Saturday, July 15, 2006

Stephen Krashen, the American University Alumni school (AUA), and others recommend an initial "silent period" for students of a second language. During the silent period, the student is instructed to listen and understand, but not try to speak. When I registered at AUA in Bangkok, an instructor asked me many questions in both Thai and English while observing my answers, speech, and comprehension. Because of my background in Thai, I was placed at an advanced level where complete silence is not required. Consequently, I do not try to stay "silent" all the time in Thai. However, there is a long-term version of the silent period, which is a useful behavior pattern in general for language acquisition. AUA alludes to this in some of their literature, such as this paragraph from "Just Let Me Try To Say It" by David Long (italics mine).

'When will I start to speak?' Without doubt, this is the most often asked question. This is also a question that a baby or young child never asks. The easiest answer is, 'When you're ready.' Each person will be little different but overall, when a student has acquired between 60% and 70% of the new language the phonemes of the new language are firmly set. After that, it is simply a question of whether or not the word is 'there' when you need it or not. If it's not, don't worry about it. Use what's there. You'll be amazed at how well it will work for you. When a student begins speaking, it isn't that the language will immediately come out perfect, but that he doesn't have to 'remember' anything at all. He will simply think the thought and the words will be there. This is exactly how your native language works for you. The key is that because the student is drawing only from the input of Thai teachers, those things he says will correct themselves in just a short while.

Just Let Me Try To Say It, David Long

For me, "using what's there" consists of using English words, remaining silent, or changing what I'm saying. This completely circumvents a hesitancy that can occur when a student learns by translation and is forced to speak.

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