The 'silent period'
Many children whose first language is not English go through a “silent period” when they first come into school in this country. This may last for several months but eventually these children do begin to speak at school. Priscilla Clarke’s strategies listed below offer advice on ways to help children through the silent period:
- continue talking even when children do not respond
- persistent inclusion in small groups with other children
- use of varied questions
- inclusion of other children as the focus in the conversation (pair the learner with a buddy and ask questions of both children) use the first language
- accept non-verbal responses.
- praise even minimal efforts
- continue to expect that the child will respond
- structure lessons to encourage child-to-child interaction
- provide activities which reinforce language practice through role play
Clarke, Priscilla (1992) English as a Second Language in Early Childhood
Selective mutism or the 'silent period'?
A few children don’t manage the transition from silence to speech in spite of staff using the strategies suggested for children in the silent period. This small percentage of children is sometimes referred to as “selectively mute”; there is no physical reason for their lack of speech but in particular environments, for instance when at school, they do not speak. By contrast in other environments, for instance when at home with family members or friends, they are quite happy to talk.
Further information on selective mutism is available in the SEN section.