Let’s talk… TPRS and how it helps you learn Spanish

TPRS to learn Spanish in images: a teacher reading to kids, reading a book, a story comes to life, storytelling

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TPR.. what?! I was the same when I first heard this accronym in the context of second language learning. And I was skeptical. Very. I just didn’t understand how you could teach or learn a language through storytelling. 

Hello? What are we, 3 years old?

But then I did some more research and started following other teachers that apply this methodology in their language classes. And so I found the name of the guy that developed TPRS and the foundation of it, then trained to use it in class… and voilà. 

Here I am wanting to tell you about it, because as of today, I don’t see any other methodology to teach second languages. And my kids often hear me say that I wished they learned their French in school with this, because then they would really speak sentences and not mumble words.

So what is TPRS?

TPRS is an accronym that stands for Teaching Proficiency through Storytelling and Reading and you can learn any language with this method. 

It was developed back in the 1980s by Blaine Ray, an  American High School teacher of Spanish. Frustrated that traditional teaching methods often leave students behind, and most importantly, not necessarily focus on teaching to speak but just to pass tests, he started using 2 methodologies of language acquisition in his classes. These were Comprehensible Input and TPR. Long story short, he developed TPRS in the end, with great results for his students: they started really speaking Spanish and doing better in standardised tests. 

This method focuses on bringing to class engaging and varied stories, where students bring in the details  and everybody gets involved resulting in more motivated students that truly learn the language. 

"This is all very nice and interesting, an' all, but how can TPRS help me learn Spanish?" You may be asking yourself

So, this is how a Beginners class with me looks like:

What about grammar?

Grammar is implicit in each sentece that you work on. And the questions I ask you are so planned that you practice the conjugation of each person (I, you, he/she) with every sentence, while at the same time enriching the story and personalising it. That means that you learn by doing. Or learn by speaking. Sort of how you learnt your first language.

By keeping things simple (one verb, one sentence at a time, with comprehensible vocabulAs its name implies, with TPRS, you will learn to be proficient in the language you’re learning. 

Thus you won’t need to memorise conjugation endings, do lots of gap-filling exercises and then try to say a full sentence without any help. Far from it.

Do I really learn Spanish through stories?

Think of it this way: babies learn their first language through listening and children start speaking in short sentences. Slowly, through lots of practice they perfect the speaking skill. And reading stories with mom or dad helps a lot, both to hear structures and to expand vocabulary naturally.

It isn’t until they go to school at age 5 or 6 that they start learing, and are conscious, what a verb, a noun, a preposition and an adverb is. Nevermind the subject, direct and indirect objects and what role they play in the sentence and what ending we put to them to distinguish them from other types of words.

Was that too much information there?

Exactly. You don’t need so much information when you’re learning Spanish. Not when you’re starting anyway. Further down the road, when you’re more an advanced student, then it makes sense to dig deeper into the language, but not when you’re starting.

Final thoughts

I’m not saying this is the or only methodology for you to learn Spanish. I think that this is the best one, but it is only my opinion.

What I’m also not saying is that I discovered, invented or developed TPRS. Far from it. I’m just a user of it because I’m convinced of its efficacy and I’d love you gave it a try.

However, if you feel that you need to do lots of grammar exercises and want long lists of vocabulary to feel that you’re learning, go for it! But then I’m not the right fit for you.

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