Ci & tprs


I absolutely agree, there is a stubborn misperception about languages being 'so hard to learn' (and teach). [I also suspect that this misperception is highly profitable to education businesses and bureaucracies.] I imagine we both know that languages may not always be easy (look at how much we have to work to understand one another in our native tongue!), but learning and teaching languages can be deeply rewarding and a lot of fun. Stepping into a classroom where students are resentful and sullen or otherwise written-off and applying CI techniques is an extremely rewarding experience. I take it that you would also like to make these kinds of experiences (for teachers and students and parents, etc) more commonplace. And, I am convinced that using these techniques has a spill-over effect across children's and families' lives.

But, I think if you talk about CI as a technique rather than as an attitude, it will just be put into that big stack of techniques that grows a little higher each year. This industry or profession is in need of a paradigm shift. I think that for those who still think teaching language is about grammar or spelling or analytically chopping up language and piecing it back together again (and there are a lot of them, they are entrenched, and they are extremely certain about it), the Krashen video is more likely to have an impact on that kind of person and those prejudices. My strong suspicion is that the Slavic video will leave that sort of person thinking that this is just another technique. They will say, "That class looks like fun. My class likes to play sticky-ball for fun." Or, "maybe I should buy one of those light pointers, too." They will not be able to comprehend what is afoot.

That's why I said the Krashen video is not 'a poor demonstration'.


I think CI is a theory or approach. A method is how you do something; a theory is why you do it.

Basically, in foreign language today, you have two camps: those who believe that language is improved through learning more rules and practicing using those rules (the "Rules-and-Output" camp) and those who believe language is improved by hearing language you can understand (the "Comprehensible Input" camp). There are two major FL teachers' e-mail lists (FL-TEACH and moreTPRS on Yahoogroups) in the US which are split almost exactly down these lines.

Within each camp are different methodologies. There are quite a few methods within the Rules-and-Output paradigm -- in fact, language has been taught that way just about ever since it's been formally taught. The CI movement is much newer, and there are not as many well-established methods that are based on the idea that CI is what makes people acquire languages, so many times TPRS and CI get lumped together or used interchangeably, which isn't accurate. There are lots of teachers who teach using CI but don't use TPRS per se.

(Just saying.)


Really, I had just wanted to make the limited claim that the Krashen video was good, after one comment said it was "relatively poor".

I am not sure this is true. Apparently, I was doing CI long before I had any inkling that there was such a thing called "CI" or "TPRS". I am not sure how formalized TPRS is to say whether or not that's what I have been doing. Moreover, I 'developed' my own little brand in reaction to the fun/brutality polarity that is so prevalent (teach the kids by abandoning all discipline and having 'fun' vs rote and mental and/or physical torture), so the likelihood that those ideas seeped in from from CI/TPRS is highly unlikely. I was absolutely thrilled when I first heard about CI/TPRS, because I had become long convinced that I was virtually alone doing that kind of stuff. It was especially frustrating, because even when people who liked how I teached, they inevitably fit it into the "fun" or "rote" categories or saw it as merely a blending of the two rather than a tertium quid.

My point is that I started doing some variety of CI/TPRS based on the reactionary epistemological work I had done as a political philosophy student. It's effectively a more coercive form of dialectics. And, not to speak for Slavic, his website says much the same thing, at least as regards the pedigree of TPRS...

I am convinced that the insight at the foundation of CI/TPRS is much more ancient than is the current way, which is mechanistic and abstract and bureaucratic (for lack of a better word). I have not looked deeply into the question of ESL as such, but I strongly suspect that this general phenomenon has something to do with the rapid pace with which we have established universal compulsory education. Gardner's "The Disciplined Mind", for example, suggests a return to an almost Arnoldian, classical education because of the failure of our "modern" system.

(If I recall correctly, honors physics students at MIT and Johns Hopkins(?) were asked to explain the flipping of a coin, in response to which they began to posit new physical forces in addition to gravity).

Modernity (not to take the conversation too far afield) looks at knowledge in terms of quantity and category, whereas classical and romantic education saw knowledge as a by-product of character (or passion, for the romantics), experience, and reflection. Unfortunately, you cannot just establish a school system, hire teachers, institute tests, and replicate the outcome.

One would think that the sciences would be the most amenable to this quantity and rules-based form of education, but it doesn't work, if you don't address the psychological depth of the student. How much more true must that be of language? And, yet, here we still are.

That's why I think the Krashen video is good, not poor. (Ceterum censeo!) :slight_smile:


Interesting thread, I think I might order those Ben Slavic dvds. The link to the 47 page pdf is broken, by the way. I'd appreciate it if someone could re-link to it.

My question is how to make this work online? All the examples given concern classrooms. Is anyone using TPRS to teach online - groups and one-on-ones? How do you do it? Is it going well?


Dial: The person who got the rest of us here interested in TPRS -- ironlady -- does online TPRS Chinese classes.

Here's the link to the handout:
Here's the page that that is on:


Thanks for those links GIT. You're right, ironLady does teach online. (She was the one who got me interested in TPRS, too).I hope she responds with some detail of how she makes TPRS work online.


I don't really do full TPRS online, but I do teach through comprehensible input. I still use many of the techniques of TPRS. I do not have the words on the wall to point to (which is difficult), but I do provide real-time (more or less :blush: ) "subtitling" of any words I believe the student might not comprehend, using the chat function on Skype. I'm teaching using video, so I can see the student's eyes and try to judge comprehension. Otherwise, I pick an item to start, and we jointly decide on who will be doing that action and what will happen thereafter. The important thing is the comprehensibility of the language used, the limitation of the vocabulary and the non-limitation of the structure, and the high amount of repetition.


I'm curious to know what level your students are at, and if you've had any experience of trying to introduce TPRS to higher level students who have had no experience in the method.

I've been trying to nudge some of my students in this direction recently. One thing I've done is direct them to the site The site features free podcasts of stories read slowly followed by an explanation of the story. They place a heavy emphasis on comprehensible English and the host is a colleague of Klashen's. My students proclaimed it too slow and boring!

How suitable is TPRS for higher level learners?


I meant to say, all of this is quite useful- thanks. I can imagine there might be ways to put the words up to be pointed to - perhaps simply written via the chat function? And I can imagine maintaining comprehensibility of language, limitation of vocab, et al. There is an issue in subtitling, however, in that these students all have much better English language skills than my ability in their native language. I presume it's ok, even quite desirable to 'subtitle' in the language being learned?

A more difficult example: I'm no longer teaching in Taiwan, and a recent class, for example, featured a range of Asian languages, as well as Spanish, German and Arabic. They weren't a beginner class, but if they had been, how would I have subtitled?

I'm not trying to find fault here, just exploring the scope of the method.


I have. It depends. The method will work for them, but the trick is whether or not they will work with the method. Many "advanced" students believe that they know how to learn a language -- after all, that's how they got to be "advanced". So they are hesitant about a method with no homework, where they aren't doing pairwork or speaking a lot, and where there is no overt grammar introduced.

This is why TPRS does better than just "easy" stuff. The art of TPRS as a teacher is to keep the class interesting, even though you are pounding the same three words eighty or more times per class period. When you start counting, eighty times is a LOT. Lots of times, you'll feel like you got in a lot of repetitions, and the count person says "25". Simply having easy material doesn't keep the learner engaged. The context is not unpredictable, which is an important way of keeping students engaged.

TPRS is a very specific tool. It is intended to get the STRUCTURE (aka grammar) of a language into the learner's head (acquired for natural, spontaneous and correct use, not just memorized) as quickly and thoroughly as possible. We are trying to produce little miniature native speakers with an extremely narrow vocabulary.

Once you get to that point, which I call "initial fluency" -- where the student can use all of the structures of the language easily and without thought, all correctly, but does not have command of much vocabulary -- TPRS is no longer a very useful tool. At that point, what the student needs is comprehensible input in general -- lots of reading and lots of listening to materials that contain some unknown words, but not too many (not to become frustrating). When a student has the structure "down" already, he can deal with unknowns fairly efficiently, just as native speakers deal with new vocabulary words they encounter.

The issue in Taiwan (and other places, of course) is that most "advanced" students do NOT have an unconscious, correct control of all the structure of the language. What they usually have is a crapload of memorized vocabulary. Their speech is halting and often plain incorrect. But you can't bust them back down to the beginner level in most cases because "they know that already". Unless you can demonstrate to them that they don't know it -- that they cannot output smoothly and without thinking -- you can't get them to buy into the idea that something else might be necessary.

The other thing to remember about TPRS is that it was designed for foreign language classes in the US, where virtually all of the students are already fluent in English. English is used as a shared native language for translations. When you do not have a shared fluent language in the class, you need to be much more creative in establishing meaning, and in that regard, you'd have to borrow the standard methods an ESL teacher would use in the first place -- just with regard to establishing meaning and checking that the student did comprehend.


Um...yeah, like I said, I put up the unknown words using the chat function.

In TPRS, we post any unknowns in the target language and in the shared language. If I'm teaching Chinese, I post things the student doesn't know in Pinyin (well, in Tonally Orthographic Pinyin :smiley: ) and English. I've taught classes where I posted the Chinese in characters, not Pinyin, but I have found that if you're reaching acceptable levels of repetitions, you won't have the dreaded "Pinyin accent" phenomenon, and characters are incredibly intimidating. I wouldn't mind posting both, but usually I don't have that much time or brainpower available when I'm teaching. :unamused:


This makes sense - can you give us some idea of the time it might take an 'average' student to arrive at 'initial fluency'?

Right, exactly. I don't think it's that hard to get them to see they can't output smoothly and correctly without thinking, the difficulty is more finding a way to get them to accept the fact without issues of face, and, as you note, ‘I know how to improve’ getting in the way.

Ok, I’m getting a much better grasp of TPRS from this post. Thanks. What you’ve said, however, does suggest that TPRS might be something of a hot-house flower? If TPRS is designed for a class-room situation teaching beginners with a shared native language for translation, then, as you say, the Taiwan situation requires some serious creative adaptation of the typical TPRS approach. So what do the majority of us do, with neither a class of freshly minted beginners, nor the option – for various reasons - to subtitle in the learners native tongue? How can we make TPRS work within the limitations of the typical Taiwan ESL learning situation? Or, say, the various teaching situations that I have - higher-level Taiwanese students online, and Private Language School classes filled with students from all over. I ask these questions as someone quite enthused by TPRS and interested in putting it to work.


Well, the main point isn't TPRS itself -- it is using Comprehensible Input to teach. TPRS just happens to be the most "codified" method out there, and the one that is easiest to teach teachers how to do, since there is a robust organization of presenters and trainers and coaches, as well as some materials on how to teach using the method.

With non-beginners, that is not a TPRS issue, it's a teaching issue. CI is what they need. It depends on your unique situation how you present this. It could be an explanation of the brain research, with older/adult learners. It could simply be "this is the method I'm using an I'm the teacher so suck it up" in other cases. Or something in-between. The main point is that a) they're getting extensive input and principled repetition in high quantities, and b) you are actually teaching from where they ARE, not where they SHOULD be (or are said to be).

As for the 'subtitling' issue -- in Taiwan you generally do have a shared native language. It just doesn't happen to be your native language. Teaching ESL internationally, there may not be a shared native language. In the first case, you find ways to establish meaning using Chinese through other resources (write out the words in Chinese before class and stick them up; get a star student to translate; etc.); in the latter case, you do what ESL teachers have always done to establish meaning -- use of bilingual dictionaries, realia, pictures, gesture, whatever.

In TPRS, we do not believe that the use of these "other" ways of establishing meaning is desirable if the easier, more direct route of transalation into a shared language is available, but obviously if that is not possible, meaning still has to be established. And it certainly can be. There are people teaching ESL using this method. I'm not sure how many of them are teaching "mixed" classes. I may be taking on something of this sort next semester myself. It's do-able, if not as easy as cases where there is a shared language to utilize.

You also need to determine whether your higher level Taiwanese students are going to be open to this sort of method, because it will be starting where they are, not where they want to believe they are. That's not the method so much as the choice of an appropriate level for them, possibly against their will.


These seem like good fundamentals to keep constantly in mind.

This is not the only issue given the widespread belief in immersion being the way to go, and the consequent prevalence of ‘No Chinese’ classrooms in Taiwan. This could work for those classrooms too, though:

Good luck with that. It will be interesting to hear the modifications and additions you make to the method to make it work – and the limits of the model, also, maybe.

Yes, a couple of them want more class time – which I’ve been resisting somewhat. Perhaps I could offer them this time so long as they’re willing to suffer through my fumbling attempts to creatively employ a modified TPRS.


I have a Taiwan (Chinese language being the common language) related problem. Yesterday I wanted to make the Question Word posters for my classes and took out Ben's trusty TPRS in a Year! He lists the question words with the French as follows:
what does ______ mean
is it that (I don't really get this one.)
what is it that (Or this one.)
is there
what color is
how much, how many
how, describe

But when looking at the Chinese for these, it's not really easily transferable for all of them. So I started making a more specific list for Taiwan and once I got this far:
What does ________ mean
what color is
how much, how many

I started to have problems.
What about:
what is that/this
what are these/those
do/does he/you have/like
do/does he/you have to/like to
am/is/are (Especially in Chinese, isn't this starting to get into the realm of "sentence patterns"?)

What list of question words would you guys suggest I use for teaching English in a Taiwanese (Chinese language) setting? I'm specifically thinking of Ironlady and GiT here, but any other suggestions would be welcome.

And while we're on the topic, I got an awesome e-mail from GiT the other day (Seen and read it mate, still mulling it over and thinking of an appropriate response - awesome e-mail, btw!), and while we're on the subject could we perhaps come up with a comprehensive sentence pattern list for English divided into beginner, intermediate and advanced? Perhaps we could also do one for Chinese in the Learning Chinese forum?


As far as the sentence patterns are concerned, working on the tenses we could start with the following (please add appropriately what you think is missing):
I work in a bank. I don't (do not) work. Do I work in a bank? Where do I work?
He works in a bank. He doesn't (does not) work. Does he work? Where does he work?

I'm (I am) reading a book. I'm (I am) not reading. Am I reading? What am I reading?

I arrived yesterday. I didn't (did not) arrive. Did I arrive yesterday? When did I arrive?

I was reading a book. I wasn't (was not) reading. Was I reading? What was I reading?
You were reading a book. You weren't (were not) reading. Were you reading? What were you reading?

I've (I have) seen him. I haven't (have not) seen him. Have I seen him? Where have I seen him (before)?
He's (he has) gone. He hasn't (has not) gone. Has he been here? Where has he been?

I have (I've) been living here for two years. I have not (haven't) been waiting for long. Have you been living here for a long time? Why have you been living here for a long time?

We'd been there. We hadn't been there. Had we been here? Where had we been?

I had (I'd) been waiting. I hadn't (had not) been waiting. Had I been waiting? Where had I been waiting?

I will (I'll) be there tomorrow. I won't (will not) be there. Will I be there tomorrow? Where will I be tomorrow?

I will (I'll) be waiting there at five o'clock. I will not (won't) be waiting. Will I be waiting there? Where will I be waiting?

I'm (I am) going to take my holidays in August. I'm (I am) not going to take a holiday this year. Are you going to take a holiday? When are you going to take a holiday?

The film will have started by the time we get there. The film will not (won't) have started by the time we get there. Will the film have started by the time we get there? Why will the film have started by the time we get there?

Next year I'll (I will) have been working in the company for 10 years. I won't (will not) have been working in the company for 10 years. Will you have been working in the company for 10 years? When will you have been working in the company for 10 years?

The office is cleaned two times a week. The office isn't (is not) cleaned two times a week. Is the office cleaned two times a week? Why is the office cleaned two times a week?
The office was cleaned on Friday. The office wasn't (was not) cleaned on Friday. Was the office cleaned on Friday? Why was the office cleaned on Friday?
The office is being cleaned at the moment. The office isn't (is not) being cleaned at the moment. Is the office being cleaned at the moment? Why is the office being cleaned at the moment?
The office has already been cleaned. The office hasn't (has not) been cleaned yet. Has the office been cleaned? Why has the office been cleaned?
The office will be cleaned next week. The office won't (will not) be cleaned next week. Will the office be cleaned next week? Why will the office be cleaned next week?
The office can be cleaned. The office cannot be cleaned. Can the office be cleaned? When can the office be cleaned?

Of course I'm forgetting a lot of little things like to verb etc, but let's start from here and see if this is all necessary first or how it could be ordered better, what I'm forgetting etc.


bismarck: I'm glad you got my email.

Firstly, those French constructions that you don't understand are just their way of doing the same thing we do in English (yes/no questions), just in a more wordy fashion. In French, they don't say, "Is the dog black?" They say, "Is it that the dog is black?" (Est-ce que le chien est noir?)

In terms of the Chinese sentence patterns, as you know, from the email, I'm in the process of revising what I do entirely. The question words I have on my wall are: who, what, which, when, where, why, how. I will expand that list to add some more.

I don't have lists of every verb tense or more complex sentence patterns. I could see the advantage of having them, but I usually seem to be able to get through my classes without them (the sentence patterns I am using for the lesson get translated before class and then written on the board anyway). It seems like if you wanted to put everything (and more!) that you've listed here on your wall, you'd need a huge wall! I think what I do have on my wall is in something like a 36 or 48 point font (12 words per A4 page, with one word and its Chinese translation per line) so everyone can see it, so it takes up a lot of space. Also, if you have too much information on your wall, it might be hard for you to find what you need quickly!

Now that I think about it, you could probably put all of your standard sentence patterns on the wall and fit them in. You wouldn't need every single permutation of them because the students should eventually know how to do that, or at least recognise them. They should know how a statement gets turned into a yes/no question, an either/or question and the various WH___ questions. They should also know how such a statement (or question) gets changed into a different verb tense. I think the thing should be that after they have received enough input, they should be able to work out those rules at an unconscious level and just apply them to novel situations.

On my wall I have:

Pronouns (as both subject and object, as well as possessive) -- I haven't used this as I know them.
Prepositions (only ten) -- I haven't used this because I can usually communicate these with an action, even if I don't know them.
Colours (the basic eleven, plus some others) -- I've used this occasionally, but I know the basic colours anyway.
Other adjectives (a couple of dozen such as big, small, dirty, clean) -- I've used this a fair bit, but have learnt many of them anyway.
Modes of transport -- I have used this, but it takes up a lot of space and I think there are just too many obscure words on it.
A poster with hand-drawn pictures of ten places in our town -- I will probably ditch this as it's huge. I could include more places in a smaller space.
The verbs to be, to have and to do with tables based upon pronouns and the simple present, the past tense and the past participle. -- I haven't used the tables for the three really common verbs. We seem to get by fine without them.
About another fifty other random verbs (whatever I could think of) -- I have used this list a little.

Probably what I am going to do is make a list of the most frequently occurring 100 words in the English language such as these:

Some of the little words on that list are the ones we have to look up regularly, though I have actually learnt some of them now. At this stage in the year, I have actually learnt a fair number of the words on my other lists, and many don't come up that frequently anyway.

The thing I find in my junior high school classes is that in all but one class, there is always at least one kid who has spent a fair bit of time at buxiban or has decent English. So, I can rely on that kid to help me. Even in the one very low level class I have, there are a couple of kids who are okay and we manage to muddle through okay (we use an online translator when necessary). At the elementary school, I have a co-teacher if I need to get help. We're doing really simple stuff though, so I know it.

Incidentally, one thing I meant to originally add to all of my lists, but never got around to, was pinyin so I could check if the students and I were using the same word. I think it would be beneficial to have English, Chinese and pinyin (or zhuyin fuhao, but I'm not very good with that) on all wall posters.



You are still teaching based on grammar. You need to give that up.

Concentrate on meaning. Always meaning. And don't be too concerned about a one-to-one correspondence between the parts and Chinese meanings for them. It's enough that students know "What is that?" means "Na Shi sheNme*?" One of the star analysts will eventually raise his hand and say, "But isn't that backwards?" and you quickly say, "Wow! You're so observant! You're right! Let's talk after class if you want to know more." Then go on with the input. The Masses don't care about the grammar (unless they have been brainwashed to care about the grammar above all else, as is sometimes the case. In that situation, you need to un-brainwash them by emphasizing what they will be assessed on and how, and making sure that doesn't include grammar patterns!)

In TPRS/CI based teaching, you may focus on and repeat a particular structure (with the words plugged into it) during a class session, but that isn't "teaching" it. It's just the first part of the 100 (random number) parts needed to get enough repetition so that a structural pattern is generalized and internalized. Students will not get "do"-support for awhile. They will definitely not get articles for a long time -- they are late acquired. You can put them in Chapter 1 of the textbook if you want, but they aren't going to stick in an acquisitional use-it-naturally-and-correctly way for a long time after that book is done.

In TPRS, we do not limit structure. We limit vocabulary -- which generally ends up meaning "content words" (nouns, verb roots, adjectives and adverbs).

There is an ESL series available -- I haven't looked it over closely -- but it might be a good point of departure provided it is not simply a back-translation of existing Spanish or French materials. I think it would be worthwhile for you to obtain that book before trying to invent your own.

I would also caution STRONGLY against "doing my own variation of TPRS", at least at the beginning. There are specific reasons why this works and they've been tested and tried over the past 15-plus years in classrooms. Most often when a new TPRS teacher wants to "just change a few things", what happens is that s/he loses the grip on the basics, which isn't yet solid and natural to him/her anyway, and the teaching starts to work against itself. IMO you're better off to learn how to play the piano pieces on the page before you start improvising. (Well, maybe not in the case of the piano, but definitely in the case of TPRS.)


OMG NO!!!!!! :noway: :noway:

This is working against what you're trying to do with input. You need to back off the grammar. Step away from the patterns and trust the brain. If you link meaning to foreign language, the brain will acquire it, no matter what the Ministry of Education says.

They should NOT need to know how a question gets changed into this or that. I don't give a rat's ass whether they can do such transformations. That's audio-lingualism. They SHOULD need to be able to say this or that without thinking. Every time you encourage them to do mental math to output language, you're reinforcing the whole rules-and-output thing.

Let go. It's very difficult to do. No patterns on the wall. No reference to grammar terms. Just you, speaking English they can understand.


What do you do with a student who has studied a lot of Chinese, and is in the situation you described: with a varying grasp of the structures of the language, but a lot of memorized vocabulary? Suppose this student would be willing to try the CI method. How do you know what 'level' the student should begin at? Do you just talk to them at first and see how they sound?