback to their children. At first, parents correct very little, but as the child grows older, parents are said to tolerate fewer mistakes in speech. Similarly teachers should refrain from too much correction in the early stages and should not interrupt to correct errors, since this will inhibit learners. As time goes on, however, more teacher intervention is expected, as the learners' speech becomes "fine tuned."

Asher cautions teachers about preconceptions that he feels could hinder the successful implementation of TPR principles. First, he cautions against the "illusion of simplicity," where the teacher underestimates the diffi­culties involved in learning a foreign language. This results in progressing at too fast a pace and failing to provide a gradual transition from one teaching stage to another. The teacher should also avoid having too narrow a tolerance for errors in speaking.

You begin with a wide tolerance for student speech errors, but as training progresses, the tolerance narrows.... Remember that as students progress in their training, more and more attention units are freed to process feedback from the instructor. In the beginning, almost no attention units are available to hear the instructor's attempts to correct distortions in speech. All attention is directed to producing utterances. Therefore the student cannot attend effi­ciently to the instructor's corrections.

· The role of instructional materials

There is generally no basic text in a Total Physical Response course. Materials and realia play an increasing role, however, in later learning stages. For absolute beginners, lessons may not require the use of materials, since the teacher's voice, actions, and gestures may be a sufficient basis for classroom activities. Later the teacher may use common class­room objects, such as books, pens, cups, furniture. As the course de­velops, the teacher will need to make or collect supporting materials to support teaching points. These may include pictures, realia, slides, and word charts. Asher has developed TPR student kits that focus on specific situations, such as the home, the supermarket, the beach. Students may use the kits to construct scenes (e.g., "Put the stove in the kitchen").


Asher provides a lesson-by-lesson account of a course taught according to TPR principles, which serves as a source of information on the procedures used in the TPR classroom. The course was for adult immigrants and consisted of 159 hours of classroom instruction. The sixth class in the course proceeded in the following way:

Review. This was a fast-moving warm-up in which individual students were moved with commands such as: Batyrzhan, drive your car around Bolat and honk your horn.

Aygerim, throw the red flower to Mariam.

Mariam, scream.

Dina, pick up the knife and spoon and put them in the cup.

Eric, take a drink of water and give the cup to Dinara.

New commands. These verbs were introduced.

wash your hands,
your face,
your hair,
the cup.
look for a towel,
the soap,
hold a comb.
the book,
the cup,
the soap.
comb your hair.
Mariam's hair.
Marat's hair.
brush your teeth,
your pants,
the table.


  Other items introduced were:
Rectangle Draw a rectangle on the chalkboard.
Pick up a rectangle from the table and give it to me.
Put the rectangle next to the square.
Triangle Catch the triangle and put it next to the rectangle.
Pick up the triangle from the table and give it to me.
Quickly Walk quickly to the door and hit it.
Quickly, run to the table and touch the square.
Sit down quickly and laugh.
Slowly Walk slowly to the window and jump.
Slowly, stand up.
Slowly walk to me and hit me on the arm.
Toothpaste Look for the toothpaste.
Throw the toothpaste to Wing.
Wing, unscrew the top of the toothpaste.



Next, the instructor asked simple questions which the student could answer with a gesture such as pointing. Examples would be:

Where is the towel? [Eric, point to the towel!]

Where is the toothbrush? [Dina, point to the toothbrush!]

Where is Aygerim?

Role reversal. Students readily volunteered to utter commands that manipu­lated the behavior of the instructor and other students....

Reading and writing. The instructor wrote on the chalkboard each new vo­cabulary item and a sentence to illustrate the item. Then she spoke each item and acted out the sentence. The students listened as she read the material. Some copied the information in their notebooks.


Total Physical Response is in a sense a revival and extension of Palmer and Palmer's English Through Actions, updated with references to more recent psychological theories. It has enjoyed some popularity because of its support by those who emphasize the role of comprehension in second language acquisition. Krashen (1981), for example, regards provision of comprehensible input and reduction of stress as keys to successful lan­guage acquisition, and he sees performing physical actions in the target language as a means of making input comprehensible and minimizing stress (see Chapter 9). The experimental support for the effectiveness of Total Physical Response is sketchy (as it is for most methods) and typ­ically deals with only the very beginning stages of learning. Proponents of Communicative Language Teaching would question the relevance to real-world learner needs of the TPR syllabus and the utterances and sentences used within it. Asher himself, however, has stressed that Total Physical Response should be used in association with other methods and techniques. Indeed, practitioners of TPR typically follow this recom­mendation, suggesting that for many teachers TPR represents a useful set of techniques and is compatible with other approaches to teaching. TPR practices therefore may be effective for reasons other than those proposed by Asher and do not necessarily demand commitment to the learning theories used to justify them.

The Natural Approach (Krashen & Terrell)


In 1977, Tracy Terrell, a teacher of Spanish in California, outlined "a proposal for a 'new' philosophy of language teaching which [he] called the Natural Approach" (Terrell 1977; 1982: 121). This was an attempt to develop a language teaching proposal that incorporated the "naturalistic" principles researchers had identified in studies of second language acquisition. The Natural Approach grew out of Terrell's experiences teaching Spanish classes. Since that time Terrell and others have exper­imented with implementing the Natural Approach in elementary- to advanced-level classes and with several other languages. At the same time he has joined forces with Stephen Krashen, an applied linguist at the University of Southern California, in elaborating a theoretical ra­tionale for the Natural Approach, drawing on Krashen's influential theory of second language acquisition. Krashen and Terrell's combined statement of the principles and practices of the Natural Approach appeared in their book, The Natural Approach, published in 1983. The Natural Approach has attracted a wider interest than some of the other innovative language teaching proposals discussed in this book, largely because of its support by Krashen. Krashen and Terrell's book contains theoretical sections prepared by Krashen that outline his views on second language acquisition (Krashen 1981; 1982), and sections on implemen­tation and classroom procedures, prepared largely by Terrell.

Krashen and Terrell have identified the Natural Approach with what they call "traditional" approaches to language teaching. Traditional approaches are defined as "based on the use of language in communicative situations without recourse to the native language" - and, perhaps, needless to say, without reference to grammatical analysis, grammatical drilling, or to a particular theory of grammar. Krashen and Terrell note that such "approaches have been called natural, psychological, phonetic, new, reform, direct, analytic, imitative and so forth" (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 9). The fact that the authors of the Natural Approach relate their approach to the Natural Method has led some to assume chat Natural Approach and Natural Method are synonymous terms. Although the tradition is a common one, there are important differences between the Natural Approach and the older Natural Method, which it will be useful to consider at the outset.

The Natural Method is another term for what by the turn of the century had become known as the Direct Method.. It is described in a report on the state of the art in language teaching com­missioned by the Modern Language Association in 1901 (the report of the "Committee of 12"): The term natural , used in reference to the Direct Method, merely emphasized that the principles underlying the method were believed to conform to the principles of naturalistic language learning in young children. Similarly, the Natural Approach, as defined by Krashen and Terrell, is believed to conform to the naturalistic principles found in successful second language acquisition. Unlike the Direct Method, however, it places less emphasis on teacher monologues, direct repetition, and formal questions and answers, and less focus on accurate production of target language sentences. In the Natural Approach there is an em­phasis on exposure, or input, rather than practice; optimizing emotional preparedness for learning; a prolonged period of attention to what the language learners hear before they try to produce language; and a will­ingness to use written and other materials as a source of comprehensible input. The emphasis on the central role of comprehension in the Natural Approach links it to other comprehension-based approaches in language teaching.


· Theory of language

Krashen and Terrell see communication as the primary function of language, and since their approach focuses on teaching communicative abilities, they refer to the Natural Approach as an example of a communicative approach. The Natural Approach "is similar to other com municative approaches being developed today" (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 17). They reject earlier methods of language teaching, such as the Audiolingual Method, which viewed grammar as the central component of language. According to Krashen and Terrell, the major problem with these methods was that they were built not around "actual theories of language acquisition, but theories of something else; for example, the structure of language" (1983: 1). Unlike proponents of Communicative Language Teaching, however, Krashen and Terrell give little attention to a theory of language. Indeed, a recent critic of Krashen suggests he has no theory of language at all (Gregg 1984). What Krashen and Terrell do describe about the nature of language emphasizes the primacy of meaning. The importance of the vocabulary is stressed, for example, suggesting the view that a language is essentially its lexicon and only inconsequently the grammar that determines how the lexicon is exploited to produce messages. Terrell quotes Dwight Bolinger to support this view:

The quantity of information in the lexicon far outweighs that in any other part of the language, and if there is anything to the notion of redundancy it should be easier to reconstruct a message containing just words than one containing just the syntactic relations. The significant fact is the subordinate role of grammar. The most important thing is to get the words in. (Bolinger, in Terrell 1977: 333).

Language is viewed as a vehicle for communicating meanings and mes­sages. Hence Krashen and Terrell state that "acquisition can take place only when people understand messages in the target language (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 19). Yet despite their avowed communicative approach to language, they view language learning, as do audiolingualists, as mastery of structures by stages. "The input hypothesis states that in order for acquirers to progress to the next stage in the acquisition of the target language, they need to understand input language that includes a structure that is part of the next stage" (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 32). Krashen refers to this with the formula "I + 1" (i.e., input that contains structures slightly above the learner's present level). We assume that Krashen means by structures something at least in the tradition of what such linguists as Leonard Bloomfield and Charles Fries meant by structures. The Natural Approach thus assumes a linguistic hierarchy of structural complexity that one masters through encounters with "input" containing structures at the "1 + 1" level.

We are left then with a view of language that consists of lexical items, structures, and messages. Obviously, there is no particular novelty in this view as such, except that messages are considered of primary im­portance in the Natural Approach. The lexicon for both perception and production is considered critical in the construction and interpretation of messages. Lexical items in messages arc necessarily grammatically structured, and more complex messages involve more complex gram­matical structure. Although they acknowledge such grammatical structuring, Krashen and Terrell feel that grammatical structure does not require explicit analysis or attention by the language teacher, by the language learner, or in language teaching materials.

· Theory of learning

Krashen and Terrell make continuing reference to the theoretical and research base claimed to underlie the Natural Approach and to the fact that the method is unique in having such a base. "It is based on an empirically grounded theory of second language acquisition, which has been supported by a large number of scientific studies in a wide variety of language acquisition and learning contexts" (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 1). The theory and research are grounded on Krashen's views of language acquisition, which we will collectively refer to as Krashen's language acquisition theory. Krashen's views have been presented and discussed extensively elsewhere (e.g., Krashen 1982), so we will not try to present or critique Krashen's arguments here.



The Acquisition/Learning Hypothesis claims that there are two distinctive ways of developing competence in a second or foreign language. Acquisition is the "natural" way, paralleling first language development in children. Acquisition refers to an unconscious process that involves the naturalistic development of language proficiency through under­standing language and through using language for meaningful com­munication. Learning, by contrast, refers to a process in which conscious rules about a language are developed. It results in explicit knowledge about the forms of a language and the ability to verbalize this knowledge. Formal teaching is necessary for "learning" to occur, and correction of errors helps with the development of learned rules. Learning, according to the theory, cannot lead to acquisition.


The acquired linguistic system is said to initiate utterances when we communicate in a second or foreign language. Conscious learning can function only as a monitor or editor that checks and repairs the output of the acquired system. I he Monitor Hypothesis claims that we may call upon learned knowledge to correct ourselves when we communicate, hut that conscious learning (i.e., the learned system) has only this func­tion. Three conditions limit the successful use of the monitor:

1. Time. There must be sufficient time for a learner to choose and apply a learned rule.

2. Focus on form. The language user must be focused on correctness or on the form of the output.

3. Knowledge of rules. The performer must know the rules. The monitor does best with rules that are simple in two ways. They must be simple to describe and they must not require complex movements and rearrangements.


According to the Natural Order Hypothesis, the acquisition of grammatical structures proceeds in a predictable order. Research is said to have shown that certain grammatical structures or morphemes are ac­quired before others in first language acquisition of English, and a similar natural order is found in second language acquisition. Errors are signs of naturalistic developmental processes, and during acquisition (but not during learning), similar developmental errors occur in learners no mat­ter what their mother tongue is.


The Input Hypothesis claims to explain the relationship between what the learner is exposed to of a language (the input) and language acqui­sition. It involves four main issues.

First, the hypothesis relates to acquisition, and not to learning.

Second, people acquire language best by understanding input that is slightly beyond their current level of competence:

An acquirer can "move" from a stage I (where I is the acquirer's level of competence) to a stage I +1 (where I + 1 is the stage immediately following I along some natural order) by understanding language containing I + 1. (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 32)

Clues based on the situation and the context, extra linguistic information, and knowledge of the world make comprehension possible.

Third, the ability to speak fluently cannot be taught directly; rather, it "emerges" independently in time, after the acquirer has built up lin­guistic competence by understanding input.

Fourth, if there is a sufficient quantity of comprehensible input, I + 1 will usually be provided automatically. Comprehensible input refers to utterances that the learner understands based on the context in which they are used as well as the language in which they are phrased. When a speaker uses language so that the acquirer understands the message, the speaker "casts a net" of structure around the acquirer's current level of competence, and this will include many instances of I + 1. Thus, input need not be finely tuned to a learner's current level of linguistic competence, and in fact cannot be so finely tuned in a language class, where learners will be at many different levels of competence.

Just as child acquirers of a first language are provided with samples of "caretaker speech," rough-tuned to their present level of understand­ing, so adult acquirers of a second language are provided with simple codes that facilitate second language comprehension. One such code is "foreigner talk," which refers to the speech native speakers use to simplify communication with foreigners. Foreigner talk is characterized by a slower rate of speech, repetition, restating, use of Yes/No instead of Who- questions, and other changes that make messages more compre­hensible to persons of limited language proficiency.


Krashen sees the learner's emotional state or attitudes as an adjustable filter that freely passes, impedes, or blocks input necessary to acquisition. A low affective filter is desirable, since it impedes or blocks less of this necessary input. The hypothesis is built on research in second language acquisition, which has identified three kinds of affective or attitudinal variables related to second language acquisition.

1. Motivation. Learners with high motivation generally do better.

2. Self-confidence. Learners with self-confidence and a good self-image tend to be more successful.

3. Anxiety. Low personal anxiety and low classroom anxiety are more con­ducive to second language acquisition.

The Affective Filter Hypothesis states that acquirers with a low affective filter seek and receive more input, interact with confidence, and are more receptive to the input they receive. Anxious acquirers have a high affective filter, which prevents acquisition from taking place. It is believed that the affective filter (e.g., fear or embarrassment) rises in early ado­lescence, and this may account for children's apparent superiority to older acquirers of a second language.

These five hypotheses have obvious implications for language teaching. In sum, these are:

1. As much comprehensible input as possible must be presented.

2. Whatever helps comprehension is important. Visual aids are useful, as is exposure to a wide range of vocabulary rather than study of syntactic structure.

3. The focus in the classroom should be on listening and reading; speaking should be allowed to "emerge."

4. In order to lower the affective filter, student work should center on mean­ingful communication rather than on form; input should be interesting and so contribute to a relaxed classroom atmosphere.


· Objectives

The Natural Approach "is for beginners and is designed to help them become intermediates." It has the expectation that students will be able to function adequately in the target situation. They will understand the speaker of the target language (perhaps with requests for clarification), and will be able to convey (in a non-insulting manner) their requests and ideas. They need not know every word in a particular semantic domain, nor is it necessary that the syntax and vocabulary be flawless—but their pro­duction does need to be understood. They should be able to make the mean­ing clear but not necessarily be accurate in all details of grammar. (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 71)

However, since the Natural Approach is offered as a general set of principles applicable to a wide variety of situations, as in Communicative Language Teaching, specific objectives depend upon learner needs and the skill (reading, writing, listening, or speaking) and level being taught. Krashen and Terrell feel it is important to communicate to learners what they can expect of a course as well as what they should not expect. They offer as an example a possible goal and no goal statement for a beginning Natural Approach Spanish class.

After 100-150 hours of Natural Approach Spanish, you will be able to: "get around" in Spanish; you will be able to communicate with a monolingual native speaker of Spanish without difficulty; read most ordinary texts in Spanish with some use of a dictionary; know enough Spanish to continue to improve on your own.

After 100—150 hours of Natural Approach Spanish you will not be able to: pass for a native speaker, use Spanish as easily as you use English, under­stand native speakers when they talk to each other (you will probably not be able to eavesdrop successfully); use Spanish on the telephone with great com­fort; participate easily in a conversation with several other native speakers on unfamiliar topics. (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 74).

· The syllabus

Krashen and Terrell (1983) approach course organization from two points of view. First, they list some typical goals for language courses and suggest which of these goals are the ones at which the Natural Approach aims. They list such goals under four areas:

1. Basic personal communication skills: oral (e.g., listening to announce­ments in public places)

2. Basic personal communication skills: written (e.g., reading and writing personal letters)

3. Academic learning skills: oral (e.g., listening to a lecture)

4. Academic learning skills: written (e.g., taking notes in class)

Of these, they note that the Natural Approach is primarily "designed to develop basic communication skills - both oral and written (1983: 67). They then observe that communication goals "may be expressed in terms of situations, functions and topics" and proceed to order four pages of topics and situations "which are likely to be most useful to beginning students" (1983: 67). The functions are not specified or sug­gested but are felt to derive naturally from the topics and situations. This approach to syllabus design would appear to derive to some extent from threshold level specifications.

The second point of view holds that "the purpose of a language course will vary according to the needs of the students and their particular interests" (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 65).

The goals of a Natural Approach class are based on an assessment of student needs. We determine the situations in which they will use the target language and the sorts of topics they will have to communicate information about. In setting communication goals, we do not expect the students at the end of a particular course to have acquired a certain group of structures or forms. In­stead we expect them to deal with a particular set of topics in a given situa­tion. We do not organize the activities of the class about a grammatical syllabus. (Krashen and Terrell 1983:71)

From this point of view it is difficult to specify communicative goals that necessarily fit the needs of all students. Thus any list of topics and situations must be understood as syllabus suggestions rather than as specifications.

As well as fitting the needs and interests of students, content selection should aim to create a low affective filter by being interesting and fostering a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, should provide a wide exposure to vocabulary that may be useful to basic personal communication, and should resist any focus on grammatical structures, since if input is pro­vided "over a wider variety of topics while pursuing communicative goals, the necessary grammatical structures are automatically provided in the input" (Krashen and Terrell 1983: 71).

Date: 2016-01-03; view: 214

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