On an internet forum, in the context of ideas for how people could improve TPRS skills if no workshop was readily available, the suggestion was recently made:

I highly recommend watching you-tube videos that teachers have posted of themselves.

And who wouldn’t agree! Video available for free on the Internet is an amazing thing. You can learn to do almost anything from YouTube these days. I recently astonished my dad, who is in his late 80s, by  finding a YouTube video specifically detailing how to do some particular piece of maintenance on his specific model of car. It’s a wonderful thing.

Except, of course, if the guy making the video didn’t really know what he was doing, and the car wouldn’t run afterwards…but he edited that part out, or never tried to start it up anyway.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many good TPRS videos available on YouTube. If you see names that are familiar TPRS “old-timers”, you’re fairly certain that the TPRS will be legitimate (assuming they have stayed up to date). But what if the name is familiar to you, but not a well-known TPRS person? Or maybe it’s a video by someone you simply have not heard of before?

Then it’s time to evaluate. Critical thinking, folks! 🙂  And that means going back directly to the basics of TPRS (which, if a teacher who has not yet had a workshop is looking for the videos, might be difficult to do easily) and critically compare the content of the video to the ideals of TPRS.In the case of looking at these videos, I would suggest really, really looking closely at the following:

  • Is an attempt being made to make the content personalized or customized? (aka, is there any reason a kid would bother to listen to this?)
  • Is the teacher using only language the students know, plus a small amount of new language, and making the new language comprehensible in all cases using translation into a shared fluent language?
  • Is the teacher repeating the new language using circling questions? (Remember, we are looking specifically for TPRS videos, not just general “CI” videos).
  • Is the teacher checking comprehension regularly by asking for translation?
  • Is the teacher speaking…very…slowly (for lower levels)?
  • Is the teacher calling attention to structure=meaning using pop-ups, if appropriate?

One could list more, but those, I think, are the ones that usually separate the people who are experienced in TPRS from those who are posting videos, but may not yet have really mastered the method themselves. And there’s more and more of that going on these days, since everyone has a blog and YouTube channel now. It’s not that we can’t learn things from new TPRS teachers — but like student pairwork, is that the best input on how to do TPRS that is available? I would say no. (And urge those who are posting their videos but who have less than, say for a random but reasonable number, five years with the method, to SAY SO clearly. I may sound harsh, but to me this is a matter of professional responsibility. Anybody who feels they “really, really got” TPRS right out of the box and were great their first year, feel free to rip into me in the comments section.)

Of course, even the most famous TPRS presenter is still a human being. If you video every word he utters for a couple of hours, chances are that if he had a magic editing button he might like to take back one or two of those. Yet they are there in the middle of that video. Does that “disqualify” that video as a tool for learning the method? No, of course not. But if, for example, a “TPRS video” starts off with a sentence like:

“This is the letter F. The letter F. Class, is this the letter F?”

we may just have to wonder if that video is going to be good “input” into the TPRS teacher’s practice. (And the video I am thinking of was made by a person whose name one might recognize if one browses the Internet. ‘Nuff said. Don’t write me and ask if it’s yours — if you have to ask, then you already suspect in your heart there’s something not “quite” about your video, and so it’s time to take it down or change the title, anyway.)  Sure, you can  watch that video and say, oh, the teacher IS circling, and the teacher IS “buying into” the idea that this is fascinating, so there are things to be taken from it. But — why not watch a teacher who is actually also personalizing or customizing, since that’s something we want to do anyway? Why watch someone who is still trying to teach sets of low-frequency words, even if they are doing it in a kinda-sorta TPRS way? If you want to observe good TPRS, why not choose a good example of TPRS to observe?

Also beware the ads! A simple YouTube search on “TPRS” gives two top hits that are nothing like TPRS — and most insulting of all, one of them is actually Ro$etta $tone! Aaarrgh!!  An accidental click can drag you down the rabbit hole of incomprehensibility pretty fast.

Another indicator of a high-quality video (for the purpose of learning more about TPRS) is that the person who posted it gave some introduction to what the class was (what level was it? How much previous language did the students have?) This isn’t always true, but the ones that do at least make it easier for you to ask yourself whether what you’re seeing matches what they’re claiming.

I don’t want to cite specific videos, though it would not be difficult…the message is just this: when you are looking for a video that shows TPRS being done in a classroom environment, don’t assume that just because the letters “TPRS” appear in the title that it really IS a teacher doing TPRS, or a teacher doing good TPRS. Remember, YouTube is free. Don’t be afraid to click on to the next offering! Make sure you are as selective in what you “input” into your TPRS brain as you are about what input you offer your language students.