A Silent Period is a period of time during which English Language Learners avoid speaking in English. They may write in English, they may well understand what is being said in English, but they will shy away from saying anything in the language they are learning.
This can be due to several factors including: feeling inadequate, inability to formulate certain sounds correctly, peer pressure, performance anxiety, bad teaching, cultural influences, fearing the teacher’s reaction, introvert personality, and so on.
According to Stephen Krashen, one of the contributors to the field of Second Language Acquisition, most new learners of English will go through a Silent Period.
There is no set time for the Silent Period. Each student is different and the Silent Period may last from a few days to a year. However the teacher can help shorten the Silent Period by involving the students who may suffer from it in role plays and hands-on activities. Also having them work in small groups can help these students feel more confident in producing oral language.
The Silent Period is considered a pre-production stage in the learning process. It is a delicate stage that requires understanding and gentle encouragement but one that should be respected. Students should not be forced to speak before they are ready.
Regardless of their age, we should always allow our students time to listen to others talk, time to process what they hear, time to develop receptive vocabulary, and time to observe their classmates’ interactions.
Some techniques worth looking into to help your students come out of a Silent Period are Choral Reading and Total Physical Response. Repetition exercises are also very useful for these students and so are Listening Comprehension activities and building receptive vocabulary.
Pre-Production Stage of Language Learning
Here are a few facts related to students in the Silent Period:
- they acquire language every day.
- their receptive vocabulary is usually around 500 words.
- they can listen and understand.
- they can copy words from the board.
- they can respond to pictures and other visuals.
- they can understand and repeat gestures and movements to show comprehension.