Some History

There are lots of articles here, published over the years, on the history of TPRS. I just got an email from a colleague asking for some history so I sent her this. Pls. free free to add or correct:

TPRS has its roots in TPR from James Asher, who parallels in his research that of Dr. Stephen Krashen (same years – from ’70s to 1990, they knew each other, USC for Krashen and San Jose State for Asher). Then in 1990 Blaine Ray set out to create a method of teaching in 1990 based on their work. (There is some history in the 1960’s from Sandra Savignon (U of Illinois) and also Simon Belasco and others but in my own career the above names are all I needed. All talked about the radical idea (still radical!) that people learn languages UNCONSCIOUSLY by interacting w each other/negotiating meaning in real, not fake ways. Basically – they were all reincarnations of Vygotsky who was about 60 years ahead of his time. So Blaine invented TPRS storytelling in 1990. Asher and Blaine got into a dispute (threatened lawsuits were involved), and Blaine was forced to rebrand his method to now read as “Teaching Proficiency through Stories and Reading”. Asher’s work, though great, lacks the power and huge gains capable via stories, so we owe them both a lot! My career suddenly made sense once I discovered the Krashen/Ray juggernaut, which was carefully nurtured most noticeably in the Denver Public Schools from 2004 until now, to the extent that at the beginning of that period there were only five “TPRS” WL teachers out of 100 and now there are 80/100. It is worth adding that Blaine consciously set out to base a way of teaching languages on the best research he could find. According to Michael Coxon, Blaine “reached out to Krashen and asked him about how to make the Natural Approach part of classroom teaching. TPR + Natural Approach = TPRS of today. He was first introduced to Asher’s work in 1980 and started using TPR in his classroom in the early 80’s. In 1987 was about the time that Blaine took TPR actions into stories. That was the start of that connection.” Although Krashen did most of his research on ELA, he ended up being largely shunned by many less visionary members of that community and that is still happening, as we know. The depth and breadth of this shunning resembles the way Carl Jung was treated by his colleagues when he broke from Freud in the area of depth psychology. Both Krashen and Jung , like Vygotsky, were looked at as just plain wrong because they postulated that the unconscious mind was involved in dreams/language learning, where they both have their roots. Krashen’s colleagues cite him in all kinds of books on ELA but they don’t come out and embrace his work for the nuclear bomb that it really is. Those colleagues talk the Krashen talk but don’t walk the walk in their classrooms. It is due, again, in my opinion, to a lack of being able to fully understand and apply the fact that languages are acquired unconsciously. So most language teachers of today force kids to think about the language and, since thinking is a conscious and not unconscious function, no gains are registered in those classrooms despite decades of obvious failure. Most ELA classrooms of today teach an overly watered down version of Krashen and so it is only in the WL area that Krsahen’s work really finds expression, and that by perhaps only .1% of practicing professionals in the U.S., who have grabbed onto TPRS like life preservers in a storm. Interestingly, schools are actively looking around for such teachers, so the prognosis is good for those of us who grabbed the life preservers while the rest of the massive WL ship keeps tilting, more and more over on its side every day, just waiting for the final collapse into the waiting Ocean of Oblivion of Teaching Methods That Didn’t Work. Our careers were saved by Krahen and Blaine and other great leaders like Susan Gross and Jason Fritze and Carol Gaab, and now we are off and running, loving our jobs, and Mr. Jones is aware that something is happening here but he doesn’t know what it is.







3 thoughts on “Some History”

  1. Overall, I think this is a pretty good account. The one thing to note is that Blaine was first introduced to Asher’s work in 1980 and started using TPR in his classroom in the early 80’s.

    In 1987 was about the time that Blaine took TPR actions into stories.

    Also somewhere in the early 80’s, I’m not sure on the dates, Blaine reached out to Krashen and asked him about how to make the Natural Approach part of classroom teaching. That was the start of that connection.

    TPR+Natural Approach=TPRS of today

    You mentioned some sort of split with Asher and Blaine… I have asked around about this because I’m into the history and gossip of TPRS. I have been told that Asher was very difficult to work with due to ego type of stuff. It is too bad that he has never even been to a NTPRS 🙁

  2. Thanks Ben.
    One finer point. I understand that although Asher and Krashen overlap, Asher is the earlier of the two. ‘In The Great Fiction/Nonfiction Debate,’ SK mentions his process for comprehending Chomsky’s “Aspects of the Theory Syntax.” This was published in 1965. SK complete his PhD in 1972 at UCLA.

    Asher complete his PhD in psychology in 1957 (UHouston) and taught at San Jose from 1957 -96. On page 1-1 of “Learning Another Language through Actions,” Asher indicates that his 15 minute film, ‘Demonstration of a New Strategy in Language Learning’ was produced in 1963 (it was copyrighted in 1964). The strategy was the total physical response.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

CI and the Research (cont.)

Admins don’t actually read the research. They don’t have time. If or when they do read it, they do not really grasp it. How could

Research Question

I got a question: “Hi Ben, I am preparing some documents that support CI teaching to show my administrators. I looked through the blog and

We Have the Research

A teacher contacted me awhile back. She had been attacked about using CI from a team leader. I told her to get some research from

The Research

We don’t need any more research. In academia that would be a frivolous comment, but as a classroom teacher in languages I support it. Yes,



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben