A new EAL learner joins your class, they speak no English and are new to the country!
What do you do?
Do you expect them to speak, read or write instantly?
The silent period is a phase that all EAL learners that are new to English will experience in some shape or form.
During this time EAL learners will spend much of their time in your classrooms acclimatising to their new environment and receiving a lot of input in a number of ways.
As teachers the expectation should not be that learners are producing language.
The focus should be on receiving language and content in ways that are comprehensible to them.
Remember, comprehension precedes spoken language.
Supporting EAL (English as an Additional Language) students in schools can be challenging, but there are several strategies that can help. Our new course “Supporting the Teaching and Learning of EAL students” has great insight into what is needed to support EAL students.
1. What is the Silent Phase?
The silent phase, also known as the pre-production or silent period, is a period during language acquisition when EAL learners observe and listen attentively without actively producing the target language. Typically, this stage can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on the individual learner. During this time, students are absorbing the language, internalizing vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation, and building their receptive language skills before transitioning into the productive stage of language acquisition.
2. What is the student learning during this time?
The silent phase serves a vital purpose in the language learning journey. EAL learners need time to develop a sense of security and familiarity with the new language. By listening and observing, students gain an understanding of the patterns, intonations, and social conventions of the target language. This silent observation allows learners to build their confidence and reduce anxiety associated with producing the language. It is essential for educators to recognize the value of this phase and create a supportive environment that encourages language comprehension and exploration without pressure to speak.
3. How can teachers support EAL students?
It is crucial to provide a nurturing and inclusive classroom environment to support EAL students during the silent phase. Here are a few strategies that can facilitate language development during this stage:
- Comprehensible Input: Provide meaningful and comprehensible input through visual aids, gestures, demonstrations, and simplified language. Use real-life objects, pictures, and context to support understanding.
- Active Listening Opportunities: Engage students in listening activities such as audio recordings, songs, and storytelling. Encourage students to listen actively, ask questions, and make connections to the content.
- Multimodal Learning: Incorporate various modes of learning, including visual, auditory, and kinesthetic activities. This approach caters to diverse learning styles and helps reinforce language comprehension.
- Building Vocabulary: Focus on building vocabulary through word walls, flashcards, and interactive games. Encourage students to associate words with images, actions, or objects to enhance retention.
- Respectful Wait Time: Allow students ample time to process information before expecting verbal responses. This approach reduces anxiety and creates a supportive atmosphere for language exploration.
Remember, the silent phase is an essential and natural part of the language acquisition process for EAL learners. Understanding its purpose and implementing effective teaching strategies can greatly support students’ language development and overall confidence. By embracing this phase, educators can lay a solid foundation for future language production and empower their EAL students to thrive in their language learning journey.