Jump to content
Learn Chinese in China

Any experience with TPRS?


Recommended Posts

I've been learning to teach Chinese with TPRS which is still a relatively new method. So far I found it much more engaging and fun than the traditional teaching methods, also teachers who have been using it report an impressive speed of students acquiring fluency. I would like to start using this method myself, but first I thought to ask if any of you have any experience with TPRS as a student. I would also like to know if you haven't tried it but heard about it, because I wonder how much it is known in general.


(If you don't know what TPRS is, here's a great video from Terry Waltz, explaining it, or here's a simple introduction I wrote on TPRS)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

I guess when she says "like the first language" it means teaching through large amount of input, with a lot of repetition, and without explaining and teaching grammar rules. Also, students don't "try" to learn in this classroom, they are more focused on communicating and they actually learn in that process. It is a radically different teaching and not everybody likes it (or understands it) but it seems to be pretty effective. I'm in the process of learning more about it, that's why I'm looking for anyone with experience about TPRS.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well that's just awesome, have heard about this sort of method for years, never seen anyone explain it as well as she did.


If you do try teaching and you want a guinea pig I would be willing to put my self up as practice student :-? , it would be really interesting to be on the receiving end and see just how much i would absorb and learn.


I have no experience with TPRS but I like the look of it from a learning point of view.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm going to Chicago next weekend for a workshop with Terry Waltz, and I want to ask her if she has any suggestion about using TPRS in an online setting. I'm doing Skype lessons and I would love to give my students the option to learn with TPRS but it's not easy since this method was created for classroom environment. Shelley, if you are really interested, maybe we can try to do a few online sessions and see how it works out! 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes i am really interested both to see how works for me and to help you try it out as i really think this sort of method has merit. I do have skype so that sort of thing is doable.


I think you could get it to work, in the link Terry Waltz does mention online use.


You could ask at the workshop.


I hope you have a great time in Chicago, it must be just about getting chilly now. ( I was born in Montreal so I know all about cold winters :) )

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It should be a fine method, but I'm skeptical that they did any research as the traditional method of language learning isn't from books and classes, that's always represented a minority of learners. And usually just the rich.


Still, the basic methodology is sound, you just have to be really careful about how things are structured.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I guess it depends on what you mean by "traditional" as it can be so many things. I think usually when TPRS teachers refer to "traditional" method, they mean the classical classroom settings with a teacher who explains things like grammar (usually in the students' native language) and with textbooks and homework assignments and all that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 years later...

I think it highly depends upon the individual and how your mind works. For me, I can tell I would find this method excruciating. I really require an understanding of things to satisfy my mental curiosity as well as to most efficiently extrapolate grammatical structures and patterns with the confidence that my extrapolations are actually accurate. Understanding is how I learn, and I know that once I understand a concept deeply it's going to stick in my mind. Understanding something means you aren't just trying to memorize arbitrary information. Instead, you're putting that information into your brain in a way that makes sense - it connects to a bunch of other stuff in your brain and because you have stimulated all these connections, it is likely to stick.

I think most people do not think like I do. They will be happy not understanding something if they can sort of use it correctly anyway. (This is most people's attitude towards their native language, except in countries whose schools thoroughly teach their own language's grammar rigorously. My girlfriend spent her whole life in Beijing and doesn't know a lick of Chinese grammar - she even told me I was wrong when I first tried to tell her that two consecutive third tones are pronounced as 2-3. I was talking with a guy in an AT&T store whose first language was Spanish, he said he didn't know a thing about grammar, it was just natural to him how to use the language.) However, I do not find the level of proficiency in language that most people have with their own native language acceptable for myself (I suppose this is for complex philosophical reasons that would stray rather far from the current discussion). Native speakers make minor mistakes, convey things ambiguously, and generally are perpetually using their language not quite accurately. I think this is precisely the type of mentality that is cultivated and reinforced by TPRS. For many people, this may be the pragmatic approach, but not for me.

The second point I would like to raise is that people who use their own language skillfully and accurately *did* put a lot of effort into carefully studying the language's grammar after they developed a working foundation in the language. I recall that my elementary school started teaching me grammar when I was around 8 years old, and I continued to learn grammar throughout the remainder of elementary school, the entirety of middle school, and most of high school. Therefore, perhaps TPRS is a nice starting point, especially for those people lacking the motivation to start in a more disciplined, detail-oriented manner. However, after you've learned some basics, you really should go back and learn the grammar anyway if you want to achieve proficiency in the language.

My third and final point will be this. Consider your native language. Now roughly estimate how many hours you have spent learning that language. Now further consider the fact that those years contained the early years of your life in which your brain was a magical language-absorbing sponge, and your brain has nowhere near that capacity to absorb raw information now. Does the argument "this is how we learned our first language, so we should repeat this method to learn other languages too" make any sense to you?

When we first learned language, our brains were fantastic information-soaking sponges, but we had no prior knowledge or understanding. Naturally, mass repetition was an effective method. There really wasn't much of a choice.

Now, we have all sorts of knowledge about language and linguistics that we can use in future language-learning experiences. We also have the ability to communicate comfortably in our native language. We should use all the advantages we can, because the one thing we don't have on our side is time.


(Please kindly forgive the haphazard organization of this post, I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote this up on my phone.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with Apollys in that I prefer a more old-school approach to learning, but everybody has different goals and whatnot, so who knows, it could be useful.


I disagree with this statement though:


"Native speakers make minor mistakes, convey things ambiguously, and generally are perpetually using their language not quite accurately. I think this is precisely the type of mentality that is cultivated and reinforced by TPRS. For many people, this may be the pragmatic approach, but not for me."


Language is always in a state of flux - native speakers will always make tiny 'mistakes', which end up becoming the standard in several hundred years. That's how language change works. Also, what is the ruling authority on a language? If somebody uses non-standard dialectal forms, are they speaking 'incorrectly'? A native speaker doesn't (or rarely) makes the same type of 'mistakes' that a non-native learner would, most of those native 'mistakes' are usually acceptable and normal ways of speaking within their speech community.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Only a small portion of "mistakes" that are regularly repeated and popularized will make their way into the language officially.  The vast vast majority of day-to-day mistakes that native speakers make will simply remain mistakes.


I think there are two types of mistakes that one should analyze, however, because categorizing them all under one label is misleading.  If you ask the person to think carefully after they make a "mistake" and tell you whether or not they think it was an accurate use of the language, this can give you some interesting information.  If they said no, then it was simply a moment of sloppiness - these types of errors tend to be much less systematic for a given person, and thus by exposing yourself to a wide variety of input, your brain will easily learn to identify these mistakes by sort of "averaging" over all the input.  If, on the other hand, they said yes, then this is where it gets more complicated.  This is where we begin to realize that just because you and I are both speaking English doesn't mean we're speaking the same language.


This opens up an interesting philosophical question, which is should we try to remedy this?  The solution would be to try to establish very rigid universal rules to language and require that they be taught very strictly to everyone.  And there could be a universal language committee that manages these rules, trying to keep the official language evolving with the people.  But I think language divergence is such a natural part of human life that this would be terribly impractical, not to mention the importance of language diversity given its high influence on the way we perceive and interact with the word.  So, as much as I would like to cling to the idea of a theoretical world where everyone truly speaks the same language, I understand this would not be healthy for humanity.  Linguistic diversity contributes to social, cultural, and mental diversity, which in turn vastly increases the overall potential of mankind.


Ultimately my desire to learn a language "correctly" probably stems from the fact that I really hate the feeling that arises when I attempt to convey a certain idea to someone, but due to the fact that I misuse the language, they receive a different idea than the one I wished to convey (with potentially drastic consequences, for all of which I would blame myself).


It's quite a catch-22.  Ultimately our flaws are our greatest strength.  We change, we evolve, we make happy little accidents that might just change the world.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Coupled with sound change and grammatical change (which are often considered as 'mistakes' when they first arise), languages evolve. If they didn't we would all still be speaking Proto-Indo-European, or something even earlier. I think ambiguity is just part-and-parcel. 


Asking the average native speaker whether they have made a 'mistake' isn't an accurate way to test the matter though. For example, they may have learnt in school that one way of saying something was 'incorrect, and another way was 'correct'. Everybody in their region may use the 'incorrect' way, but they have been taught that this is 'incorrect' according to some official standard, and may report it as a mistake. From a descriptive point of view, the dialectal feature is just a divergence which has gained currency, no more 'correct' or 'incorrect' than any other form (I'm talking mostly about spoken language or very informal written communication here).


"This opens up an interesting philosophical question, which is should we try to remedy this?" My opinion would be absolutely no. It's fine to encourage a lingua franca or maybe a written standard for practical reasons, but strictly imposing standards which are inevitably set by those in power either causes the death of various languages/dialects (which is slowly happening in China), or stigmatises non-standard or accents associated with 'lower' classes. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think that it is important not to use TPRS in isolation. When I tried it I found it very helpful for re-enforcing what I learned using textbooks and other "traditional" methods.


I still use a form of TPRS to review and re-enforce my lessons, once a week I write a little story using the new vocab and grammar using the "circling" method. This allows me to use the new material thoroughly and helps me understand it more completely.


I think as with all these methods and practices, there are good and bad points about each, but if you sift through these things you can extract useful learning tips and methods.


I also think that if you were in a complete immersion situation and used TPRS the results were be surprisingly good. It also, as with a lot of these things, depends on the quality of the teacher, I thought Eszter was very good. She went to workshops run by the lady who started it and I think she was passionate about it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...