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Silence and language learning

I don’t know why, but when I was deciding what my next newsletter would be, the word silence resonated very loudly in my mind (pun intended).


I think I need silence. I need my brain to just be quiet. I try to quiet it during my daily meditations, it doesn't always work. Sometimes it (my brain) listens to me sometimes it doesn’t. When I do my daily yoga, I focus on my breathing and for a few seconds, sometimes a few minutes, I stop thinking and relief washes over me.



I’ve also noticed that when I learn something new, a few minutes of silence after the "learning" sinks in, is really helpful. That silent pause gives my brain some space to assimilate it, to take it in.


We live in a society where we feel we have to fill every moment with some kind of noise. If we talk, we exist.


Did you know that when learning a new language, people (children and adults) go through a "silent period"?


"The silent period is a phase reported to have been observed in second-language acquisition where

the learner does not yet produce but is actively processing the second language." (Wikipedia)



Naming that period of time, knowing that it's been observed and studied and that it's normal, is wonderful news. It means that instead of being frustrated with ourselves when we're not yet able to speak, we can accept that silence knowing that our brain is actively working for us. We just don't realize it is.





I’ve had someone tell me once “but if I don’t talk during meetings, they’ll think I’m stupid because I have nothing to say’. That’s a loaded sentence. The type of sentence that I, as a coach, absolutely love.



- We can choose to be silent during a meeting because we simply don't have enough vocabulary, not necessarily because we are embarrassed. The time will come.


- Of course silence can also be because we're embarrassed to talk in front of others (Feriel I can talk with you but not in a meeting)


- Silence can also be due to the fact that you're an introvert and you don't talk much in general



So, how can we break that silence when we have to speak? Certainly the "coaching" in language coaching can be very very useful.


But what if you don't want any coaching or training at the moment? Until you have enough language skills and/or confidence to speak up, use silence to your advantage:


1. Use your silent listening during meetings to really focus on the language instead of being frustrated with yourself. Make it an opportunity to learn. Take notes, pay attention to words, expressions.


Here's an example : when I travel to Greece for instance, I can't participate in any conversation. But when my friend Elli engages in a conversation with a waiter/waitress or a neighbor or her family, I listen actively, I'm super focused and try to catch words but also expressions, tone of voice, etc.


2. If you work on Teams or Zoom, ask the meeting organizer if they can record the meeting so you can listen