Project Director

Copeland-Rutledge, Valerie

Department Examiner

Bradley, Janetta; Claypool, Karen


Dept. of Education


University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Place of Publication

Chattanooga (Tenn.)


I was sitting on a leather couch at a local hangout trying to cram for a test in my Advanced Spanish Grammar class. In front of me, I had my textbook open to a picture of a crowded South American intersection and I was frantically trying to memorize a list of more than 100 Spanish vocabulary words related to automobiles. I had been studying Spanish since the eighth grade and was just amazed that 10 years later I was still having trouble internalizing certain words. I was talking aloud to myself, trying to remember the verb "to start the car." I knew I had probably studied and even used the word several times, but it just hadn't stuck. A friend studying nearby noticed my frustration asked what word I was looking for. When I told him, much to my surprise he said, "Oh, that's simple ... arrrrrranca," making the gesture of turning an imaginary key and rolling the double "rr" like the sound of an engine revving up. He smiled humbly, and my jaw just dropped. He was a junior biology major at the university and I knew that he hadn't had a Spanish course since his sophomore year of high school. I was dumbfounded at how quickly he had been able to recall the somewhat obscure verb. So I asked. He informed me that his high school Spanish teacher had used a method called "TPR," or Total Physical Response. Instead of memorizing a list of verbs, the teacher would give commands in Spanish and the students would have to act out whatever word she had uttered. They used the same technique for acquiring new vocabulary words. The students were not forced to speak until they were comfortable enough with the words, and reading and writing only came into play after the words and sentence structures had HANNAH II been internalized. I had heard about TPR in a foreign language methods class and I had always been a bit of a skeptic. Its creator, Dr. James Asher, claimed that by making students involve the right hemisphere of the brain, the side that controls motor skills, a second language learner would have better retention than simply teaching to the left hemisphere, the hearing and learning side. Out of curiosity, I decided to quiz my friend to see if "arranca" had just been a fluke. As a Spanish tutor for both high school and college students, I had a good idea of what a typical second-year foreign language student should know, so I began by asking him some basic vocabulary. To my amazement, he was able to recall between 75-80% of the words I asked. What was even more incredible was that after I gave him the Spanish for a word he failed to recall, he usually nodded and so said, "Oh yeah, that's right," and would proceed to make the gesture for the word. From that point on, he was usually able to recall it with 100% accuracy. As I continued to prod him and try to elicit more complex constructions, I just couldn't help but wonder what it was about TPR that had made it so easy for him to recall so many Spanish words four years after his last exposure. With a dropout rate of more than 95% of students in foreign language programs, could TPR be the answer the SLA was searching for? Is there some truth to Asher's claims? I was determined to find out.


Many individuals contributed to this project. First, I would like to thank my high school Spanish teacher, Mrs. Jamie Scholik. Her enthusiasm for teaching and her passion for life were contagious and I am forever grateful. I am extremely grateful to the foreign language teachers who assisted with the development of the survey. I would also like to thank all of the foreign language teachers who contributed by taking time out of their busy schedules to complete and return the surveys. My sincerest gratitude goes to my Departmental Honors committee members, Dr.Valerie Copeland-Rutledge, Dr. Janetta Bradley, Karen Claypool, and Dr. David Sachsman for their patience, competence, and cheerful assistance with the project. Finally, I would like to thank Grant Keown, a friend who initially inspired me to research TPR.


B. A.; An honors thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Bachelor of Arts.




Second language acquisition; Spanish language--Ability testing; Spanish language--Study and teaching


Language and Literacy Education

Document Type



iv, 65 pages





Call Number

LB2369.5 .H366 2004