Comprehension approach

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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.

The comprehension approach is based on theories of linguistics, specifically Krashen's Monitor Theory,[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).