What is the PPP approach to language teaching?
This post tries to explain what is meant by the PPP approach to language teaching. A brief explanation is provided followed by a description of the advantages and disadvantages of this model of teaching.
Definition of PPP
PPP stands for Presentation, Practice, and Production. It is referred to as a procedure, model, paradigm, or approach to teaching language components. The procedure is straightforward. The teacher presents the target language. Then students are asked to practice it, first in well-controlled activities, then in freer activities. It is only later that the students are allowed to produce the desired language. The process starts with the input and ends with the output. What happens in between is practice.
The PPP model of teaching has always been considered to originate from a behaviorist approach to language teaching. The audiolingual method, which is based on Behaviorism, puts much stress on slicing language into smaller bits and on the importance of practicing these language bits until perfection.
The PPP paradigm has its proponents in the classroom although it has been proved to originate from weak learning theory. Teachers still stick to the same procedure in delivering their lessons. This is mainly due to the following points:
- It is thought to reflect a so-called ‘logical’ or ‘plausible’ procedure of learning. Production comes only after presentation and practice.
- It is easy to implement. Teachers who still use this model of teaching start by slicing bits of language, sequencing them from easy to difficult. Then, they proceed by presenting, practicing, and asking their students to produce.
- Although Scott Thornbury believes that the PPP model does not reflect how learning actually takes place, he saw in it the possibility to prime language for later use.
Learning a language is not the sum of smaller bits
The first criticism addressed to the PPP model is that it considers language as a sum of smaller bits that can be taught separately. Language is holistic and learning is organic (very much like a seed growing) and recursive. It is not linear. That is, language can’t be sliced into smaller chunks and taught discretely. We don’t learn one bit of language and then proceed to the next bit and so on and so forth. When learning a new language point, one may go back in his/her learning to previously met language features to check consistency with present learning situations. What is taught to students is rarely retained in an individual lesson in spite of seeming to be mastered in the course of that lesson.
Depriving learners of learning opportunities
A second disadvantage of the PPP approach to teaching English is that it limits learners’ encounter with learning opportunities. In fact, when presenting a bit of language in isolation, we strip away other important features of language. This leads to depriving students:
- from comprehensible input, which might be of use to them
- and from the opportunity to notice other language items that might be implicitly ‘acquired’.
Most of the time, learning is incidental. While helping learners to learn, we do not know for sure what they have actually learned and what is still in the process of being acquired.
The audio-lingual method, however, doesn’t care much about the last P of the PPP procedure which is production. After mastering language structures, students in the audio-lingual method are not given free vent to produce anything. The aim is only to imitate/repeat, apply/practice, not to produce.
The PPP paradigm lacks another (fourth) P: Personalization. We learn the language to talk about our knowledge, experience, and feelings. The aim is to be truthful and meaningful. This stage helps learners own, or better appropriate, the content and relate it to their lives. Students need to connect to the material taught. Unfortunately, this is missing in the PPP approach to teaching.