Czech EFL

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

Silent period

I'm now reading Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning, an ebook by Stephen Krashen and I personally find it an utterly fascinating read. The model he outlines on the first few pages looks simple yet groundbreaking. It boggles my mind though that 20 years after its original publication most EFL folks around here still seem to take it for granted that what Krashen calls 'second language learning' should help learners improve production, let alone fluency.

One thing I've come across only recently is the term 'silent period'. I understand Krashen and others have done quite a bit of research on this but none could explain the phenomenon better than my 3-year-old niece. We started watching Magic English recently and when I asked her the other day if she wants to speak English as well she firmly replied that she would only listen!

It is tempting to draw a parallel between children and adults as far as the acquisition is concerned and I wonder if adult learners should imitate the way children acquire their mother tongue and therefore should be encouraged to observe the silent period. A lot of comprehensible input in rich and personally meaningful context is crucial BUT an adult learner can voluntarily decide to analyze little bits and pieces of new language they personally find useful or interesting. This analysis may also include an attempt to use the language in their own, personally related context. The two important implications are that first, they make the language their own and establish a kind of pattern or relationship and second, they are likely to make a mistake first in writing before they do so in speaking, which for all too many people is a painful and embarrassing experience.

The question therefore is whether the silent period should be consciously applied to both speaking and writing (blank period?) or whether adult learners should be encouraged to attempt some production in writing. What do you think? Can you point to some research/papers on this?

By the way, my niece produced her first English word as we were about to watch part four. She was asking if there would be the 'baby' we had seen in one of the previous parts...

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