The differences in philosophy between TPRS and traditional language education:

  1. TPRS is a student-driven methodology. It responds to the linguistic needs of the students at any given time. This makes it free-flowing curricularly.
  2. TPRS believes that we should shelter (limit) vocabulary, focusing on the top 100 words then adding words based on high interest and communicative needs, but not sheltering grammar – using grammar naturally.
  3. TPRS believes that linguistic features are acquired in a natural order and that the brain cannot be forced to acquire a feature out of sequence or before it is ready.
  4. TPRS believes that each learner acquires knowledge at his/her own pace – that no two students are at the same point in learning at the same time.
  5. In TPRS we believe that student output cannot be forced. Students need hundreds of hours of repetitive input before they are ready for unrehearsed, spontaneous output. Much like a baby hears his/her first language for thousands of hours before being able to produce meaningful language. We believe that activities practicing output before students have reached this point is counter-productive and leads only to short-term learning goals, not to long-term acquisition.
  6. TPRS adheres to the Monitor Theory – we believe that direct instruction of grammatical rules in not helpful until upper levels of instruction, after students have acquired these grammatical features through context. At such a time students can use the analytical rules to polish their understanding, and to become truly literate in the language. Prior to this, overfocus on the rules inhibits student production and acquisition – students focus on rules rather than meaning. In TPRS grammatical features are highlighted through the use of brief explanations that focus on meaning not rules. i.e. The -n on this verb means that more than one person is doing it.
  7. TPRS believes that language instruction should be practical and focused on communication in areas that currently interest students.


  1. The Pacing Guide assumes that instruction and pacing are based on the curriculum, that they are not student-driven. This leads to a curriculum that is not especially responsive to student needs.
  2. The Pacing Guide does not shelter vocabulary. It shelters grammar. Students are expected to learn copious amounts of vocabulary for each chapter. Yet, students are exposed to one discrete feature of grammar at a time.
  3. By sheltering grammar the Pacing Guide does not allow for Natural Order of Acquisition. It does not provide adequate exposure to late acquired features early on and expects mastery of some late acquired features in beginning stages.
  4. The Pacing Guide exists to make learning uniform across the district. Every student in the district is expected to learn the same material at the same time.
  5. The Pacing Guide and accompanying benchmark exams are filled with output oriented activities. The philosophy is that practice with output rather than time of input produces accurate spontaneous output in students.
  6. The Pacing Guide, benchmark exams, and department teachers assume direct instruction in grammatical rules. They assume that students will know technical terminology and will be able to discuss the grammatical features in a metacognitive fashion.
  7. The Pacing Guide etc. assumes that language acquisition is an academic activity that will result in preparation for college and perhaps eventual communication in the language. Areas that currently interest students are not covered if they do not fit into the long-term goals of academic study.

An analogy:

In a way, the pacing guide is like the old practice in manufacturing of ordering and stockpiling a bunch of materials on a rigid and pre-set schedule – it might sit there for a long time without being used. TPRS is like the more modern practice of ordering “on demand”. As something is needed, it is ordered and used. The second way is simpler, more efficient, and more economical. The pacing guide is an attempt to recreate the old style factory production line. Why try to do that when factories don’t even do it anymore – at least the ones that aren’t shut down!

It is no wonder that students find much of their school experience boring, irrelevant, mystifying and unengaging; it is almost diametrically opposed to how they learn on their own. Early 20th-century methods in a 21st-century world leave everyone behind.

Comparison taken from “La Profe Loca” by Jennifer (“La profe loca”); posted on Ben Slavic’s blog, 21 April 2010; downloaded 23 April 2010 Analogy by Chris; comment posted under “La Profe Loca” on Ben Slavic’s blog, 22 April 2010; downloaded 23 April 2010