One of the first things I liked about TPR was the potential for immersion. And for the first few years, using TPR to build an immersive classroom worked well for me. But that was when students only took my class because they wanted to. I didn’t realize it at the time, but they were spending a lot of time at home clarifying meaning on their own.
Things are different now. Every student takes a foreign language, but not all of them are self-motivated to do anything at home. For some, if it doesn’t happen in class, it simply doesn’t happen. Add in the fact that these same students have a low tolerance for ambiguity — they want exact, straightforward meaning — and issue start to develop.
What I’ve learned to accept is the idea that a non-immersive class can be even better than an immersive one. I want my students to get all the input they can get, but it only matters if it’s comprehensible. A lot of my students made great turnarounds as soon as I stopped worrying about the French-to-English ratio and started focusing on 100% comprehension.
Here’s the really cool part. Our TPR time may have shrunk a little, but it’s better time. The students are more confident, and so the time is more efficient. They know that meaning will get sorted out during pop-up translation, and they know they’ll be able to do it because they have done it. We’re really just confirming that ability by giving it a real place in class.
What I’ve learned to accept is the idea that a non-immersive class can be even better than an immersive one. I want my students to get all the input they can get, but it only matters if it’s comprehensible.
In the past, we might end a lesson with a five-minute assessment: match the picture to the sentence, etc. Students would succeed but wouldn’t necessarily feel confident. Now we spend ten minutes on the assessment: five to take it, and five for pop-up grammar and translation. Students who rarely volunteered before are now fighting for a turn. We’re building confidence in other ways too. Students are learning that things can be translated in different ways, that words can have different meanings, and that it’s okay to take a guess.
Don’t wait for students to get overwhelmed. The confusion is a cumulative issue, so make a regular point to keep it in check. You can always reduce the amount of pop-up grammar and translation in a lesson if students get bored — that’s how you know they’re getting it!
Opportunities for pop-up grammar and translation
- The end-of-lesson assessment. Make it a habit so students always have that time for clarification and leave class with the boost of confidence.
- TPRS stories and extended readings. You don’t have to translate the whole thing. You can also have students translate to each other while you float and help as needed.
- Other students’ work. You can use this to show off writing that does a great job of meeting expectations or to clarify areas for improvement.
- Textbook activities. Translate the question and the answer. If you prefer or must use traditional grammar exercises, this is a good way to keep rules and forms correlated to meaning.