Pre-production and the Silent Period
by Judie Haynes
If your new English language learner is not speaking, don’t worry. Most newcomers go through a stage during which they do not produce language. This doesn’t mean they are not learning.
According to Stephen Krashen, most new learners of English will go through a silent period which is an interval of time during which they are unable or unwilling to communicate orally in the new language. The silent period may last for a few days or a year depending on a variety of factors. It occurs before ELLs are ready to produce oral language and is generally referred to as the Pre-production stage of language learning. ELLs should not be forced to speak before they are ready and we dont want to embarrass students by putting them on the spot.
ELLs need time to listen to others talk, to digest what they hear, to develop receptive vocabulary, and to observe their classmates interactions. When they do speak, we want the speech to be real and purposeful instead of contrived. This does not mean your students are not learning. They may understand what is being said, but they are not yet ready to talk about it.
What determines the length of the” silent period?” There are several factors involved. First, personality plays a key role. A normally shy and quiet youngster in native language is usually going to take longer before they feel comfortable speaking. Native culture will also play a role. In many cultures, for example, girls are not expected to speak out. They play a more passive role in family and classroom dynamics.
Teacher instruction is also an important factor in the length of the silent period. If the teacher provides “hands-on” activities and has students interact in small groups, ELLs will be able to participate in the life of the classroom a lot sooner. They will feel more confident in risking oral language. It should not be assumed that young learners of English do not feel embarrassment or shyness when attempting to speak in a second language.
The Pre-production Stage of Language Learning
Your students are learning during this silent, pre-production stage. They are acquiring language every day.
They may have up to 500 words in their receptive vocabulary.
New learners of English can listen attentively and they may even be able to copy words from the board.
They will be able to respond to pictures and other visuals.
They can understand and duplicate gestures and movements to show comprehension.
Choral reading and Total Physical Response methods will work well with them.
English language learners at this stage will need much repetition of English.
They will benefit from a buddy who speaks their language.
Teachers should focus attention on listening comprehension activities and on building a receptive vocabulary.
How long does it take to learn English?
The most frequently asked question of ESL professionals by mainstream teachers, administrators, and even politicians concerns how long it should take English language learners to acquire English.
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Do you need to teach ESL methodology to your mainstream teachers and administrators? There are some essential terms that they need to know in order to understand basic second language acquisition theory.
Comprehensible Input and Output
How do newcomers learn English? Can they soak up language by sitting in the mainstream classroom? Learn how Comprehensible Input and Output are important to the acquisition of a second language.
Stages of Second Language Acquisition
All new learners of English progress through the same stages to acquire language. However, the length of time each students spends at a particular stage may vary greatly.
Explaining BICS and CALP
Classroom teachers need to understand the difference between social language and academic language acquisition. Here is a simple description of BICS and CALP as theorized by Jim Cummins.
How Culture Shock Affects Newcomers
Don’t underestimate the results of culture shock. The emotional upheaval of moving can be devastating to any child. These symptoms are compounded when the child comes from a different culture and does not speak English.
Language Acquisition vs. Language Learning
Should grammar be taught to young elementary age English language learners? Learn what the difference is between language acquisition and language learning.
Research the silent period and pre-emergent or emergent strategies. Find a lesson plan on the Internet or one you have previously written. Integrate strategies for supporting ELL students at the silent period and pre-emergent or emergent level. Write a 350- to 700-word summary that discusses: The definition of the silent period and pre-emergent or emergent level. How strategies used in the lesson will support students at this level Cite all sources consistent with APA guidelines. Present the assignment in a formal, APA-stylepaper, using word processing software. The use of first person is not appropriate for this assignment