Language teaching – Total physical response – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

21 Jan

James Asher developed the total physical response method as a result of his observation of the language development of young children. Asher saw that most of the interactions that young children experience with parents or other adults combine both verbal and physical aspects. The child responds physically to the speech of the parent, and the parent reinforces the child’s responses through further speech. This creates a positive feedback loop between the parent’s speech and the child’s actions.[1] Asher also observed that young children typically spend a long time listening to language before ever attempting to speak, and that they can understand and react to utterances that are much more complex than those they can produce themselves.[2]

From his experiences, Asher outlined three main hypotheses about learning second languages that are embodied in the total physical response method. The first is that the brain is naturally predisposed to learn language through listening. Specifically, Asher says that learners best internalize language when they respond with physical movement to language input. Asher hypothesizes that speech develops naturally and spontaneously after learners internalize the target language through input, and that it should not be forced.[2] In Asher’s own words:

A reasonable hypothesis is that the brain and the nervous system are biologically programmed to acquire language, either the first or the second in a particular sequence and in a particular mode. The sequence is listening before speaking and the mode is to synchronise language with the individual’s body.[3]

The second of Asher’s hypotheses is that effective language learning must engage the right hemisphere of the brain. Physical movement is controlled primarily by the right hemisphere, and Asher sees the coupling of movement with language comprehension as the key to language acquisition. He says that left-hemisphere learning should be avoided, and that the left hemisphere needs a great deal of experience of right-hemisphere-based input before natural speech can occur.[4]

Asher’s third hypothesis is that language learning should not involve any stress, as stress and negative emotions inhibit the natural language-learning process. He regards the stressful nature of most language-teaching methods as one of their major weaknesses. Asher recommends that teachers focus on meaning and physical movement to avoid stress.[4]

The main text on total physical response is James Asher’s Learning Another Language through Actions, first published in 1977.

via Total physical response – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


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