The Silent Period for ELL Students

Instructor: Rebecca Bradshaw

Rebecca Bradshaw has a Master of Arts in Teaching and has experience teaching ELA, ESL, and high school CTE courses.

A silent period is the first phase of second language acquisition for an English Language Learner. Explore the reason for, length of, and type of language acquired during this period.

What Is a Silent Period?

You were invited to a party at a country club. You've never been there, and you don't know what to wear, but you throw on some clothes, hop in the car, and follow the turn-by-turn directions on your phone. You arrive and walk hesitantly to the entrance. You gently open the door, step in, and look around the room. Not seeing any familiar faces, you quietly walk across the room and find a wall to lean against. Anxiously, you look across the room for a friendly face as you silently become aware of your surroundings. You remain quiet until you have adjusted to your new environment. Once comfortable, you now begin to talk with others in the room.

This is comparable to an English Language Learner's silent period when entering a new school for the first time. The silent period is a time when ELL students are noticing their surroundings and observing the behaviors of others but lack confidence in their oral language ability. They do not want to be embarrassed or make a mistake when speaking, so they simply remain silent. They are not intending to be disrespectful or disobedient; they're merely taking it all in - how others talk, what they talk about, what they wear, classroom routines, rules, etc. They are observing what they need to know to fit in. Look at it as a time of acclimation.

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