Toggle Navigation

The “Silent Period” in Language Development

By VIPKid  |  August 4, 2020

Ready to start teaching English online?

Teach with VIPKid

Teachers often feel frustrated or can feel afraid they aren’t teaching properly when young students won’t speak during class. Understanding the natural development of the language-learning process can help calm those fears and frustrations when an English-language learner (ELL) is going through the “Silent Period.”

By MarJanita B

He sat in a chair at the table, stoically facing the camera. I started class and desperately tried to elicit a name from him. No response. I TPR-ed, danced and sang through that lesson, and the next, and the ones after that. I jumped, hopped, and pulled out dozens of props. I used my students’ favorite rewards. Dino and I held great conversations, but could I get 4-year-old Mark to utter even one word? Nope!

One day at dinner, I was discussing how my classes had gone for the day. Once I got to the description of Mark’s class, I heard comments such as, “Well, he probably just doesn’t want to participate,” and “Maybe he has learning difficulties.” 

Although those may be a person’s first thoughts, Mark’s lack of response is completely typical for the young student. Actually, there is even a term for it known as the “Silent Period.”

Imagine yourself as a baby or picture your own infant. We know that newborns aren’t exactly reciting The Pledge of Allegiance as soon as they enter this world. They go through a stage of listening, watching, and processing. The amount of time needed for this can vary per child, but eventually, they begin to combine everything they collected and produce their own words. This process also often occurs among second-language learners. 

1) What does the “Silent Period” look like?

  • It is a process that all ESL students go through but is more evident in younger students because it occurs for a longer period of time.
  • The length of time can vary, but is usually longer the younger the student is.
  • The student is learning, even if they are not producing the language yet.
  • During this time, students are working full-time and at top speed with listening, watching, processing, and comprehending.

2) How to handle the “Silent Period?”

  • Be patient.
  • Understand that it’s a natural part of learning.
  • Use lots of TPR, props, and visuals to aid them in their reception of language and keep them engaged.
  • Give extensive praise for participation, even if it’s just participation through movement, expression, or accomplishing a task on the screen.
  • Keep affective filters low, so the student feels comfortable. If they are scared of the teacher or very timid, the “Silent Period” can last even longer.
  • Explain in feedback to parents that the “Silent Period” is a natural part of language learning.
  • Use a puppet to demonstrate conversation, the repeating of words, and the answering of questions.
  • Remember that a student in the “Silent Period” is still learning, even if they are not speaking; it just means they need a little extra patience and understanding on the teacher’s part.

Whatever happened to Mark? Well, I’m happy to report that eventually, Mark started repeating an occasional word throughout the lesson. When this happened, I threw pom-poms, blew bubbles, shook hand clappers, and basically acted like a crazy teacher because I was so proud of him. Before long, he was even able to use sentences, including his favorite one, “Teacher, I want the fish reward.” 

The Moral of the Story?

Whenever you come across a student going through the “Silent Period,” remember Mark and be reminded that your patience and understanding will bring great results!

Earn $14-22 an hour Teaching English from Home

If you enjoyed this article, check out our blogs on Top Comprehensible Input and ESL Topics & Questions for Students.

This Teaching Essentials Blog Series looks at some tools-of-the-trade for online ESL instruction. In it, we explore a few key concepts and dive into what makes them indispensable to our teachers.

MarJanita B. lives in Lancaster, PA., where she keeps her classroom stocked with lots of fun props and rewards for those young students whom she absolutely adores teaching. When she’s not in her happy place teaching her VIPKid students, she’s in her other happy place working as a VIPKid Workshop Mentor and VIPKid TMC.

Share This Story

Related Articles

Ready to start teaching English online? Teach with VIPKid 家長必須認識到孩子在學習英語時可能會經歷沉默期的情況,即語言學習者在這段時間內不會口語表達。(Krashen,S. 1981,《第二語言習得和第二語言學習》)。 當孩子學習母語時,他們需要經歷長達一年的「聽」的過程,才能夠說出第一個詞語。對於第二語言而言,沉默期的長短因人而異:有的人只有一天,有的人則可能需要半年或更長時間。在沉默期,孩子透過「聽」提高語言技能,透過接收可理解的語言輸入發展語言能力。(Long,1985,《輸入與第二語言習得理論》) 在學習第二語言的過程中,理解總是先於生產。在英語的四種主要語言技能中(聽、說、讀、寫),前兩種是聽說,而後兩種則與識字有關。聽力是一種理解技能,說話是一種表達技能。因此,聽力理解總是先於口語表達。同樣地,閱讀是一種理解技能,而寫作是一種表達技能。因此,閱讀理解總是先於寫作表達。雖然聽力和口說之間有明顯的聯繫,但讀和寫之間的聯繫也非常普遍。 對於處於默語期的孩子,老師需要創造一個全英文的環境,利用課件以有趣的方式與他們互動,培養孩子的語感,包括語音和語調的感覺。請不要期望你的孩子馬上就會說英語,也不要給孩子施加壓力讓他們多學習。儘量不要在孩子一回到家就問,“你今天在課堂上學到了什麼?你能說出幾句你學過的英語嗎?”多一些耐心,多一些鼓勵,和孩子一起度過沉默期,讓他們很快就能大膽地說英語。(VanPatten, B.(2017),《當我們在談論這個話題時:靜默期》) 以下是對於「靜默期」更深入的理解: 靜默期是學習第二語言的兒童中非常普遍的現象。 靜默期尤其常見於年齡在3至7歲的非常年輕的學習者身上,但有時也可能發生在小學早期的學習者身上,且持續時間可能從幾周到一年不等,這取決於孩子本身以及他們的害羞、缺乏自信、以前接觸過英語和文化影響等因素。 靜默期通常在學習者精神上積極處理語言並開始實際學習時發生。 靜默期可以透過觀察學習者的眼球運動、身體動作等來辨認,這些行為表明孩子正在進行心理處理或已經理解。 教師應該耐心地鼓勵學習者用友好的方式生產語言,並在學習者準備好時允許他們進行生產步驟。 教師應提供充足的反應時間,並鼓勵學習者冒險並嘗試做出反應,而不必擔心受到懲罰。 學習者可以通過使用插圖、多個適合不同年齡和水平的句子結構範例、替換和重複使用不同的詞彙來克服靜默期。 教師可以使用身體動作和輔助工具來協助學習者理解語言,因為在語言習得中,理解先於生產,通過接觸來學習。 參考文獻: 克拉申,S.(1981)。第二語言習得和第二語言學習。佩加蒙出版社 Long, M.H.(1985)。輸入和第二語言習得理論。在S.Gass&C.Madden(編輯)中,第二語言習得中的輸入(第377-393頁)。紐伯裏之家 亞瑟,J. J.(1977)。通過行動學習另一種語言:完整的教師指南。天空橡樹製作公司 VanPatten, B.(2017)。當我們談論這個話題時:沉默時期的BVP。語言教學,50(3),418-429

April 25, 2023


Ready to start teaching English online? Teach with VIPKid Contributing Writer: Lomikia Gerling-Douglas All around the world we as teachers have the pleasure of meeting children from various racial, socio-economic, gender, linguistic, and religious backgrounds with diverse family makeups. All of these points of interest can impact a child’s self-esteem and pride because they are […]

June 25, 2022


In this post, we’ll break down what a flipped classroom is and what teachers and students are expected to do in a flipped classroom. We’ll also list some pros and cons that are associated with it, and how we here at VIPKid implement the flipped classroom approach into our curriculum. 

November 29, 2021