The comprehension approach is an umbrella term which refers to several methodologies of language learning that emphasise understanding of language rather than speaking. 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, Tracy D. Terrell and James J. Asher. The comprehension-based methodology mostly commonly found in classrooms is Asher's Total Physical Response approach; Krashen and Terrell's Natural Approach has not been widely applied.
The comprehension approach is based on theories of linguistics, specifically Krashen's Monitor Theory, 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. In contrast, the communicative approach is largely a product of research in language education.
Winitz founded the International Linguistics Corporation in 1976 to supply comprehension-based materials known as The Learnables; several positive articles have been published testing these picturebooks with their accompanying audio recordings, mostly with Winitz as co-author.
- Winitz (1981); Gary & Gary (1981a and 1981b).
- See www.sdkrashen.com for some of Krashen's books and articles, available on-line.
- Asher (1969; 1981). Further information is available at TPR-World (Sky Oaks Productions, Inc.).
- Krashen & Terrell (1983).
- Krashen (1982).
- 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.
- Acar (2005: 4).
- e.g. Winitz (2003); see also the International Linguistics Corporation's Learnables materials on-line.
- e.g. McCandless & Winitz (1986).