The silent period is a phase which lasts from several weeks to several months during which young learners don’t produce any language actively but listen to a teacher’s input and process it. The length of this period depends on children’s personality and their skills. Some linguists claim that the younger children are, the longer the silent phase can be.
How did this notion appear?
In the early 80s, the natural approach to teaching appeared as opposed to the grammar-based method which had a strong focus on the form, forced language output and was very stressful for kids.
Stephen Krashen, an award-winning professor at the University of Southern California, described five hypotheses including the Input hypothesis(1985). He distinguished a period between the input to production which he called silent.
Krashen believes that productive skills evolve from receptive ones. So teachers need to pay more attention to listening and reading.
Teachers should be familiar with this theory in order not to put too much pressure on children when they start learning. High expectations will create additional stress for both sides of the learning process.
What arguments are provided against this theory?
Firstly, objectors to this theory claim that if you don’t ask, children won’t speak (Ana Lomba). Indeed, we need to encourage speaking in all possible ways. Even babies during their silent period aren’t completely taciturn, they babble.
One more argument against the theory of the silent period that it’s not always possible to implement it in our schools where teachers are made to evaluate learner’s progress on a daily basis. Since the pre-production stage will differ in time for every student, it’s not easy to apply this method in big classes in primary state schools.
And thirdly, some unmotivated students will never be ready to speak.
Teaching strategies during the silent period
- Use TPR methods that will work with young starters.
- Use pictures, gestures and movements to check their comprehension.
- Repeat lexical and grammar chunks. Repetition will help learners be more fluent eventually. But avoid monotonous drilling as Krashen said, ‘language doesn’t require tedious drill’.
- Focus on listening to build their receptive vocabulary.
- Use the target language in the lesson but young students can respond in L2 or L1 when they start learning.
- The input should be comprehensible but varied. Of course, you need to adapt your language when you talk to children but don’t make an input artificial by using only the target structures. Use a variety of grammar and vocabulary material even beyond the learners’ level.
- Don’t force speaking but try to support a child if he tries to respond and show the example of how to produce longer sentences:
A student: ‘A car’
A teacher: ‘Yes, it’s a big yellow car. Do you like playing with cars?’.
- Be patient and don’t expect too much!
What do you think of this theory? Share your ideas in the comments below!