Comprehension approach

Comprehension approach

The comprehension approach is an umbrella term which refers to several methodologies of language learning that emphasise understanding of language rather than speaking.[1] This is in contrast to the better-known communicative approach, under which learning is thought to emerge through language production, i.e. a focus on speech and writing.

The comprehension approach is most strongly associated with the linguists Harris Winitz, Stephen Krashen,[2] Tracy D. Terrell and James J. Asher. The comprehension-based methodology mostly commonly found in classrooms is Asher's Total Physical Response approach;[3] Krashen and Terrell's Natural Approach[4] has not been widely applied. English as a Second Language Podcast is a more recent application of the comprehension approach grounded in Krashen's theories.

The comprehension approach is based on theories of linguistics, specifically Krashen's theories of second language acquisition,[5] and is also inspired by research on second language acquisition in children, particularly the silent period phenomenon in which many young learners initially tend towards minimal speaking.[6] In contrast, the communicative approach is largely a product of research in language education.[7]

Winitz founded the International Linguistics Corporation in 1976 to supply comprehension-based materials known as The Learnables;[8] several positive articles have been published testing these picturebooks with their accompanying audio recordings, mostly with Winitz as co-author.[9]


  1. ^ Winitz (1981); Gary & Gary (1981a and 1981b).
  2. ^ See for some of Krashen's books and articles, available on-line.
  3. ^ Asher (1969; 1981). Further information is available at TPR-World (Sky Oaks Productions, Inc.).
  4. ^ Krashen & Terrell (1983).
  5. ^ Krashen (1982).
  6. ^ Winitz et al. (1995); cf. Gibbons (1985), whose own interpretation of the 'silent period' is that children's silence reflects lack of linguistic knowledge or bewilderment within their new language environment.
  7. ^ Acar (2005: 4).
  8. ^ e.g. Winitz (2003); see also the International Linguistics Corporation's Learnables materials on-line.
  9. ^ e.g. McCandless & Winitz (1986).


  • Acar, A (2005) 'The "communicative competence" controversy.' Asian EFL Journal 7(3). Retrieved 20 January 2007.
  • Asher JJ (1969) 'The total physical response approach to second language learning.' The Modern Language Journal 53: 3-17.
  • Asher JJ (1981) The total physical response: theory and practice. In H. Winitz (ed.) Native Language and Foreign Language Acquisition. New York: New York Academy of Sciences. pp.324-331.
  • Gary JO. & Gary N (1981a) Comprehension-based language instruction: practice. In H. Winitz (ed.) Native Language and Foreign Language Acquisition. New York: New York Academy of Sciences. pp.343-357.
  • Gary JO. & Gary N (1981b) Comprehension-based language instruction: theory. In H. Winitz (ed.) Native Language and Foreign Language Acquisition. New York: New York Academy of Sciences. pp.332-342.
  • Gibbons J (1985) 'The silent period: an examination.' Language Learning 35: 255-267.
  • Krashen SD (1982) Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon.
  • Krashen SD & TD Terrell (1983) The Natural Approach. New York: Pergamon.
  • McCandless P & Winitz H (1986) 'Test of pronunciation following one year of comprehension instruction in college German.' The Modern Language Journal 70: 355-362.
  • Winitz H (ed.) (1981) The Comprehension Approach to Foreign Language Instruction. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.
  • Winitz H (2003) The Learnables, Book 1. Kansas City, MO: International Linguistics Corporation. 6th edition.
  • Winitz H, Gillespie B & Starcev J (1995). 'The development of English speech patterns of a 7-year-old Polish-speaking child.' Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 24: 117-143.

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