• IMPROV e English Team

Two Alternative Methods of Teaching Foreign Languages


Education is probably the most important aspect in our times. Without education a state would have no medical service, no computer specialists, no politics and democracy, no business, no economy, short a state would not work at all.

Education is the key for individual chances and success in life, and the driving force for developments in society. Prosperity derives from education. Culture is a result of education, just as interest in politics and most important perspectives for later occupations. Politics concerning education cannot work where not enough attention is paid to achievements in school, where it seems to be not important what students learn in contrast to students in other states.

The recent PISA-study showed unfortunately how little attention was paid to education in Germany in the last decades. It is not possible to find a convincing answer to where the problem was, may it be the German school-system, the instruction of new teachers at universities, teachers who are no longer motivated after having reached the state of an official, parents who do not seem to care about their children’s abilities in reading and writing. In fact, a change in our school-system is Germany’s deepest need at the moment to improve pupils’ achievements.

Therefore alternative methods will probably gain more and more interest in our school- and teaching-system. Iwill try to introduce, describe and discuss some of these methods. I will show up their difficulties, risks and also possible chances. In the end I will try to decide if those approaches will find their ways sooner or later or if they will remain utopian.

2. Description of the methods

2.1. Total physical response

Total physical response was first invented by Dr. James Asher in the 60’s and 70’s of the 20. century. Learning a foreign language by the TPR-method is based on behaviouristic psychology. TPR students are supposed to learn as children do when they learn their mother tongue. TPR is meant as a stimulus-response action, like in the adult’s language adressed to children. This means the teacher “showing” and “acting” what he has just said before, so that students understand and internalize the vocabulary, like they did when they learned their native tounge as their parents talked to them. Furthermore motivation and self-confidence are increased, due to fast success in the student’s understatement and oral skills.

Basically, TPR consists of simple advices, which are given in the very beginning of the course, and of complex actions, which are taught in the end. For example in the beginning Students are taken by their teacher’s hand while he or she gives the students the advice to for instance stand up, as the teacher himself does the same together with the students.

In slide-shows and on pictures the context for the new vocabulary is presented. Simple advices consisting only of one word are supposed to be extended at the moment the first one is understood. If it is not understood it has to be repeated and their order has to be changed. It is possible to build chains of actions, always taken for granted that the teacher does the new action simultaneously with the students.

Those advices are to be repeated about ten times by the teacher followed by the obligatory physical action. The first five times the students have to act promptly after having received the advice, the following five times the action has to happen a certain time later. After the first sequence of ten new orders students have to pass a memory test. They have to react physically to the orders they have learned until then. After having passed this test, the teacher extends the one-word-advice to short sentences. The repetition of these advices is reduced further during the course with the aim that every advice has to be given only once. Later those orders are integrated into simple questions that fit into the context in class, e.g. “Where is the black- board?”.[2]

Not only the imperative is introduced in the TPR course, but also temporal and conditional additions, e.g. “If x opens the door, you will then close the window!”.

In the beginning of the course students do not have to speak. Later they may speak if they feel up to it, and take the role of ordering and asking. The teacher writes every new word on the board and students may copy if they want.

If in the beginning of the course an advice is not reacted to in the right way, it is interpreted as a difficulty in understanding and it is repeated therefore. TPR does not criticize students for mistakes, it is rather the teacher, who did something wrong.

The main aim of TPR is not to make the students know all the grammar and to make them write proper essays, but rather enable the students to speak and to lead a whole conversation. As TPR understands itself as a method to learn a foreign language as fast as children do, mistakes are rarely corrected. Children learn by making mistaktes but nobody corrects them at once. It is more important to understand the new language and to be understood even if some little mistakes are made, than to speak it properly from the very start on.

2.2. Community Language Learning

Community Language Learning was invented by Charles A. Curran in the70’s of the last century, almost in the days of TPR.

The idea behind Community Language Learning is to reach maturity and independence in and with the new language. Psychic, emotional and cognitive growth is the basic means to reach those aims. I will explain this later.

The course itself resembles a group-analytic-session with the group members sitting in a circle around a cassette-recorder with a microphone, which tapes the whole course. One of the students proposes - spoken in the native tounge - a topic to talk about. The teacher whispers an appropriate translation into the student’s ear for his utterance, which he has to repeat aloud. It is the student’s task to intonate and pronounce as proper as possible. Another student gives his answer just as the first one did. First uttered in the “old” language, followed by the teacher’s whisper, then given in the new language.

The teacher may stop this first “conversation” at the point when she/he believes enough sentences were spoken. Then the cassette is played sentence by sentence and written on the blackboard. The teacher explains the grammatical structures and the students have to copy this text, which is then read by the teacher with its actual intonation. It is a first step to create a completely new and individual textbook for this special course.

After having written down the topics of the first lesson, the students are supposed to work in small groups on the text in order to build new, longer sentences with the new grammatical structures. Later those sentences are read to the whole class and eventually corrected by the teacher. In the end of one lesson there is a kind of reflection in which questions may be asked by the students concerning the new language. Emotional impressions are talked about which the students experienced during the lesson. This conversation is held in the mother language.

It is possible to learn even more than one language with Community Language Learning, when the students do not share the same mother tongue.

The teacher’s role is reduced to a “counselor”, who stays in the background and whose help is only needed, if students ask for it. So the students teach each other more effectively than being taught by a single teacher, who already knows the new language.[3]

As I said before, Community Language Learning tries to reach maturity and independence in the new language by physical, emotional and cognitive growth. This development is described in five different stages, which do not have clear distinctions:

In the first stage, students are completely dependent of the teacher, who has to translate everything into the new language. Students will soon gain more confidence in their own skills, which represents the second step. They will try to speak, but are given help all the time. Having reached the third step, students will be able to talk in the new language without formulating their thoughts aloud in the mother language before. In the fourth step the group is watched by the teacher, who only helps with complex thoughts and sentences, grammatical problems or false pronunciation. In the fifth and last step the rare mistakes are corrected and better constructions are offered.


-Katrin Zielina (Author), 2002, Alternative methods of teaching foreign languages, Munich, GRIN Verlag,

-[1] see Ortner, Brigitte: Alternative Methoden im Fremdsprachenunterricht, Hueber Verlag, Ismaning 1998, page 61f

[2] see Ortner, page 59

[3] see Ortner, page 89

[4] see Ortner, page 138

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