TPRS is a lot like cheese sticks.
My mother was watching our kids a few weeks ago. My daughter, who just turned three, asked for a cheese stick as a snack. She tends to be very specific in her requests. She asked if grandma could split her cheese stick into three thirds.
My mom could not believe that my 3-year-old daughter knew three thirds. “Are you teaching her fractions?” she asked me when I arrived to pick up the kids.
The truth is that although my daughter is quite intelligent, she doesn’t really “know” fractions. She knows that she likes her cheese stick divided into three parts and that each part is called a third because that’s what we tell her every time we give her one. In my mom’s mind, in order to say three thirds, my daughter needed to know many mathematical functions. In reality, she just needed to know that the three parts of a cheese stick are called thirds.
Language is not that different. For example, consider this phrase:
Quiero que seas mi amigo. (I want you to be my friend)
I used to believe that to use such a phrase, students must understand many rules about the subjunctive mood. They need to know that a desire is being expressed, which requires subjunctive. We need to examine all desire type trigger phrases. There are three steps to forming a subjunctive verb. Let’s start with AR verbs and practice them for awhile. Then, we’ll move to ER/IR verbs and finally to irregulars (DISHES). After sufficient practice with the verb ser in the subjunctive, we can say “Quiero que seas mi amigo”.
The big, altering, liberating shift with TPRS has been to move away from the above list of steps/rules to this:
Quiero que seas mi amigo = I want you to be my friend
Now, let’s use it . . . a lot.
The rules may be useful later when we want to extend this concept to other ideas, but let’s start by attaching meaning and providing input.
So, if a 3-year-old can use the term three thirds, can a level 1 Spanish student say, “Quiero que seas mi amigo”? Why not?