All about children!

Although much research has been done about second language acquisition, it is still a mysterious topic for some people. Which is very strange since 17.9% of the population in the USA (2000 Census) said they spoke a language other than English.

But acquiring a second (or third, etc) language is a complicated process that varies greatly depending on the experience and exposure with the new language, the learner’s  personality, and their emotions around learning a new language. The silent period is an initial phase of the language acquisition process, during which children acquiring a new language in natural settings are silent and concentrate on comprehension. So, literally they don’t speak much during this period but they may respond when necessary in a non-verbal way or by using a set of memorized phrases.

However, this silent period phenomenon is also observed when we see how children acquire their native language. We know that during typical language acquisition, a baby spends many months listening to the people around it long before they start using words. Comprehension always comes before production in a natural process of language acquisition, therefore, when acquiring a second language, it is natural that they also follow this process. But, because usually children who come from bilingual homes start learning or are more consistently exposed to their second language when they come to school, it is expected that they speak their second language quickly, without having them the opportunity to follow the normal acquisition process. This can be frustrating to teachers since the length of the silent period can vary greatly for students in classrooms from a few days to a year, and because the child is silent in the dominant classroom language, it can be hard to know where they are in acquiring English.

Next week, I’ll give some suggestion to the classroom teacher who has a student going through the silent period!

Do you have any experiences with silent period you want to share?

Comments on: "Understanding the Silent Period" (6)

  1. Lauren Holstein said:

    Thanks for this great post! We see this A LOT in the elementary schools, particularly in kindergarten when a student comes from a home where a different language is spoken. I talk about the silent period with a lot of parents (and some teachers), who are very worried if the student won’t speak. Understandably so! I have a student right now who speaks all Spanish at home. She was put on an IEP in preschool for expressive language problems because she wouldn’t speak! But all of a sudden, in the last month or so, she has started speaking MUCH more. And it turns out, her expressive language is just fine! Many of our parents who are native speakers of another language tell me, “I understand a lot of English, but when I have to respond, I get nervous and I don’t know what to say”. I just tell them, that’s probably what your son/daughter is feeling!

    • Awesome! The same thing happens to me at schools, and it is very challenging to explain this to people. They think i’m making it up! 😀

  2. Love the post! It’s so frustrating when people say that kids “don’t get it” just because they aren’t speaking or writing. Great post!

    • Thanks! We definitively live in a fast world and there’s no patience for waiting! Kids have to learn things quickly otherwise they have a problem!

  3. Thanks so much! I know I learned this during a pedagogy course on SLA, but I had forgotten about this important part of the learning process. It’s important to remember, both as a parent and a teacher, that children need time to process what they are learning before they can produce it. I’m so eager for my 18-month-old to speak – in English or German! – but I know I just have to be patient. Thanks for the reminder!

    • No problem! We have to remember that every child is different. But keep talking to him/her in both languages. This is the time to proces sit all!! Good luck!

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