Future Directions for fast, stress-free learning on the right side of the brain
By James J. Asher, Ph.D. Page 2

The first achievement in language acquisition is exquisite skill in understanding the target language. I call this understanding comprehension literacy. Observations of infants show that most babies internalize, through body movements, an intricate linguistic map of how the language works before the infant is ready to talk. And when talk appears, it will be fragmented, distorted, and primitive compared with a fluent understanding of the target language. Furthermore, throughout the child's development, production will lag far behind comprehension. Language acquisition is clearly a linear progression with comprehension first, then production. Never do we observe infants in any culture or in any historical period showing language acquisition starting with production followed by comprehension.

The phenomenon of comprehension followed by production is so striking that it suggests a design in the brain and nervous system with "biological wiring" programmed like this: Talk will not be triggered until the infant has internalized enough details in the linguistic map. Clearly, the triggering mechanism for production is comprehension literacy. Biological wiring is not a metaphor, but has definite reference points in the brain as suggested by Broca's Area (located in the frontal region of the left hemisphere) which, if damaged, disturbs speech and Wernicke's Area (located in the posterior region of the first temporal gyrus) which, if injured, produces impaired comprehension of speech.

It is significant that the location in the brain for speech and comprehension is distinctly different. For example, the clinical literature has many case histories of brain injured patients who can speak but cannot comprehend sentences uttered by others, and other patients who can comprehend what is said to them but cannot speak. Future research with high-technology brain scanning equipment will probably show that the infant's brain first lights the circuitry in Wernicke's Area with intense neuro-electrical activity that continues for many months before the circuitry in Broca's Area becomes busy.

Incidentally, there is no evidence that the "biological wiring" for language acquisition changes as the infant develops into childhood and then adulthood. And, indeed, our experiments (Asher, 2000) together with classroom observations of children and adults (Garcia, 2001) suggest that a linear progression from comprehension to production is imperative for most students (perhaps 95%) if they are to achieve multi-skill fluency in a second language. The evidence is clear, however, that a "progression" starting with production (teaching children and adults to talk, read or write) is an illusion since it results in a success rate of only 4% (Asher, 2000).

Comprehension Literacy

How to help second language learners achieve it

If comprehension is a critical first step in the language acquisition process to give students a "head start," then how to proceed? Fortunately, several dozen books together with video demonstrations are now available to guide language instructors step-by-step. I have listed many of them in the references at the end of this article. If you choose to apply the Total Physical Response to help your students achieve comprehension literacy, then I recommend that you start with my book, Learning Another Language Through Actions* which explains the theory, summarizes the research, answers the most often-asked-questions about TPR, and then presents practical day-to-day lessons for 150 hours of classroom instruction.

For additional practical lessons and hundreds of valuable tips for a successful TPR experience with your students, I recommend Ramiro Garcia's book, Instructor's Notebook: How To Apply TPR For Best Results*. In the second edition of my book, Brainswitching: Learning on the Right Side of the Brain*, you will find hundreds of practical examples that demonstrate how to use movement (and other high-powered techniques to transfer information from the left to the right brain. This switching from one side of the brain to the other helps students achieve stress-free internalization of "complex" concepts in mathematics and science. For more suggestions on how to implement successful right brain teaching, see my book: The Super School of the 21st Century*.

Classroom Applications

Infants acquire language during language-body conversations with their parents. When students in the classroom have language-body conversations with their instructor, they achieve comprehension significantly faster than infants. Here is the reason: infants are limited in their range of physical responses. School children and adults, by comparison, enjoy a vast network of physical movements such as writing, cooking, drawing pictures, driving vehicles, playing games, operating computers, riding bicycles, and so on. Fluent understanding that takes years for infants to acquire can be achieved by students in a fraction of the time using TPR.

Here is a sample of a language-body conversation in the classroom: We begin with what Dr. David Wolfe, a master TPR instructor of French and Spanish working in the Philadelphia schools, calls the "big eight"-that is single commands of stand, sit, walk, turn, run, stop, squat, and jump.

Typically, the instructor will invite a student to sit on either side and listen carefully to what the instructor will utter in the target language (with no translation) and do exactly what they see the instructor doing. (To further relax students, they are briefed that they are to be silent and not attempt to pronounce any of the utterances they will be hearing.) The instructions are, "Relax, be comfortable, listen, watch what I do and do exactly the same thing. I will not ask you to pronounce any of the utterances you will be hearing."

The instructor then says in the target language, "Stand," and stands up motioning for the students sitting on either side to rise. Then, "Sit" and the instructor with the students sits down. Next, "Stand, Walk, Stop, Turn,..." etc. After hearing the commands several times and acting along with the students, the instructor sits down and invites individual students (including those observing in the audience) to perform alone in response to the commands. The intent is to demonstrate to each of the students that they have indeed internalized the strange utterances and understand them perfectly.

From the "big eight," unending combinations are possible to help students rapidly and gracefully internalize an intricate linguistic map of how the target language works. Examples of combinations that number in thousands of sentences starting with the "big eight" would be: "Stand, walk to the chalkboard and touch the eraser."

"Walk to the door, open it, and ask, "Who is there?"

"Run to the chalkboard, write your name, and under your name, write my name."

"If I walk to the table, and pick up a piece of paper, you run to the closet and get the broom."

Once understanding is achieved and students begin to talk, then what?

Internalizing understanding of the phonology, morphology, and semantics of a target language is not a trivial achievement. It cannot be rushed. It will take time and patience. However, I can promise that if you use the language-body conversations of TPR, students will internalize the target language rapidly in huge chunks rather than word-by-word. The success of this procedure is a heady experience for both the instructor and the students. The instructor will feel enormous power and the students will feel that something magical is happening to them.

I can also promise that as the process of understanding through the body continues, at some point, each student will be ready to talk. This readiness to talk varies from student to student. A few will be ready almost immediately, others will not be ready for many weeks, but most seem to be eager to talk after 10 to 20 hours of TPR instruction. It is important to respect each student's decision as to when that person is ready to talk.

Again, this readiness cannot be forced by the instructor; it will appear spontaneously and when students begin to talk, it will not be perfect. There will be many distortions, but gradually, production will shape itself in the direction of the native speaker. Whether production will be accent-free is a function of age. Before puberty, the probability is extremely high that the student will be accent-free, but after puberty, the probability is almost certain that the individual will have some accent no matter how many years the person lives in the foreign country. (For more on this important issue, see Asher, 2000, and Garcia, 2001).

What can be done to accelerate the development of production

As language-body conversations continue, the student internalizes more and more details about the phonology, morphology and semantic structure of the target language. This internalization process proceeds in a kind of linguistic zero-gravity because the student seems to float in a weightlessness state. Each move seems effortless. The language code imprints at a rapid rate with an ease that gives the illusion that nothing has happened. When the internal linguistic map is imprinted with enough detail, talk is released analogous to the spontaneous appearance of speech in infants. As with the infant, speech is distorted, fragmented, and develops in slow-motion compared with the flashing speed the student has been internalizing comprehension.

Speech appears in "role reversal" after about 10 to 20 hours of TPR instruction. At this point, the instructor invites students who are ready, to assume the role of the instructor and utter commands to direct the behavior of fellow students and the instructor. In a search to accelerate the develop of production- that is, talking, reading, and writing, an experienced TPR instructor of Spanish, Blaine Ray, has successfully tested with his level 1 high school and college students a storytelling technique which he calls, Look, I Can Talk*. This is a student textbook, now available in English, Spanish, French, and German, in which students listen and watch as the instructor tells an illustrated story in the target language using familiar vocabulary. Gestures are used to cue different words in the story such as a whistle and a slap on the thigh for dog and rubbing of the thumb and forefinger to represent money. Then, using gestures, each student is invited to retell the story in their own words to another student.

After that, each student writes the story using their own words. Rapidly, story by story, students are amazed to discover that they can express themselves in speech, reading and writing. You can order for your level 2 students, Look, I Can Talk More!* in English, Spanish, French, and German and for level 3 students, Look, I'm Still Talking*. Todd McKay has written and pretested for eight years a series of student books entitled, TPR Storytelling: especially for students in elementary and middle school*. (For more details on these books, see the pages in the back of this book.)

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