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What Is the Silent Period?

The silent period is a natural phase in language acquisition, where learners absorb a new language without speaking much. It's like a mental rehearsal, crucial for building comprehension before verbal skills emerge. This linguistic cocoon, often seen in children, is also experienced by adults. Curious about how this silent phase shapes language learning? Let's delve deeper into its significance.
Esther Ejim
Esther Ejim

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.

The silent period refers to a step in the process of learning a new language.
The silent period refers to a step in the process of learning a new 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.

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Discussion Comments


Some children may go through a silent period. My oldest cousin sure didn't! She started talking early and never quit. She was talking very well by the time she was 18 months old and was never silent. According to the family, she was even more than a little annoying because she never was quiet!

I know my uncle used to bug out to visit my dad or their younger brother when my cousin would visit my grandparents when he still lived at home. He would be all right for a day or so, but then the noise would get to him and he would leave until she did. She still talks all the time and expects everyone to listen to everything she says. Oh, well.


We had a visiting journalist come to the office. She was from Russia, and even though she spoke English fairly well, she kind of went through a silent period when she had been here about a week. Her host family said she wouldn't say much except at the dinner table, and it was as if she were processing all the information. After that, she was very interested in learning as much English as she could. She carried an English-Russian dictionary with her everywhere. She also made some friends with local Russian families, which also helped her adjust. She ended up being very proficient in English by the time she left.

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    • The silent period refers to a step in the process of learning a new language.
      By: michaeljung
      The silent period refers to a step in the process of learning a new language.