TPR like your life depends on it

WRITTEN BY Lindelwa Msimang ・ 27 March, 2020

What is TPR?
TPR (Total Physical Response) is a language teaching method, which incorporates the coordination of language and physical movement. This approach is based on the notion that if teaching is done in coordination to language; then learning is made more meaningful.

Before moving to China I didn’t know the importance or usefulness of TPR; not only in the classroom but in daily life as a means of communication. There was no better way to be taught this lesson than to be thrown right in the deep end.

And that’s exactly what happened the day I arrived in China. After vaguely being taught how to use the subway and how to navigate my way through the station. I made my way to my medical exam, with directions that said“a short ten-minute walk from the station. So there I was, printed directions in hand while google maps periodically shouted when and where to cross the road. Fast forward twenty minutes and many confused looks later, I found myself at the address I had been given. Only when I walked in, I found a run-down restaurant with two employees engrossed in conversation. They looked at me with both confusion and wonder, confused as to why I thought a restaurant was a hospital and wonder because it was very clear that foreigners don’t come to this area often.

After extensive use of TPR (or something resembling gang signs), the help of WeChat and the realization that the translator apps I had downloaded before I left South Africa were insufficient; I experienced my first act of kindness. Those two strangers rewrote the address I was given, to where I was actually trying to go. They hailed a taxi for me and explained to the driver where I was trying to go. And in that moment all the words I had learnt using my language app escaped me and I wasn’t even able to thank the kind strangers appropriately. So I did what I thought would translate as a thank you, I put my hands together as if to pray and said "thank you". And just like that, TPR saved my life, or at least it felt that way.

The importance of TPR in the classroom:
When children, or people in general, do not understand what you are trying to say it triggers a stress response. This reaction can both hinder and discourage learning. TPR aims to create a brain link between speech and action to stimulate language and vocabulary learning. As such, this way of learning reduces stress levels as well as student inhibitions.
In addition, TPR creates a classroom environment which is language acquisition over language learning. Where language learning is centered around the correct use of grammatical structure and pronunciation, and language acquisition is centered around the immersive experience of using everyday language. A good balance of both creates an environment where students are eager and motivated to learn.

How to use TPR:
There are many different ways to incorporate TPR in the learning process, the best advice is that it gets easier with time and practice. A great ice breaker/warm-up with a lot of TPR is the "head, shoulders knees and toes" song, especially with K classes. And you can incorporate those body parts when introducing TPR as a teaching technique in class.

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