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Definition of Total Physical Response

Written By DEVI & NOVIA on 3 September 2012 | 9/03/2012

Total Physical Response (TPR) is one of new methods developed by JamesAsher, a professor of psychology at San José State University, California, USA, toaid learning foreign language. TPR is a language learning method which is based onthe coordination of speech and action. It is linked to the trace theory of memory,which holds that the more often or intensively a memory connection is traced, thestronger memory will be. In TPR classroom, students respond to commands thatrequire physical movement.Asher defines that the method of TPR relies on the assumption that whenlearning a second language or a foreign language, that language is internalizedthrough a process that is similar to first language development and that the processallows for long period of listening and developing comprehension prior to production(www.wikipedia.com)Richard and Rodgers (1986: 87) state that TPR is a language teaching methodbuilt around the coordination of speech and action; it attempts to teach languagethrough physical (motor) activity.Garcia (2001: 1) explains that the two very important concepts in TPR are thenotion of Total Physical Response involvement and the role played by the righthemisphere of the brain in learning a second language by action.The first concept deals with the idea of introducing second language by givingaction response which has been influenced by the way people acquire their first.
A baby would not memorize a list of words or try to speak immediately.They just listen first to the other family members and then act or do thing in responseto their utterances. In the next period he would speak if he was ready to. Neverthelessat first, he would listen and carry out actions or respond physically to him. Thesecond one relates to the brain hemisphere. Our brain is divided into two parts, leftand right hemispheres. Scientists had found that the left and the right hemispherewere two independent neurogical entities having different functions both account fordifferent responsibilities (Garcia, 2001:1)Garcia explains further that the TPR approach is a right brain method of learning a language because the language is taught mainly through actions. In theother words, commands play as the core of the course.TPR is based on the premise that the human brain has a biological programfrom acquiring any natural language in the world including the sign language of thedeaf. The process is visible when we observe how infants internalize their firstlanguage (www.tprsource.com/asher.htm). Asher looks to the way that childrencombine both verbal and physical aspects. A child responds physically to the speechfor the parent. The responses of the child are in turn positively reinforced by thespeech of the parent. For many months the child absorbs the language without beingable to speak. With TPR the teacher tries to mimic this process in class(www.tprworld.com/organizing).TPR is also named the comprehension approach since of the importance givento listening comprehension. In TPR, students listen and respond to the spoken target commands of their teacher. If they can perform the teacher’s instructions itmeans that they know the meaning of the words.From the explanation above, the writer concludes that TPR places moreemphasis on the link between word and action. The activity, where a command isgiven in the imperative and the learners obey the command, is the main activity of TPR. Therefore, it will be easier for the students to recall the words they have learnedif they use their body in learning vocabulary items. The powerful method of TPR isbest applied to introduce new vocabulary and new grammatical feature at any level.TPR can be varied in any different activities such as storytelling, dialogue, games, ora pattern drill.
 So what is TPR?
Total Physical Response is a language learning method based on the coordination of speech and action. It was developed by James Asher, a professor of psychology at San Jose State University, California. It is linked to the trace theory of memory, which holds that the more often or intensively a memory connection is traced, the stronger the memory will be.
This method reflects a grammar-based view of language. The verb (especially, in the imperative form) is considered the central linguistic motif around which language use and learning are organized.

The Three important hypotheses lying behind his method are:
  1. The bio-program
For Asher, first and second language learning are parallel processes. After this stage, child is able to reproduce the language spontaneously. This means that children develop listening competence before they develop the ability to speak. Communication between parents and children combines both verbal and physical aspects. Child responds physically to spoken language (parental commands). Thus children acquire ability in listening comprehension. The child is not able to speak for many months, but she absorbs the language and during that period, internalisation and code breaking takes place.  Children are not expected to speak until they are ready; however, they are constantly spoken to. Example: The first ‘conversations’ between parents and children are a kind of monologue.
- Mother: “Look at mommy. Look at mommy”.(The kid’s face turns and looks in the direction of mother’s voice).
- Mother: “She’s looking at me!”
This is a ‘language-body conversation’, since the mother speaks and the child answers with a physical response. In the same way, the learner of a second language should first create a ‘cognitive map’ in his mind of that language through listening activities combined with physical movements, just like babies do. Afterwards, speech and other skills will come.
  1. Brain lateralization
Left-hemisphere activities include:
·         Explaining
·         Talking
·         Analyzing
Right-hemisphere activities include:
·         Physical movement
·         Acting
·         Gesturing.
Asher’s method is oriented to right-brain learning (motor activities). With this method, learners acquire language through movement instead of memorizing lists of vocabulary items and grammatical rules. While learners perform  motor activities, the left hemisphere of their brain just observes and learns. Once the right hemisphere has internalized the new information, the student will be able to start producing language (talking is a left-hemisphere activity).
  1. Reduction of stress
Asher developed a stress-free approach to learning a second language taking as a model the way children acquire their first language (in a stress-free environment). By focusing on meaning interpreted through movement, the learner is able to liberate himself from stressful situations and learn the language in a natural and relaxed way.
Character Physicalization
One method in second language instruction which has proven effective, especially in the beginning stage of scond language learning, is called total Physical Response ( TPR, Asher, 1977: Krashen & Terrel, 1983 ). According to secound language research, secound language learners, like first language learners, begin language acquistion with listening and conducting physical movements before vwerbal responses. Demanding verbal responses immediately or frequentely will result in anxiety and will restrict language acquisition inthe early stage. TPR requeres the student to atc out some of the verbal responses physically without uttering a word. By asking students to engage in physical movements , the teacher cen enhance students understanding of words and concept that they have portrayed (pirie, 1995). Physicalization can focus on the character’s body movements, facial expressions, or gestures.
Advantages and disadvantages
·         It is fun and easy
·         It does not require a great deal of preparation on the part of the teacher.
·         It is a good tool for learning vocabulary.
·         Class size does not need to be a problem.
·         There is no age barrier.
·         It is not a very creative method. Students are not given the opportunity to express their own views and thoughts in a creative way.
·         It is easy to overuse TPR.
·         It is limited, since everything cannot be explained with this method. It must be combined with other approaches.

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