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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 (Winitz, 1981; Gary & Gary, 1981a and 1981b). This is in contrast to the better-known communicative approach, under which learning is thought to emerge through 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 (1969; 1981) Total Physical Response approach; Krashen and Terrell's (1983) Natural Approach has not been widely applied.

The comprehension approach is based on theories of linguistics, specifically Krashen's (1982) 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 (Winitz et al., 1995; cf. Gibbons, 1985). In contrast, the communicative approach is largely a product of research in language education (Acar, 2005: 4).

Winitz founded the International Linguistics Corporation in 1976 to supply comprehension-based materials known as The Learnables (e.g. Winitz, 2003); several positive articles have been published testing these picturebooks with their accompanying audio recordings, mostly with Winitz as co-author (e.g. McCandless & Winitz, 1986).


  • Acar, A. (2005). 'The "communicative competence" controversy.' Asian EFL Journal 7(3). Retrieved 20th January 2007.
  • Asher, J.J. (1969). 'The total physical response approach to second language learning.' The Modern Language Journal 53: 3-17.
  • Asher, J.J. (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, J.O. & N. Gary (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, J.O. & N. Gary (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, S.D. (1982). Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon.
  • Krashen, S.D. & T.D. Terrell (1983). The Natural Approach. New York: Pergamon.
  • McCandless, P. & H. 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., B. Gillespie & J. Starcev (1995). 'The development of English speech patterns of a 7-year-old Polish-speaking child.' Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 24: 117-143.


  • - some of Stephen D. Krashen's books and articles, available on-line.
  • The Learnables - International Linguistics Corporation.
  • TPR-World - Sky Oaks Productions, Inc. Information on Asher's 'Total Physical Response' methodology.
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