The silent period is a phase reported to have been observed in second language acquisition where the learner does not yet produce but is actively processing the L2. This silent period has been claimed to be typically found in children and has been called the second stage of second language acquisition, following the use of L1 and preceding productive use of L2, and can last between a few weeks to a year.
While the silent period has received a lot of endorsement from researchers and educators, some argue against the validity of such a period. There are debates surrounding its significance in language acquisition, of how language teachers should address such a period in school curriculum, and what exactly language learners are processing (or not) during such a period.
There is controversy as to whether there is such a defined silent period of active learning. Studies in support of a silent period have used variable methods and definitions of silence. Some define it as the absence of any L2, while others define it as the absence of productive syntax in L2. Moreover, these studies were conducted across variable settings, and report a big range in the length of silent periods. Ultimately, even if these studies did properly established a non-verbal phase, there is still a lack of evidence that it involves active learning, as opposed to general incomprehension or shyness. The general concept of the silent period also seems at odds with the communicative nature of language and language acquisition.
In language teaching
General support for a silent period of active learning leads to certain implications in language teaching. Educators are less likely to expect engagement from L2 learners early on in acquisition, and might not try to elicit speech from L2 learners. However, if the silent period is not empirically founded, or if it reflects general incomprehension or shyness rather than active learning, then these pedagogical methods have to be reevaluated.
- Saville-Troike, M. (1988). "Private speech: Evidence for second language learning strategies, during the "silent period"". Journal of Child Language. 15: 567–590.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Administration on Children, Youth and Families, (ACYF) (2005). "Head Start bulletin # 78. English language learners".
- Paradis, J. "Second language acquisition in childhood". Blackwell handbook of language development: 387–405.
- Tabors, P. O. "One child, two languages: A guide for preschool educators of children, learning English as a second language".
- Roberts, T. A. (2014). "Not so silent after all: Examination and analysis of the silent stage in childhood second language acquisition". Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 29 (1): 22-40.