Teaching English vocabulary to young learners through total physical response method

This study attempts to investigate the effect of the Total

Physical Response (TPR) Method on vocabulary retention and

explore the young learners’ attitudes toward it. It involved sixty-two

English young learners (YLs) aging from 10 to 11. All of them were

attending English classes at Viet Uc English Language Center

(VUC) in Bien Hoa City where the current study was conducted.

Both quantitative and qualitative data was obtained through the three

instruments, namely pre-and post-test and interview. Descriptive

statistics was employed for data analysis. The results revealed that

TPR affected the YLs’ vocabulary knowledge through an increase

in their vocabulary retention after they underwent the treatment.

Similarly, the findings of the study also revealed that the YLs had

positive attitudes toward the use TPR in vocabulary teaching and

learning. This study is expected to shed light on the implementation

of teaching vocabulary methods in the VUC context and other

similar contexts

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26 Nguyen Dinh Nhu Ha et al. Journal of Science Ho Chi Minh City Open University, 10(5), 26-40 
Teaching English vocabulary to young learners through total 
physical response method 
Nguyen Dinh Nhu Ha1*, Le Thi Thuy Trang2, Nguyen Thi Thanh Hue3 
1Institute of Technical Education, Ho Chi Minh University of Technology and Education, Vietnam 
2 Faculty of Special Training, Ho Chi Minh City Open University, Vietnam 
3Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology, Vietnam 
*Corresponding author: handn.ncs@hcmute.edu.vn 
ARTICLE INFO ABSTRACT 
DOI:10.46223/HCMCOUJS. 
soci.en.10.2.611.2020 
Received: August 9th, 2020 
Revised: November 12th, 2020 
Accepted: November 15th, 2020 
Keywords: 
vocabulary retention, The 
Total Physical Response, 
young learners, VUC context, 
attitudes 
This study attempts to investigate the effect of the Total 
Physical Response (TPR) Method on vocabulary retention and 
explore the young learners’ attitudes toward it. It involved sixty-two 
English young learners (YLs) aging from 10 to 11. All of them were 
attending English classes at Viet Uc English Language Center 
(VUC) in Bien Hoa City where the current study was conducted. 
Both quantitative and qualitative data was obtained through the three 
instruments, namely pre-and post-test and interview. Descriptive 
statistics was employed for data analysis. The results revealed that 
TPR affected the YLs’ vocabulary knowledge through an increase 
in their vocabulary retention after they underwent the treatment. 
Similarly, the findings of the study also revealed that the YLs had 
positive attitudes toward the use TPR in vocabulary teaching and 
learning. This study is expected to shed light on the implementation 
of teaching vocabulary methods in the VUC context and other 
similar contexts. 
1. Introduction 
In the globalization era, it cannot be denied that English, the most widely spoken language 
in the world today, is very important. Harmer (2001) stated that English offers many great 
employment opportunities to everyone owning sufficient English language knowledge. Also, it 
seems to be a vital tool for everyone that desires to enter the outstanding areas of the world, such 
as commerce, technology, medicine, science, education, and so on. Consequently, the demand for 
learning and using English has been increasing within the last few years in all classes and ages. 
Most parents agree that the sooner young learners (Yls) learn a second language, the better they 
will be in language learning (McKay, 2006; Pinter, 2006). Concerning vocabulary acquisition, 
linguists such as Nation (2011) and others have appreciated that vocabulary acquisition plays an 
essential part in the formation of the other skills. Nunan (1999, p. 101) claimed that lacking 
vocabulary is one of the main reasons that second language learners find it difficult to master 
English. Additionally, the aim of teaching English vocabulary to YLs is to motivate them to be 
ready and self-confident in learning English at a higher level of education. Most language teachers 
assent to Cameron (2001) that vocabulary has a crucial role in language YLs, and it is the first and 
most important step in acquiring a language. Thus, vocabulary always comes high on the list of 
priorities since they started learning English for the first time. Besides, learners' characteristics are 
Ha Dinh Nhu Nguyen et al. Journal of Science Ho Chi Minh City Open University, 10(5), 26-40 27 
also one of the crucial factors that the teacher would pay much attention to in the process of 
teaching. Unlike adults, for Yls, it is hard to use verbal explanations to teach them the meaning of 
the words. Their levels of concentration and attention are short, so a variety of well-prepared 
activities, pace, and organization are necessary (Scott & Ytreberg, 1990, pp. 2-4). Only by having 
a thorough grasp of learners' features and teaching techniques can the teacher set learners' interest 
and motivation in learning English vocabulary. Of teaching language methods, Total Physical 
Response (TPR), which was put forward by James Asher, is considered to be an appropriate and 
effective method in introducing and consolidating the English vocabulary to YLs. This method 
bases on the process of acquiring the first language through physical movement in response to a 
direct command and works best with beginners or YLs (Richards & Rodgers, 1999). 
In general, based on the significance of the TPR method on YLs' vocabulary retention and 
attitudes, the following research questions are formulated: 
1) How does the TPR method enhance young learners' vocabulary retention? 
2) What are young learners' attitudes towards the use of the TPR method in teaching and 
learning English vocabulary? 
2. Literature review 
In terms of the grammar-translation method (GTM), vocabulary is learned effectively 
through direct translation from the source language. Translation in learning a foreign language 
promotes understanding. In fact, both teachers and students find it easy to understand new words 
through GTM. Teachers commonly explain a foreign word by giving an equivalence in the target 
language. Krashen (1987) stated that GTM provides comprehensible input. In addition, Brown 
(2001) admitted that GTM is widely used and accepted by most of teachers and students who are 
not fluent enough in English. It is obvious that students need to know linguistic details in order to 
master a foreign language. Furthermore, it is considered the best way for teachers and students to 
communicate in their native language. Refaai (2013) conducted research about the use of GTM in 
teaching a foreign language. The results demonstrated that the translation enhanced the right 
performance of language and met the needs of students. According to Dagilienė (2012), he 
investigated the role of GTM in English language teaching. The study found that translation is a 
useful tool in teaching English words and skills. 
A considerable number of studies on the use of TPR in teaching English to YLs in a variety 
of academic contexts could be found. Regarding studies conducted in the international context, 
firstly, it can count for Forero and Muñoz (2011), who conducted a research project with the aim 
of observing the impact of TPR on vocabulary acquisition of the third graders from "Gamma" 
school in Pereira, Colombia. The results revealed that teaching English vocabulary through TPR 
allows students to learn faster and easier. Another study on a similar issue was conducted by Zhen 
(2011) who used the TPR method to teach English adjectives to YLs to investigate whether the 
TPR method is effective in teaching English adjectives. The study adopted the quasi-experimental 
design with two groups: the control group and the experimental group. Besides, the questionnaires 
were deliberated. After the intervention program, he confirmed that the pupils' achievements were 
improved by the TPR method. Regarding the effect of TPR on Teaching Vocabulary to YLs, the 
first research was conducted by Pujiningsih (2013). The research was administered in MI NU 
Manafiul Ulum Kudus for about seven months. The method of the research is classroom action 
research. The subject of the research was the students of the sixth grade. In collecting the data, the 
researcher used diaries, video recordings, interviews, and tests. The research findings showed that 
TPR could improve the students' English vocabulary, including meaning, spelling, pronunciation, 
28 Nguyen Dinh Nhu Ha et al. Journal of Science Ho Chi Minh City Open University, 10(5), 26-40 
and using words. In relation to the effect of TPR on English vocabulary mastery of elementary 
school children, Sariyati (2013) carried out a study to seek the answer to the question of whether 
the application of TPR can enhance the primary school students' learning English vocabulary 
efficiency rather than traditional teaching methods. This research employed a mixed-method, 
combining quantitative and qualitative methods. A quasi-experimental design involving two 
groups (control and experiment) was conducted in the first grade in the Islamic elementary school 
in Bandung. The result of the study showed that the application of TPR does have a greatly positive 
effect on the participants' English vocabulary knowledge; specifically, the students of the treatment 
group achieve marks considerably in the post-test than the control group. 
Regarding TPR studies conducted in the Vietnamese context, there have been few studies 
conducted to examine the effectiveness of TPR on teaching English to YLs. Hoang (2013) carried 
out research to find out the answers for the three main issues: the attitudes of teachers and students 
towards the teaching and learning vocabulary, the real situation of using TPR activities in teaching 
vocabulary to children, and the effect of using TPR activities in teaching this language element. 
Data was collected through one questionnaire in English for the teachers and one Vietnamese 
questionnaire for the students, and some follow-up interviews. The results revealed that first, 
although there are many difficulties in teaching vocabulary to children, most of the teachers are 
interested in working with them. Secondly, although TPR activities are not used with high 
frequency, they are proved to be very useful and effective in vocabulary learning and teaching to 
the children through experimental teaching. One more article was written by Ngo and Pham (2018) 
about the effect of using the TPR approach in teaching vocabulary to very YLs and exploring the 
attitudes of YLs towards learning vocabulary using the TPR approach. Nevertheless, he only 
provided the theoretical background of variations involving the topic, and none methodological 
method was conducted to measure the effectiveness. 
Obviously, gaps are found in the literature relating to the application of TPR method in 
Vietnam. Besides, although these numerous empirical studies have been demonstrated the positive 
influence of TPR on YLs' vocabulary retention as well as their attitudes toward this method, most 
of the studies were conducted in an EFL and ESL setting in which the participants were elementary 
learners at the same age in a classroom at a formal school. Some research has focused on a class 
of YLs aged from 10 to 11 years old at a language center. To fill these gaps, the current study aims 
to investigate the effect of TPR in teaching English vocabulary to YLs aging 10-11 at VUC 
language. 
3. Methodology 
3.1. Research setting and participants 
Viet Uc English Language Center (VUC) is located in the center of Bien Hoa City. It is 
one of the top language centers in Bien Hoa city with a huge number of learners attending its 
English courses. The center is well equipped with facilities served for educational purposes such 
as micro, CD players, LCD TV, and projectors in each class. There are communication classes for 
Kids, teenagers, and adults, and classes for international academic English tests like TOEIC or 
IELTS. In the case of VUC, the total number of learners was 250. Among them, 73 YLs aged from 
6 to 11 years old were attending the elementary English course at VUC. However, the researcher 
only chose YLs aging from 10 to 11 because all of them were the learners of the two classes which 
the researcher was teaching. 
The participants in the present study consisted of 62 YLs (39 males and 23 females). They 
are ten-year-old and eleven-year-old students who were learning at VUC. 
Ha Dinh Nhu Nguyen et al. Journal of Science Ho Chi Minh City Open University, 10(5), 26-40 29 
Table 1 
Demographic information of the participants 
Variable Categories Number of Participants Percentage (%) Total N=62 
Group 
Control 31 50 
N = 62 
Experimental 31 50 
Ages 
10 21 33.9 
N = 62 
11 41 66.1 
Gender 
Male 39 63 
N = 62 
Female 23 37 
Source: The researcher’s data analysis 
3.2. Research instruments 
3.2.1. Tests 
To investigate the effect of TPR on YLs' vocabulary retention, the quasi-experimental 
design was used involving two groups (control and experimental) and employing pretest and 
posttest. For a clearer description, the design could be seen in the figure below: 
Control Group Pre-test X (Treatment with GTM) Post-test 
Experimental Group Pre-test X (treatment with TPR method) Post-test 
Figure 1. Experiment design description of tests 
The pre-test and post-test were employed to get the score of the participants before and 
after teaching English vocabulary through TPR to evaluate the YLs' performance. This self-
constructed test was adapted from the Smart Choice 1 workbook because the researcher found it 
appropriate for the purpose of this study. The pre-test and the post-test were designed to be similar 
to each other in terms of content, task types, allotted time, and numbers of the tasks. 
It consisted of eight parts and eighty items in total. The first part was matching the twelve 
words in the box with twelve pictures. Next, in the second part, there were eight multiple-choice 
items in which the participants based on contextual clues to choose the correct option. The third 
part was to sort out fourteen words into the right category. The following part was "odd one out" 
with ten items. The fifth part, which required the participants to circle the missing words, included 
ten sentences. The sixth one was choosing six words in the box to complete the conversation. The 
seventh part embraced twelve items and was matching the words with the right pictures. The last 
one was matching ten words from two columns to make activities. The total score of this test was 
10 points in which each correct got 0.125 for eighty items. In this study, it was used to find out 
whether there was a significant distinction of scores between teaching English vocabulary using 
TPR and teaching English vocabulary without using TPR for YLs at VUC. 
3.2.2. Interview 
For the interview, the closed-ended questions were used to gain qualitative data to explore 
the YLs' attitudes towards TPR in the progress of learning English vocabulary. In this study, the 
30 Nguyen Dinh Nhu Ha et al. Journal of Science Ho Chi Minh City Open University, 10(5), 26-40 
researcher prepared nine questions to ask ten interviewees. Categories and themes relating to the 
YLs' attitudes towards the TPR were explored. The questions from the interview focusing on four 
variables: The first one was "Learning and teaching activities"; the next one was "The way teacher 
implemented TPR in teaching English vocabulary"; the following variable was "The effect of TPR 
on vocabulary retention"; the last one was "Benefits and Disadvantages of TPR". 
3.2.3. Treatment 
Teaching English vocabulary to the experimental group through Total Physical Response 
The process of teaching in the treatment was divided into three parts. They are pre-
activities, whilst- activities, and post- activities. The activities of these lessons included various 
techniques and TPR activities like the TPR-P and TPR-B and TPR-O. In the pre-activity phase, 
the researcher gave questions to the Yls about their experience as warming up. From these 
questions, the Yls can imagine their experience and the material. Then, she introduced the topic 
by giving simple commands like: "Touch your nose," "Walk quickly toward the door," or "Clean 
the board." Then, she continued giving commands related to the words of the unit, such as "play a 
computer game," "check email," "do homework," "watch TV." Secondly, in the "New commands" 
stage: First of all, the researcher showed the words on the slides; read them out loud many times 
in a turn. Afterward, whenever a word was shown, she demonstrated the correlative activity, 
simultaneously read out loud the verb phrases "go swimming, play football" Then she asked the 
whole class to imitate her actions whenever she read the words, as well as the words, appeared on 
the slides. Next, in the "Role reversal" stage, the researcher organized the group activities with the 
game, "Simon says." The researcher tried out to read the structure "Simon says: Go swimming, 
Simon says: Go ices skating .." and required the group to respond physically toward the 
commands. Then, members in a group controlled and conducted the game by themselves. With 
the following activity, she turned on the "Sports song" and required her students to listen to catch 
the activities in the song and demonstrate them. Then, the researcher divided into four groups and 
asked one of the Yls to be the instructor and gave the command to his classmates. The researcher 
monitored all of the Yls in the class and helped the Yls if they had difficulties to respond in action. 
Finally, with the "Reading and Writing" stage, the researcher wrote each new vocabulary item on 
the chalkboard with a sentence to illustrate the item. She wrote an extra conversation with the 
appearance of the words. Then she spoke each item, conversation, and acted out the sentence. The 
learners listened as she read the material. In post activities, it was time for Yls to memorize 
vocabulary. Fifteen minutes before the time was up; the researcher checked the Yls’ vocabulary 
and their respond. At the end of the lesson, the researcher reviewed all vocabulary again and 
motivated the class for later times. 
Teaching English vocabulary to control group through Grammar Translation Method 
The researcher gave Yls a topic to write about in the target language. The topic was based 
upon some aspect of the reading passage of the lesson. Implementation of GTM was divided into 
four phases: first, the teacher gave Yls a reading text. Secondly, Yls ordered to read the text 
silently. Next, the researcher helped the Yls translate the text word by word directly by writing 
these new words on the board as well as giving some examples and at last, the Yls were required 
to memorize the grammar rule and the translation. The researcher applied some techniques, which 
are used in implementing GTM, included: Translation of a literary passage, Reading 
comprehension questions, Antonyms and Synonyms, Cognates, Deductive application of the rule, 
Filling in the blanks, Memorization, Using words in sentences, and Composition. 
Ha Dinh Nhu Nguyen et al. Journal of Science Ho Chi Minh City Open University, 10(5), 26-40 31 
3.3. Data analysis 
This study concerned two types of data: quantitative data gathered from the experiment 
and qualitative data for interviews. With the results of the pre-test and post-test, SPSS 19.0 was 
employed. T-test was used to analyze the results in order to measure the effect of TPR on 
vocabulary retention of the YLs. 
3.4. Data collection procedure 
The researcher took a total of 62 YLs as the sample and divided into two classes: the control 
group, which was taught with the traditional methods, and the experimental group which was 
taught with the TPR method. Each group had the same number of 31 YLs. In relation to the 
quantitative data, the process involved the following steps. First of all, all the YLs from the two 
groups in the study were administered to take the pretest. After conducting the pre-test, the 
researcher gave treatment: TPR method for the experimental group; also, the Grammar-Translation 
Method for the control group. After the treatment course, the posttest was given. Finally, all the 
two group's scores from the two tests were collected to use for data analysis. 
On the last day of the course, the researcher set up an informal structured interview with 
ten YLs individually to explore the learners' attitudes towards TPR. The answers to the questions 
of the interview were recorded and tra

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