The Total Physical Response (TPR): Review of the evidence

For anyone who’s interested in the subject of “natural language learning”, I highly recommend the article entitled “The Total Physical Response (TPR): Review of the evidence” by James J. Asher, published in May of 2009 and available here Here is a small excerpt from the beginning:

“Experimental studies, reviewed in this article, demonstrate that experience, often in only one exposure, results in long-term retention while translation after many exposures is most often limited to short-term retention. Second, recent neuroscientific research by Melvyn Goodale and others (2008) suggest that experience is primary perception resulting in an accurate assessment of the external world. School, a recent innovation from an evolutionary point of view, is secondary perception vulnerable to distortions. The reason: Students sit while someone called “the instructor” attempts to construct the world for them. Translation is a classic example of the instructor attempting to construct a language while the student " reads” or " listens" or “repeats.” Further, neuroscientists using sophisticated magnetic imaging equipment have demonstrated that the primary perception of experience activates a different stream of brain cells compared with secondary perception."

Further articles by the author can be find in the “TPR Articles” section of his website available under the following link:


Some comments:

-often generally applies only to a limited subset of words,
-similar to Rosetta Stone’s use of pictures - you can’t act out (or photograph) a lot of what constitutes language
-having said that, comprehensible input is great and possibly helpful when acted out

-however, nothing beats reading and listening to a lot of authentic language content

David, thanks for this interesting article!
I quite agree with Iaing. In general TPR is very good for beginner, but maybe not so effective for more advanced levels.

TPR certainly seems interesting but I also agree with iaing and OscarP about it probably only being good for absolute beginners. It could only really work so far, when you get to more relatively abstract concepts it wouldn’t be of much help.

I do most of my learning while doing the dishes, jogging, sitting in my car, and cross country skiing… while listening. The main problem with TPR is that it requires the learner to sit in a classroom, which really limits the learning opportunities. It also puts the teacher in charge. I imagine that it is effective, however, for those who are in that situation.

Right, for abstract concepts it just wouldn’t work.
Steve, every time you say you learn while washing the dishes I can’t help visualizing you dealing with a huge pile of super dirty dishes while singing loudly something in russian/korean/czech and a big smile in your face…
What a nice little invention the portable mp3 player, I use it at the minimum chance I get. I am reading your book by the way, very inspiring.

I’m glad this sparked a little bit of a discussion:)
My point in posting was not to promote TPR per se, and I am with you all that the classroom and abstract vocabulary constraints, as well as the teacher being in charge as Steve said, make TPR less than optimal.
I really just wanted to call attention to what the author was saying about the difference in which areas of the brain are activated when the learner is “experiencing” the language rather than just having it “presented” to them or just translating it.
I think very much the same effect is achieved by, as iaing said, reading and listening to “authentic language content”, as, by it’s very definition, it is “authentic”, and therefore more “real” to you.
There are many words and phrases I remember because of the “authenticity/reality” of the story being told in the audio book I was listening to or the article I was reading, just as I can remember the exactly when I learned certain German vocabulary talking in the cafeteria with my buddies in Germany or Spanish vocabulary talking with my girlfriend, who’s from Venezuela, in Spanish.
I guess my point is that the more you “live” something - the more you and all your senses are engaged in it - the more likely you are to retain it.

I find that I have less trouble with abstract concepts. It’s the complicated physical acts which I find take longer to understand and be able to use in every language so far. I don’t know if it’s just bad luck for me, but I seem to have picked languages which have several ways of saying ‘to put in’ and such things.

I sort of wish I could be a child playing with toys in a sandpit. :smiley: