Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Silent Period: A Conversation With Steve

by AJ

Listen To This Podcast

I have transcribed part of the conversation I had with Steve last month, and reposted that section of the audio for my podcast. In this conversation, Steve and I discuss the idea of an initial "silent period" when learning a language. The "silent period" is the phase in which the learner focuses solely on input (listening and reading) and makes no effort to speak. This period imitates the natural process that all babies and small children follow when learning their own native languages.

The Conversation:

Steve: You had a post, on your blog,... which I think you called something like- laying down the gauntlet

AJ: (laughs) yes...

S: And you said that within two years you were gonna,... first of all you said you were gonna follow a... you know... I mean you talk... your blog is entitled "Effortless Acquisition".... or "effortless learning".. what's the name of your blog?

AJ: Yeah, "Effortless Language Acquisition".

S: Acquisition. And we are both, more or less, sort of influenced by the Krashen approach.. I think.

AJ: Sure

S: I think that's fair to say. And so we both feel that, uh, meaningful, interesting content... and the pursuit of content and the, sort of, desire to learn what's in the language... what's being said there ... if we then listen and read and, and, so forth.... that we will learn faster than if we, if we get tied up in rules of grammar.

AJ: Right.

S: I think that's one element of the Krashen thing. Uh, I think... the other element which I... and I... and here I go to... there's a fellow called Paul Nation out of New Zealand. And he's done a lot of work on vocabulary learning.

And uh,.. there's also a fellow called Tom Cobb, in Montreal. And uh,.. they believe, and I've spoken to Tom Cobb, and, and he agrees.. and I feel, and I think you feel that vocabulary trumps grammar.

AJ: Right.

S: You, You've gotta build up a lot of words. Uh, uh, particularly in the beginning. If you get too tied up with grammar.. you'll... its easier to get discouraged. If you have a lot of words, you know, if you know the names of a lot of things, you'll be able to say things... even if you make a mistake here and there.

AJ: Sure. Yeah. Absolutely.

S: So, uh... And that, that.. in time if you are learning words and if you are exposed to a lot of the language through listening and reading... at some point you can read the grammar rules, and it may provide you explanation for.. for things which by that time you have become familiar with so, therefore, the explanations make sense.

But until you have had that exposure and you've accumulated a certain number of words, the grammar explanations simply conjure up this,.. this idea of "this language is very complicated".

AJ: Right

S: And uh.. so I think we're both kind of "on the same wavelength". But I want to challenge one thing in your challenge, where you "laid down the gauntlet"..
I don't think it should take you two years to be fluent in Spanish.

AJ: Ahhhhh, really?

S: Oh yeah. No, no. It need not take two years.

AJ: Well that's good... that's encouraging.

S: Uh,.. How much time do you intend to spend...

AJ: Uhhh, I've.. you know... I've, I've been steadily getting more and more. I would say, if I average it out over the three months, since I started three months ago.. maybe an hour a day so far, but right now I'm probably hitting.. hour and a half to two hours a day.

S: Um, Hmm. And, and is it largely listening and reading?

AJ: Yeah, yeah... um.. 90 percent I would say.

S: Right. See I believe... and you, of course you live in Los Angeles..

AJ: San Francisco actually

S: San Francisco, Ok, but you have.....
AJ: Same thing

S: Spanish.. Spanish language radio stations, Spanish on TV,..
AJ: Yes.

S: Uh, and if you wanted to find some Spanish speaking friends you could.

AJ: Yes, absolutely.

S: So... I mean, if you spend an initial six months.. you've already spent three. Another three.. building up your passive knowledge, in a way... you know, becoming more and more familiar with words... becoming more and more familiar with words and phrases...
enjoying content.. listening to different kinds of content.. occasionally treating yourself to a movie, er... We've had this discussion whether movies are effective or not-- they're fun, so, I, I personally don't think they're very intensive language learning opportunities, but they're fun and they're stimulating..

If you do all of those things within six months you'll be able to comfortably talk to people about simple subjects.

AJ: Wow. Well that's good news.. you know, cause right now... I'm, I'm kind of at a point where its starting to gel... come together. The, uh, the.. the material, um, I'm understanding it better. It doesn't seem so alien and, and, and impossible... but, but actually producing it still... you know I mean I could put some words out there but its still,... eh, very hesitant,.. very kind of, eh...

Well , cause of course I'm not really focusing on that at all right now.

S: Right. And it is a little stressful. Like if you had to sit down for an hour and speak to someone in Spanish, and, and, I'm at that stage say in my Russian... its a little stressful, almost to the point of being a little bit annoying.

AJ: Yeah

S: Because you're forced to try to do something which you fundamentally know you can't do.

AJ: Right

S: I, I,... at least that's the way I look at it. I mean I can come up with a few sentences, but I'm looking for words and I'm getting it all wrong. And, so I'm in, in my Russian... eh... I'm not sure that I'm at the same level,.. place.. but we've spent about the same amount of time at it..

I want to get to where I've read a lot of Russian, and listened to a lot of Russian.. and then,.. and I've, and I've told this to this lady that I speak to half an hour a week.... that, you know, three months from now, yeah, we'll be speaking Russian. Right now its, its an exchange, I speak half an hour of English, she speaks half an hour of Russian.... but to me, within my Russian language learning,.. I consider the importance of the half hour conversation I have with her every week is..like.. very very low.

AJ: Ahh, right.

S: Very low. I, its not to me a priority at all. I've gotta increase my familiarity with words which,.. which I will do because I will have seen them in so many different contexts. And then I have a better chance of remembering them when I want to use them.

But I think the passive phase can be six months, without feeling badly that you can't express too much in the language.

San Francisco, CA