Some years ago, a teacher named James Asher became frustrated with the way foreign languages were taught in schools. Most teachers used the “talking head” approach, which Asher described this way: “Students come into a classroom, sit down quietly in rows, and then make ‘noises’ with their mouths on cue from a person in front of the class who points at a student and says, ‘Listen to what I say and repeat after me!’” He felt foolish using this method, which to him was virtually useless.
James Asher became passionately devoted to a cause: to help people learn new languages quickly and easily. He began experimenting with new methods. One of these methods was to give students commands, which they would then act out, such as:
Walk to the cabinet. Open the drawer of the cabinet and look for a bottle of aspirin. Pick up the bottle.
Close the drawer and walk quickly to Mary.
Offer her the bottle.
Mary, take the bottle from him and…
Amazingly, English-speaking students learning Russian picked up these commands quickly and retained them. Soon they were learning hundreds of new expressions in record time. Asher’s discovery, now known as the “Total Physical Response Method,” made learning a second language fun, active, and easy.33