Failure of TPRS

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben's Patreon at $10 or more
Already a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to access this content.



34 thoughts on “Failure of TPRS”

  1. Also, I think a general misunderstanding of TPRS. The practice is rooted firmly in human nature / DNA or whatever, to connect with each other in a loving way, to feel accepted and celebrated. It is also just beginning to be backed up by neuroscience. AND also must be adapted to the particular group. So when folks approach it as a “method” or some other sort of box / package, it can’t work. This work is about connecting with the students in an authentic way. It builds on what Susie says “discipline precedes instruction.” This is the crux of it all. Not as in “get all military and stern.” We must have discipline as teachers to go slowly, to hold ourselves and out students accountable individually and to the group, as per the blurting and all that stuff that pollutes the atmosphere. There is a discipline to the practice of coming back over and over to the essentials of staying in the TL, of accessing the gifts of each student, and of creating a true community, of creating space for joy to bloom. This is where the magic is. When the practice is viewed as a “method” then it gets all wonky because we try to ram content (ie, charge / plow through the story…even an awesome story script will “fail” if we don’t have the connection) rather than have a flow of language that everyone understands. Bottom line…the R and S in TPRS stand for Reading and Storytelling. This can take any form that works for your group. It is not restricted to a specific script or type of story or reading.

  2. Ignorance – FL teachers don’t read research from SLA. The public as a whole doesn’t have a clue.

    Laziness – It can be exhausting to learn TPRS and to teach this way

    Acceptance – Somehow public schools have accepted that students won’t develop communicative ability and have accepted the high drop out rates (both teacher and student) or else the programs have been reduced and cut

    Damn textbooks – textbook writers don’t align much with SLA

    Perspective – FL teachers have not known anything but grammar and thematic vocabulary memorization and they view everything through that lens

    Accuracy over Fluency – it’s all about being correct, rather than communicating

    “It works” – For lack of good tests of communicative ability, many teachers write their own crap test that shows the students have learned what was covered, but is no measure of any real language use.

    It is incredible to me that TPRS and other ways to TCI have not spread like wildfire. In the end, didn’t we all gravitate to TPRS more out of “instinct”? That instinct, intuition, came from our own experiences. Little probably came from our own reading of SLA – I can speak for myself, at least. In the end, teachers do what they have experienced that works.

    1. I am apparently the exception that proves the rule. My entrance into TPRS and TCI was well considered and quite deliberate. It helped that I had some personal experiences that reinforced the research I was reading. During my credential program, I took a class in Second Language Acquisition and read Pink, Chomsky, Krashen, Asher, and Omaggio, among others. What they were saying made sense. Then I compared it with language-learning experiences of my own. I have studied several languages using different methods: Spanish using primarily ALM, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin using Grammar-Translation, German using the communicative approach, and Swiss German from just listening to a mother interact with her children over time. As I compared the results of those experiences with the one another and the research and learned more about TPRS, I realized that TPRS/TCI came closest to the unconscious acquisition I experienced as a child learning his first language and as an adult “listening in” on another language. So, for me it was simply a matter of adopting the method that had both the weight of research and perceived reality behind it – not terribly intuitive at all. It would be interesting to discover how much of an anomaly my introduction to and adoption of TPRS was.

    2. Jeffery Brickler

      Laziness – It can be exhausting to learn TPRS and to teach this way,

      I don’t think it is laziness. If a teacher makes the leap and pours forth all his/her efforts to learn this method. This effort is not laziness. I think we are talking about lack of support and training. Trying to learn on one’s own, no support from colleagues. It’s not fair to call a teacher lazy because he/she is overwhelmed with all he/she has to do and can’t sustain this teaching. If he/she has multiple preps and an overload and a ton of other stuff going on, we can’t judge this person for not being able to overcome the mountain that this way of teaching is. Laziness is not a fair assessment in my opinion, especially when the deck is stacked against them.

      Another reason: FEAR, TREMENDOUS FEAR. I am writing a post about this soon. It will help give insight into what fear can do to us. Teachers don’t try or can’t sustain this teaching because of this FEAR. More to come.

      1. Lack of time.
        Lack of training.
        Lack of support.

        Yes, yes, and yes. After I wrote it, I actually wish I had phrased it differently. No edit button on this blog, though. Thank you, Jeff, for not letting that comment stand.

        Clearly, any teacher who makes the effort to learn TPRS is not lazy. Sure would be easier to pass out worksheets. I can’t sustain TPRS in every class for the entire period. I mix a lot of different activities/methods, but it’s all TCI. I think the variety can make TPRS even better! They’re begging for stories. TPRS can be the most intense. And effective! When I’m tired I remind myself that there’s no substitute for good TPRS.

        Do you think there’s teachers that don’t want to learn TPRS because they know it would be a lot of work to learn? Or that they don’t want to teach with TPRS, because they know how much the teacher has to do in a typical TPRS lesson?

        It is true, though, that energy is contagious. I had a wicked long day yesterday, not getting home until 10pm from school. We had our first adult class and it was amazing. I should have been tired, but after that night class I had more energy than I had had all day. It kept me up long past when I should have been sleeping! The greatest energy drain for me is having to classroom manage.

        Another one to add to the list, probably tied to FEAR: departmental pressures.

        1. I think for me, it isn’t fear as much as being conservative, still probably not the right word! I have a complete program that I teach from Years 6-12 so if I change one part, I need to change others so I do not move quickly into anything and certainly would never be willing to throw everything out and start again.

          That said, I do change, improve, enhance and throw out materials, ideas and methods as well as adjust, adapt and adopt new materials, ideas and methods as I go. Certainly CI has now become central to what and how I do my lessons, now I just need to adjust gradually.

          It is excellent to read of the experiences of others. I think this is the most valuable help and guidance that teachers need.

          1. Kay your honesty of purpose shows in what you wrote here:

            …CI has now become central to what and how I do my lessons, now I just need to adjust gradually….

            So you are like me. I taught AP French lang/lit for 24 years and developed an entire universe of teaching strategies. They all favored smart kids, even at level one, where I grew my future AP students to keep my program strong. Now you see how CI is “central” to what you want to do and are allowing yourself the time to make a natural transition without throwing out what you have already built through a lot of hard work. That is very intelligent. You are taking what you have done and infusing CI into it and you are open to that. What we notice here all the time is that most teachers, and I mean most, who encounter CI don’t think big enough to where they are willing to do that. Such an integration of the new with the old somehow freaks them out and they become instant enemies of what we do. You are showing a lot of class on how you are reacting to CI. Well done.

    1. Leah my view is that the kind of change happening in math and languages is also happening all through the fabric of our entire society, in just about everything. I think these are the birth pains of Mother Earth giving new life to her tired Self. She is bringing in a happier way to live. CI is certainly a happier way to learn a language. We’re moving now from robotic memorization and test taking to real intuitive stuff, marked by real human interaction. It’s a bitchin’ time to be a language teacher these days, in my view, unless one is of the robot variety. Those people are screwed.

  3. Status quo and power at the university level. I attended part of a summer training for Chinese teachers, and they entirely had an ACTFL-based communicative approach as the standard for WL teaching. I talked with one of the Chinese instructors there who asked me for advice, which I was really honored by. (He was a native teacher teaching non-native Chinese teachers that summer.) He realized that causing his students to repeat sentences verbally did not cause them to acquire the language, but that’s what they were expecting, and he really didn’t know how else to do it. He did get that meaningful repetition on his part helped, but I think they want immediate accurate production. Correction of errors was prominent. “Practicing” a sentence structure by replacing words (substitution drills). I sat in on several hours of class as well as presented one afternoon.

    I got to speak there about TPRS and CI, which went very well actually… at least one of the group has dived in fully this school year. Others now know more about this way of teaching, and I learned about how to present and what questions will arise. I used video from a 4th grade class and did things with the group to demonstrate the Three Steps. At the least, there is movement among Chinese teachers towards CI. I think all of the people attending knew of the concept, some were experimenting with it, some could see it worked and wanted to do more.

    1. The Universities are a MASSIVE problem. Innovators in education do not become teachers of teachers. You want to get promoted? Imitate your boss, is a basic workplace lesson. And most researchers– even those who know SLA– don’t know SLA methods and many don’t teach teachers.

      At UBC, head of teacher instruction Wendy Carr– herself a former elementary French teacher– does not know TPRS, and refuses to let people who do know it come in and speak to the student teachers. The people she hires to do “tune up” summer methods courses (for languages teachers who want to up their game) also don’t know CI. Last summer it was a former Surrey languages helping teacher who told me “I don’t have time for TPRS” in her 3-week, 4 hrs/day course.

      1. I agree. I had a parent tell me yesterday that his son, a decent but not exceptional student of mine who took 3 years of Spanish, all with me, tested into the 300 level at his college. (Don’t know which college yet.) I found this pretty impressive. His dad said that the son was talking with his advisor though, because he was worried he’d be expected to know all the linguistic terminology and such if put into a 300 level course. True, but a damn shame.

        1. This happened to some of Anne Matava’s hogs, the class that rocked like no other she’s ever had, a true group where every single kid showed superstar qualities. They went to college and quit their language careers, basically, because it seemed that they didn’t know enough German.

      2. …does not know TPRS, and refuses to let people who do know it come in and speak to the student teachers….

        Sounds like Helena Curtain. So sad. Think of the careers they are bending away from comprehension based teaching.

    2. This is from Robert on that topic of universities having their heads wedged and being a thorn in the side of anyone wanting to do CI in secondary schools:

      …I just got out of a departmental collaboration meeting. Part of the discussion was the district’s attempt to create common assessments across the languages. As we were discussing pacing, a couple of teachers were complaining about having to spend time in second year re-teaching first year, so the pacing guide is out the window. I commented, “And that’s one of the reasons why using a textbook to drive instruction is a problem.” Another teacher immediately said, “As long as colleges use textbooks, then we need to as well.” She got immediate support from another teacher. AGH!…

  4. Control – In TCI we give up control of grammar acquisition. We do it a la natural. Non-CI teachers either don’t want to give up the control or don’t know they can. You know, preterite has to be taught last quarter of level 1 and we have to cover subjunctive in level 3. The more I know about SLA, the more fluency I see my kids gain, the more I find the traditional grammar approach laughable. . . or sickening. . . or frightening.

      1. Not really. They’re certainly “doing” in our classes. It’s just that they’re doing something very different… engaging in real communication with a fluent speaker. They’re not struggling and stumbling their way through something they’re not ready to do yet.

        CI teachers have realistic “expectations” for output. Non-CI teachers do not. (Though, we likely get much better output when it comes, sometimes much earlier than expected.)

      2. I would agree that “learn by doing” is a huge misconception, since “doing” is usually assumed to mean output practice. We “do” in the sense that we practice the receptive skills. To us, there are 2 skill we need to really practice – listening & reading – and not 4 separate skills that each need practice. We have a lot of interaction in TPRS, but TCI doesn’t see the output as what needs to be done.

  5. I would add, too, that some of the fault lies with the students themselves, students who are not willing to show up in a real way or who make us work way too hard to get CI going. It’s not just that I am no good at teaching, these kids sometimes are just no good at learning. Sorry. Gotta say it. We like to blame ourselves but it’s not always our fault.

    My level 3/4 is a group that has actually always, for last 2-3 years, made me work too hard. They don’t like doing their 50%. We are at the end now of about 4 weeks of just reading and doing textivate kind of stuff. Today a kid actually said, “I don’t know how much I learned from this (talking about textivate). I learn more with stories and actors.”

    I responded, “Well this (textivate) stuff is about reading and writing. To be honest, I have to work way too hard in class to get you guys to shut up (my actual words) while we are doing stories. I’ve got a good script we could do next week. But it’s not fair to make me work too hard. I won’t do it. You have to help me.”

    I think I am going to try next week and do this script with them. I am done hiding what I mean to say in nice teacher-speak. Honestly, I am okay working too hard in level 1, but not in level 3/4. It needs to be an easy class for me. I’ve earned it.

    1. OOOOOOO maybe I can have a nice, long, difficult textivate sequence ready to go and say, “Okay, juniors and seniors. I’ve got this story I want to do today. I think you want to do it, too. If we get into it, though, and you’re being too loud and obnoxious and I have to start working too hard, I’ve a textivate ready to go.”

    2. Group dynamics are definitely a factor in how well we are able to use TCI, and the size of the group has an impact as well.

      In my 20 years of teaching, I have had two classes with which I had an especially good relationship over the four years we were together. One was a class of 25 several years ago, and the other was last year’s class of 14. Last year’s class was the easier of the two to work with, and most of the time we literally just sat around and talked or read and discussed. This year two people who were in that class are in a class with 42 third-year students, and everything is extremely different. I have to work much harder, but not just because the class is larger. This particular group has always had – as a group – a difficult time staying on task. I’ve already had a comment about wanting to do stories, and I will try, but I am also at this point doing a lot of reading with the class.

      I agree, James, that we need to be blunter with our students. Or, as my friends would say, “Ich rede Deutsch mit ihnen.” (Literally, I’ll speak German with them; it means to speak directly and not “disguise” what you mean in an attempt to be nice or not rock the boat.) Of course, it needs to be said “matter-0f-factly” and not out of strong emotion.

      On an entirely different note, I came across a free website (courtesy of a Facebook post from Janet Holzer) called Flipquiz ( It has a Jeopardy-style board in which you can type your questions and provide answers. Then you can either use it in class or send students a link so they can play it on their own. I did a game on Berlin sites for my 3/4/AP class because we are doing a virtual visit of Germany’s capital, and it didn’t take very long to do it on my very first attempt. You can submit up to 30 questions (five questions each in six categories), and I easily filled the board with things we’ve discussed in class.

      There is a similar site called jeopardy rock, but it wasn’t as user friendly to me, so I don’t remember the URL, having gone with Flipquiz instead.

      1. I would love a mix of lots of reading and a few stories in the upper levels. I just haven’t had a group in level 3/4 capable of staying on task during stories. Maybe this group can, if I approach it in the right way.

  6. Yes James. Good on you. When we encounter a class that will not hear us, hear our needs as teachers, we do not give them our best work. We give them easy busy work. We use the book if we have to. And we don’t “give them a chance”. We do that all year if we have to. Such a great point you make here.

  7. I wonder if one of the biggest problems with change is that what is new gets looked at through an old lens. Rather than start from a blank slate, assumptions of the past muddy intents to answer the big questions: How do we best develop student proficiency? What is the most useful language to students? How do we develop accuracy?

    So, some people can’t see TPRS for what it really is, because they’re looking at it with all these assumptions of how language acquisition happens. Other teachers try to integrate the new into the old. They can’t give up on the assumption that language has to be taught in thematic units or the assumption that grammar can be acquired in a linear sequence decided by a textbook, so they try to TPRS the old curriculum (or in some instances, teachers are required by the department to cover the textbook curriculum).

  8. I have been making progress in my department and am slowly getting more teachers to buy in more and more to teaching for proficiency. However, there are still some who are very strongly opposed to the direction I am trying to lead us in. In a recent department meeting, two of the most vocal complainers, no doubt in an attempt to make me look bad in front of my principal who happened to be in attendance, told me, “Matthew, teaching for proficiency sounds fine and all, but you are actually doing your kids a disservice. When they get to high school, they will be expected to fill in worksheets and grammar tests. If you haven’t prepared them for that, you will have wasted their entire time in middle school.”

    While these two teachers do actually have a personal vendetta against me, even the others who I am starting to win over had similar objections at first. If our kids can’t fill in the stupid worksheets they have to do at the next level, it reflects badly on us.

    1. I love these stupid comments made by traditional teachers.

      I’d ask: What would the next level teachers prefer, a student of higher language proficiency and less linguistic knowledge, OR lower language proficiency and more linguistic knowledge?

      The goal of the traditional teachers is not proficiency. In a 1.5 hour meeting I had to listen to the traditional level 1 scope and sequence explained, as well as hear how it fits ACTFL’s Standards and not once were the terms “fluency” nor “proficiency” mentioned. NOT ONCE !!!!!

      This is another reason we need our own CI Tests, because the traditional worksheet tests don’t accurately measure all our students can do with the language.

    2. Anybody can teach them to fill in worksheets. That is why worksheets exist in the first place. If the HS teachers cannot teach them to fill in worksheets, what can they teach them? That is what we teach until we learn how to teach the language (if we ever do).

  9. During parent conferences, the “specials” teachers can use their free time for professional development and go visit other schools.

    In that process I have read quite a few scope and sequences for public/private schools in the tri-state NY area. Now I am the first one to admit that I found it difficult to express coherently within 4-5 sentences what I do in class.

    That said, I am amazed at the number of FL programs that still rely on teaching grammar rules, early language production and memorization of words.

    They’re not even embarassed to admit it.

Leave a Comment

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

The Problem with CI

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

CI and the Research (cont.)

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

Research Question

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

We Have the Research

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben