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The silent period is a theory stating that anyone trying to learn a new language must go through a period of silence in which he or she figuratively withdraws while trying to make sense of all that has been learned about the language. This is a period for comprehension after assimilation of material relating to the new language. The idea is that the person learning a new language will use the silent period to figure out how to digest everything he or she has learned before attempting to speak the language.
Sometimes, the silent period is a deliberate attempt by the learner of a new language to pause before taking an oral leap into the new language. This may last anywhere from a few days to a few months depending on the circumstances. For instance, a new immigrant to a country may use the time to try to learn the new language as much as possible before trying to communicate in the language. Such a person may impose the silent period on himself as he strives to master the language.
On the other hand, some people unwillingly experience a silent period in their quest to learn a new language. This period may not be deliberate, but rather the result of shyness or an unwillingness to embarrass themselves by not speaking the language properly. Another factor that could affect the onset and duration of a silent period is the personality of the person learning the new language. Someone who is naturally reserved may have a tougher time trying to express words in a new language than someone who is more outgoing.
The native or cultural background of the person learning the new language also plays a role because some cultures may instill some modes of behavior that may influence the length of the silent period. An example is a culture in which girls are expected to be submissive and less-outspoken or opinionated than the men. Such a girl may find it hard to overcome such a cultural barrier, even in a new country. She might take a longer time than another female from a country in which gender equality is the norm. Even young children go through a silent period when they are learning a new language. Children who are learning a new language use the time to process the language in their minds before they can speak it.