On a teaching email list, someone recently posted expressing pleasure at how well someone was “acquiring” TPRS.

Except that you don’t “acquire” TPRS.

Why does that matter? Why does it make a difference whether we throw the word “acquire” around for the pleasure of using a word that, to us, is the center of our practice?

Because we deal in words. We are the ones who understand what acquisition involves and what comprehensible is (if you don’t believe that, think deeply about what the true definition of “comprehensible” as it is being bandied about by many communicative or project-based teachers these days…they really mean “kinda-sorta comprehensible”. Since when has the suffix -able/-ible means “partially possible” in English?) If we do not use these words correctly and seriously, who will pay attention when we try to use them to talk about things that really matter?

Like evaluations.
Like student outcomes.
Like relationships with students and families.
Like assessments and proficiency and countless other professional matters.

Don’t confuse “acquisition” with “progress in a certain subject area”. Though it sounds grandiose, language is truly the only area taught in schools (or professional developments, for that matter) which can be AND IS normally acquired by EVERYONE.

If TPRS could be acquired, there would have been no need for Susan Gross to essentially figure out what it was Blaine Ray was doing, and reduce it to steps that could be duplicated by thousands of other teachers. Anyone who wanted to learn to do TPRS could simply watch videos.

For non-language areas of human endeavor, “acquisition” is the equivalent of “learning” in language. Yes, there is a small proportion of teachers who can watch someone do TPRS and just “figure it out”. That’s somewhat akin to acquisition, in that the person is deducing the rules (what to do) without being told, just by watching multiple examples of each rule or step being used. But the average teacher who watches a TPRS demonstration is nowhere near being able to do this. And it’s a long ways from “figuring out the rules” to “being able to apply them correctly to get the desired outcome”. A teacher can understand, intellectually, how to do TPRS and yet not be able to do it, for a variety of reasons.

It is wonderful that a teacher who has observed a TPRS class in action is able to make insightful comments. That’s real progress. But it doesn’t mean that TPRS is acquired, any more than any non-language endeavor or subject is acquired. The reason we have to do things differently, and often have to fight for the right to do things differently, is that language behaves differently from every other subject taught in schools. Don’t cheapen the efforts of those who have to struggle to have this natural distinction recognized by throwing the words around indiscriminately.