IATEFL 2013 LIVERPOOL: “The Body Remembers” (Scott Thornbury)

Interview Scott Thornbury

For those of you who know me, and know me well, then you know that I have two (2) people who I hold in very high esteeem, for indeed, they are giants among the rest of us. They are both “legends in their own time”. The proof of that is the fact that it suffices for me to mention their names, and no further preamble is necessary.

That is to say, their words and deeds have preceeded them, they are well-known, they are famous, and most importantly, they are inspirational. These giants have had the skill, knowledge and the audacity necessary to be in the right place at the right time. They have been here, where I am, they have been there, where you are. Who are these giants I speak of?

As I said before, if you know me well, then you know these two legendary people well, so well, that I shall not speak their names. At least, not for the moment. Rather, I choose to “share” them with you. (“Compartir”, the Spanish for its English counterpart, “share”, would be the more precise term. Rest assured, share is as close as I can get in English).

Now let’s consider the phrase, “The body remembers”. It is a holistic interpretation of language learning. I have come to agree with it totally, which is to say, completely. If you want to learn something deeply, then I suggest, use not only your mind, but use your entire body.

You see, the body remembers. Now that’s a powerful argument for TPR. Total Physical Response employs the body, as a memory mechanism. TPR works not only at lower levels, but also at increasing levels of complexity of language use.

I am convinced of this by personal experience, on the one hand, and on the other, by the results I get from my students whenever I use it. For example, when was the last time you heard of students in the early years as well as students in the last year of high school performing equally well a classic speech from the past, Hamlet’s soliloquoy, “to be or not to be, that is the question”.

The body remembers, much better than the mind does when employed alone…

I know. It’s old-fashioned to have students memorize ancient speeches by mythical, magical, memorable, Shakespearean characters, much less perform them by using TPR. I stand guilty as charged. Yet I offer in my defense, that the iambic pentameter contained in the speech overrides the admonition against having students memorize.

Yet to be on the safe side, I also have students do lots of improvisations, creating monologues and dialogues and role plays with no prior preparation. That is to say, using only their imagination and their prior knowledge of the situation at hand. Really. For example, “You’re stuck in an elevator with five people you never met before. What do you say to one another throughout the ordeal?”

To bring this full circle, obviously Scott Thornbury is one of my “giants”, a legend in his own time. Yet if you are careful, Scott shares with you that which has always set him apart, namely, he has his “giants”, people who he has a great deal of admiration and respect for. Earl Stevick is one such person. If you notice the way Scott talks about Earl Stevick, you are clear that it would be worth your while to find out more about Earl…

Finally, “the body remembers” is not only a hollow phrase, a sound-bite, a slogan, empty and void of meaning. No, it’s not. You can tell by watching Scott use his body during the interview. He is aware that “the body remembers”, and he supplies you with a visual feast of how to employ your body during an interview. It is only a small adaptation, or modification, to go from interview to classroom, and you now have a new tool to help make you a better teacher…

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About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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