Learn ESL Through Movement

Dr. James Asher's World Famous Method: Total Physical Reponse

Students standing in classroom
Getting up and moving can help students learn ESL. Hero Images / Getty Images

If you've tried, and struggled, to learn English as a second language (ESL) the usual ways, it's time to try it Dr. James Asher's way—through movement.

With a student seated on each side of him, Asher demonstrates his technique by asking them to do what he does. That's all. They don't repeat what he says, they just do what he does.

"Stand," he says, and he stands. They stand.

"Walk," Asher says, and he walks.

They walk.

"Turn. Sit. Point."

Within minutes, he gives commands as complicated as, "Walk to the chair and point at the table," and his students can do it by themselves.

Here's the clincher. In his DVD, he demonstrates in Arabic, a language nobody in the room knows.

In study after study, Asher has found that students of all ages can learn a new language quickly and stress-free in just 10-20 hours of silence. Students simply listen to a direction in the new language and do what the instructor does. Asher says, "After understanding a huge chunk of the target language with TPR, students spontaneously begin to speak. At this point, students reverse roles with the instructor and utter directions to move their classmates and the instructor." Voila.

Asher is the originator of the Total Physical Response approach to learning any language. His book, Learning Another Language Through Actions, is in its sixth edition.

In it, Asher describes how he discovered the power of learning languages through physical movement, and the lengths to which he went to prove the technique through scientific experimentation involving the differences between the right and left brain.

Asher's studies have proven that while the left brain puts up a fight against the memorization of new languages that occurs in so many classrooms, the right brain is completely open to responding to new commands, immediately.

He is adamant about the need to comprehend a new language silently, by simply responding to it, before attempting to speak it, much like a new child imitates his or her parents before beginning to make sounds.

While the book is on the academic side, and a little dry, it includes Asher's fascinating research, a lengthy and comprehensive Q&A that covers questions from both teachers and students, a directory of TPR presenters around the world, comparisons to other techniques, and get this, 53 lesson plans. That's right—53! He walks you through how to teach TPR in 53 specific sessions.

Can learning take place if the students remain in their seats? Yes. Sky Oaks Productions, publisher of Asher's work, sells wonderful full-color kits of different settings such as home, airport, hospital, supermarket, and playground. Think Colorforms. Remember the pliable plastic forms that stick on a board and easily peel off to move? Responding to imperatives with these kits has the same result as physically moving.

Asher also shares samples of mail he has received from people around the world. One of his letters is from Jim Baird, who writes that his classroom has wall-to-wall white boards on which he has created communities and complete countries.

Baird writes:

Students are required to drive, walk (with their fingers), fly, hop, run, etc. between buildings or cities, pick up things or people and deliver them to other places. They can fly into an airport and rent a car and drive it to another city where they can catch a flight or a boat, all kinds of possibilities. Sure is fun!

Asher is generous with the materials and information he provides on his Sky Oaks Productions website, known as TPR World. He is clearly passionate about his work, and it's easy to see why.

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Peterson, Deb. "Learn ESL Through Movement." ThoughtCo, Jun. 23, 2017, thoughtco.com/learn-esl-through-movement-31248. Peterson, Deb. (2017, June 23). Learn ESL Through Movement. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/learn-esl-through-movement-31248 Peterson, Deb. "Learn ESL Through Movement." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/learn-esl-through-movement-31248 (accessed December 12, 2017).