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The Silent Period of Second Language Acquisition – Know This Before Frustration Takes Over!
There are five different stages in the second language acquisition process:
1) The quiet period
2) The early production period
3) The period of appearance of speech
4) The intermediate production period
5) The advanced production period
Even though there is a lot of research on these different periods, the first of these five periods is probably the most misunderstood, ignored or unknown by teachers and students, the Quiet Period, which is the focus of today’s article. .
What is a quiet period?
The first stage of the language acquisition process is called the “Silent Period” simply because students do not speak much yet. For some students, this period can be shorter or longer, ranging from 2 to 6 months, although it can also last much longer, depending on how well the student knows the foreign language.
For example, a foreigner who lives abroad and is surrounded by a new language all day may have a shorter silent period than a student living in his home country who attends a bilingual school where a second language is taught for four or five hours a day. However, this student’s silent period may be much shorter than that of a second language student who studies two hours a week. So it becomes clear that it is almost impossible to generalize how long this period can last, because it depends on many personal and individual variables that come into play.
The main characteristic of this stage is that after the initial contact with the language, the learner can understand much more than he can perform. You can easily see this even in two-year-old babies! You can talk to them normally and they definitely understand what you are saying. However, even if they wanted to say exactly what you said, they wouldn’t know. They may use some of your words, but they would find it impossible to express their thoughts in a similarly organized way, even though they can understand every word we say.
This goes hand in hand with the fact that comprehension preceded production. We will always be able to understand much more than we can produce. For example, even though I know little or nothing about economics, accounting, and marketing, when I watch or read news about these fields, I get a pretty good and accurate idea of what they’re about. However, if someone asked me to explain what the reports were saying, I would certainly resort to common language and simpler explanations to describe what the experts describe with specific jargon and technical analysis.
In other words, on the level of understanding, I could understand everything, but on the level of production, I may not express everything I heard in the same way. However, if I study these topics more and if they make sense to me and become part of my everyday reality, after a while I can start using this particular jargon as part of my everyday vocabulary. In this example, the time between my initial encounter with the topic, perhaps when I first heard a report on these topics, and when I was free to talk about it without jargon or any language problems, can be considered my silence. period in the field.
I would like to point out here that I am expanding the definition of linguists a bit with this era. Linguists specifically refer to the period when a person begins to learn the language through contact with it, understands a lot, but is not yet able to express his thoughts. When they talk about the “Silent Period” they don’t imply that it applies to language acquisition at any stage of the second language acquisition process, as I do. This is my humble opinion after years of working with second language learners. Again, I have personally noticed that I feel it is perfectly applicable to language learners at any stage of learning, as shown in the previous example.
As we have just seen, when it comes to the first contact between a language learner and a second language, this naturally takes on a new dimension. They may not be able to say a single word for a long time, and that’s perfectly fine, and it’s an integral part of the language acquisition process. The peculiarity of this period is that it has the special ability to make adult students anxious and teachers completely crazy! This is the most difficult time for both teachers and students.
One of the main reasons I decided to write this article was to remind teachers of this crucial stage of second language acquisition and to make students aware of its existence so that they don’t overburden themselves. By knowing this simple fact, both teachers and students can share the joy of teaching and learning without the tension of feeling like they are falling short of their goals.
Sometimes teachers’ lack of knowledge in such matters can have unintentionally disastrous consequences for students’ self-esteem. How often do we who specialize in teaching methodologies encounter frustrated or even angry teachers who complain about their students’ lack of progress.
“We’ve been working on the present tense for more than two months. We’ve practiced, we’ve done a lot of repetition, we’ve created real situations to bring the language to life, and yet there’s little or nothing!”
“How can they not learn after doing this for over three weeks!”
In most cases, my answer is the same: “Just give them more time.”
Over time, provided our students are in a truly communicative environment, they will begin to produce what they cannot now.
Widespread ignorance of this stage of the language acquisition process can create very undesirable situations. As a Colombian saying goes: “la ignorancia es atrevida”.
Lacking an exact English idiom, or at least not knowing it myself, I proceed to explain its meaning. The saying basically says “ignorance is rude and makes us stupid”.
Once, when I was working at a nice school in the United States teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) to a Mexican kid, I got a call from my supervisor. She was extremely concerned because the principal of the school I worked at had called her to complain about my teaching skills, as my student had made “no improvement at all” since using my services. Even though this same principal sat in on one of my classes and even wrote a report saying my work was “above average,” he seriously doubted that my teaching approach was actually working. After all, while the class was fun and provided students with plenty of communicative opportunities to use the language, never-before-seen drills, repetitions, gap-filling exercises, and grammar rules were not presented to my group of seven. – years old.” So in his opinion, it was only natural that this student could not speak or write much in English. The funny thing was that this student had been in the United States for less than two months and had received ESL services for less than a month and a half !!!!
Plus, unlike the headmistress’ idea, she made HUGE progress. You already understand most greetings and basic classroom instructions; could understand multiple questions on various everyday topics. He still understood a lot of what people told him and the basic facts! However, when he had to speak, he could only say a hello or two and give a “yes” or “no” answer. Does this mean no progress has been made? Does that mean you haven’t learned anything? Not for the last time! On the contrary, it was very advanced in the early stages of second language acquisition and entered the early production period very soon after. He was living his quiet period, plain and simple.
When I spoke to the principal and explained to her as politely as possible what the silent period was and how much this girl had improved, she couldn’t help but blush and let out a sigh of relief as she thought “we didn’t waste time. time!”
Knowing this simple fact, we can once again relax and enjoy what we are doing without the frustrating feeling of getting nowhere. Students also enjoy the freedom of knowing that sooner or later they will be able to put what they are learning into practice if they choose the right language setting (For more information on the right language setting, read my other articles: “You Are a Really Communicative in the Second Language Classroom?”, Making the Most of Your Second Language Acquisition Program, and “Second Language Acquisition in Adult Learners – Parts 1 and 2.”)
If we are the “masters and commanders” of our department, which can happen if you have your own language school, or if you are free to do what you want, knowing this simple fact will give you a completely different perspective on your work. . However, if you are working for someone who demands quick and immediate results, the best advice I can give is to do your own research on the subject; read as much as you can and be prepared to account for everything you do with your students. Talk to your supervisor, peers, students, or anyone who demands results right now, and simply explain to them what the vast body of research on the subject shows. More often than not, the light cast by knowledge dispels the darkness surrounding ignorance. Not only will they understand what you mean, but they will also appreciate your efforts to make classes more enjoyable and stress-free.
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