On a teacher’s list, a language teacher recently asked:

I am doing my best to incorporate ideas of TPRS/CI. Does anyone have suggestions of HOW and WHEN is best introduce new vocabulary?

Well, TPRS makes the question of when to introduce new vocabulary really easy…you introduce it when it’s used for the first time. So the good news is, you never have to think specifically about doing the whole dog-and-pony show everybody used to do for legacy methods (you know, finding the realia, collecting the clip art, making the Powerpoint, quizzing the kids to make sure they’d gone home and studied, quizzing them again when they hadn’t…and so on.)

The beauty of TPRS is that it ties new language so closely to context and meaning. You might say that giving a word list with English translations ties the language to its meaning (and it does, of course). But that’s at the single word level. The power of TPRS is that it provides rich comprehensible input. The moment the meaning of the new word is established (by providing the English translation, clear, simple and quick), the word is seen in its proper context. What’s more, it gets used multiple times, because of the power of circling questions.

But unlike a Powerpoint presentation where a single word or phrase is being introduced and then used in examples, so students can “see how it works”, in TPRS that same word or phrase is used naturally in a compelling narrative or conversation. Right away. Over and over. The teacher’s technique ensures that it gets repeated, so that the brain encounters it numerous times and makes that match between the sound and the meaning over and over — but the students not only don’t care about that, they don’t even notice it. They don’t notice because they are concentrating on the content, the meaning of the whole, not the meaning of the single word.

I am looking for another way to engage students while initially getting the vocabulary.

This is a great thought — it’s just what we want to do. Keep the students engaged, and have them get the vocabulary. It’s great that teachers who are new to TPRS/CI can sense that there is a disconnect in the kids when we do the whole “here’s the new vocabulary” thing. The solution, though, is not to search, but to embrace the Zen-like (or maybe Yoda-like?) conclusion: to best introduce the new vocabulary, do not introduce the new vocabulary.

Just by following the basic steps of TPRS (establish meaning, use in speech, read), we avoid the need to ever have students “initially” get the vocabulary. It saves time and preparation, it is more engaging, and most importantly creates the closest possible connection between the new language and its meaning in a genuine context — a story or conversation the students have ownership of.