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You are here: Family Issues > Raising Bilingual children

Total Physical Response (TPR)

TPR is a way of teaching someone another language, no matter the age of the person. The idea is that spoken language accompanied by physical movement facilitates learning because both halves of the brain are involved. Developed by James Asher, it coordinates language and physical movement, which somewhat imitates how children learn a first language. This method is introduced in a Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics (GIAL) and also recommended by SIL's Language and Culture team.

Advantages of TPR

  1. Instant understanding of the target language (i.e., “Stand up.”)
  2. Retention of the language, which happens quickly and lasts long term.
  3. Stress-free learning since everyone can do it.

These come from the major principles of TPR:

Major Principles

  • Language is learned primarily by listening.
  • Language learning should involve the right side of the brain.
  • Language learning should be stress free.

How it works

The teacher (or parent) gives commands in the target language, using motions to act out the commands. The children repeat the motion as the teacher repeats the command. They learn the meaning by observing the action. At the beginning, the focus is on actions and a few related vocabulary words, introducing just a few at a time (12-36 in an hour of instruction). Grammar is not taught; rather it is acquired subconsciously as more and more vocabulary is taught and the child hears complete sentences.

TPR works best with beginning students, but it does not need to be limited to young children. Continuing this method for too long becomes difficult for the teacher as it becomes harder to find props to use, and it mainly teaches just one form of the verb (commands). However, it does help people who have difficulty just sitting still, and it does help to learn things more in context than just looking at it on a page.


Children will start speaking the new language when they are ready. If they start out and pronounce something incorrectly, just repeat it correctly, just as you did when your children were first learning to talk in their mother tongue.

For more information:

 15 Variations on TPR for little kids

 Total Physical Response (TPR) - Teacher Training film no. 8 - video (3:00)

 Total Physical Response (TPR) - video (6:57)