TPRS and Language Learning History

TPRS | A Little Bit Of History

For thousands of years kids learned languages by listening to them. Meaningful, comprehensible input was all they knew, so the languages they heard were easy for them. Adults would say things to them that had meaning, look them in the eyes, tell them stories, pause if they didn’t understand, look for their reaction, smile and laugh, sing them songs, and, on a good day, even chant. Adults would ask them questions repeatedly. They learned because it felt right, because what they heard meant something to them.

Then, for the first time since kids started learning languages, they found out they could be wrong. Unexpectedly, adults started asking kids to learn languages not by listening to them, but by looking at them, how they were constructed, the pieces of language, etc.

Kids were forced into analyzing language, trying to understand what an adverb is, as if that could be understood, and what a stem changing verb is. They saw that their success depended on their ability to grasp these ideas. They stopped listening to the language in a way that had meaning to them, and they started conjugating verbs. This new method had predictable results. Kids learned slowly. Many gave up and put their heads on the desk. It felt wrong to them. But it went on for a hundred years. It is still going on.

Then Blaine Ray came along, and said, “What is going on here?” Blaine suggested that we return to more traditional ways of teaching, ways that convey meaning to the learners. A few embraced his ideas, but many attacked him as being “non-traditional”.

One is prompted to ask, “Who, really, are the traditional teachers?” Blaine and his merry band, or those who espouse the new-fangled notion that the way to learn a language is by breaking it up into little pieces and analyzing them?

This site is dedicated to all people, not just teachers, who understand the important role of bringing meaning back into what we do, all of us, when we try to learn another language.