Ask the Headmaster – Post 1


Why We Use TPR

Why We Use TPR at our school





At  our school. we use TPR a LOT.  You will see it used in pretty much every younger class. That’s because it works. The connection between vocalizing while using big motor muscles to pantomime the command just works. An example: I saw a student, about four years old, exit a class saying “esc-ca-la-tor,  esc-ca-la-tor,  esc-ca-la-tor ” while pumping his legs up and down. Now, simply teaching that term without TPR would have taken much longer.

TPR was developed by Dr. James Asher during the 1960s. It is used world-wide.

TPR is based on the premise that human beings are biologically programmed to learn languages, and that this programming works essentially the same for adults learning a foreign languages as it does for children learning their native language. Asher claims that just as young children hear large amounts of linguistic input before they begin speaking, adolescent and adult language learners also benefit from a “silent period” to internalize the patterns and sounds of the language, and that they will eventually begin to produce utterances spontaneously. He emphasizes that students should not be forced to speak before they are ready.

Asher also claims that one-third to one-half of the linguistic input that young children hear is in the form of commands (e.g., “Don’t make a fist when I’m trying to put on your coat!”). Children respond to these commands physically, activating the right hemisphere of the brain, which is associated with motor movement. The right brain is thus able to internalize the new linguistic elements immediately, without a time-consuming analysis by the left brain, which is normally associated with language use. According to Asher, “most of the grammatical structure of the target language and hundreds of vocabulary items can be learned through the skillful use of the imperative by the instructor” (1977, p. 2-4).

Asher emphasizes that because TPR taps into natural language learning processes, the stress associated with mental analysis of the target language is reduced, and learning becomes a more enjoyable experience.

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Asher, J. (1977). Learning another language through actions: The complete teacher’s guide book. Los Gatos, CA: Sky Oaks Productions. (6th ed. 2000)


Hog Farmer’s Bypass



Once, when I lived in a second tier city in China, there was a toll road at the end of the city. There, a new multi-lane expressway led to the next major city, about forty-five minutes away. The toll was 16 RMB, each way, to visit the next city via the new highway.

Many however grumbled and complained that the new toll was too expensive, highway robbery as it were. Enter the hog farmer. Bounding the entrance to the toll plaza was a small hog farm. A narrow road circled around the back of the hog farm and exited just beyond the toll plaza.

Before long word was out that one could avoid the expensive highway toll by taking the road behind the hog farm. Our driver took this small road. It was a narrow, slippery, muddy and very smelly track around the farm. In the middle of this muddy road sat a worker holding a tree branch across the road. He was charging 1 RMB to take the road.

After while, business was booming. There was a line of cars trekking around the hog farm while the entrance to the toll booth had sparse traffic.


The interesting thing about this story is the creativity of the everyday Chinese person and the complex social arrangements in Chinese society.  The hog farmer was brilliant in his ability to exploit an opportunity.  But most impressive was his ability to pull this off literally in the face of every government official. There is no doubt the toll beeth cashiers could see the cars disappear behind the hog farm and then emerge on the highway a minute later.  Clearly, the hog farmer had applied the  correct anould of social salve to have his farm’s traffic become invisible.

This operation was still running when I left years later.



Another Hog Story


Just a quick vignette.  We were driving down the road one day along a rural back road. In front of us a little blue truck turned left. The little blue motorcycle driven  trucks are ubiquitous in China.

What was astounding was that there was a huge hog standing in the back of the truck. His forearms were on top of the cab of the truck supporting his upright positions. The hog’s ears were flying in the wind and the most human-like look of glee was on the hog’s face.

“Did you see how happy that pig was?” I asked my companion? After a moment she replied, “Do you know what happens to hogs delivered to villages this time of year?”



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