Silent Period and Frequency Dictionary List 1-5000?

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about the reasons for the Silent Period.

The main reason I’m interested in this topic is because I started speaking Spanish (as an inexperienced language learner) without having listened to a lot of Spanish and have had many of the usual problems which I do not want to repeat in future languages :slight_smile:

I believe my problems are related to speaking too early. I’m still improving and I know I can defossilize some of these mistakes so all is not lost. However, I am going to use this knowledge to improve new language attempts.

Anyway, I can understand that the Silent Period gives you time to listen to the sounds and patterns of the language and to absorb vocabulary.

However, assuming Silent Periods (plural, because a silent period can still be applied at a later stage for late listeners) are key in advancing towards fluency then I think that the Silent Period literature is not providing some vital information.

For example, the ALG method specifies 800 hours of silence. They say that this is the required time that absolutely everybody in this program needs to absorb a specific quantity of vocabulary/understanding before speaking.

I was going to ask 2 questions but I think I only need 1 now. What amount of absorbed vocabulary through comprehensible input is needed before speaking (for the silent period to be deemed a success)?

I was thinking of questioning the number of hours through ALG (as mentioned in the link below) by suggesting that the implementation of TPR and other right brain learning techniques would reduce this value significantly but it all leads to the same question of how much vocabulary do we need? (Effortless English Archives: Silent Period Teaching Methods)

Frequency dictionaries talk about 70% coverage with the first ~1000 words, 80% with ~3000 words and 90%+ with 5000 words. So, how many words do we wait to absorb? (Vocab numbers in lingq are calculated slightly differently, I’m using Routledge Frequency Dictionary values here as a guidline.)

I think we need to know this amount in order to fully understand and benefit as much as possible from the Silent Period. Being silent for a short period is helpful but it could be too short to be truly effective for the learner. Likewise, I’m sure you can be silent for too long.

If we know the vocab number than we only need to flick through a Frequency dictionary to estimate if we are ready! That is assuming we know the number :slight_smile:

Any thoughts on quantities?

I think the answer is simpler than that. We speak when we feel like it and when we have opportunities to speak. I don’t think it is a matter of vocabulary coverage. In any case, our speaking for the longest time, will a small part of our activity compared to reading and listening, so I don’t see how it can affect us negatively.


It’s important to remember that the silent period is an observation, not a recommendation. When children move to a new country, they generally spend some time listening to and acquiring the new language before they begin speaking. This observation is part of what sparked the development of input-based language learning, as opposed to listen-and-repeat output-based learning. But very few places (in fact the ALG program is the only one I know of) actually ban people from speaking. Most input-based programs simply don’t require students to speak, or to produce language, if they don’t want to, especially in the beginning.

I’m no expert, but as long as you’re getting lots of input, I doubt it matters how much or how little you speak in the beginning. Also, the ALG program is for, largely Westerners, learning Thai - which, IMHO, is a crazy difficult language to speak correctly - so a crazy amount of listening might not be a bad idea. If I were learning Thai, I would probably listen to a few hundred hours before I tried to speak. Same with Chinese, I would think. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would suggest that an English speaker needs to listen to 800 hours of Spanish before beginning to speak.


I suppose if you feel ready to speak then it suggests you can contribute with whatever language you have absorbed and then it won’t affect you negatively. I think the problems arise when we are not ready with insufficient listening and push too soon. For the most part though, that might take some time or you will run into trouble. That is, if you try before you’re capable. The key then is to continue to listen daily so you have a base to continue improving. It would be interesting to know how many are in the habit of listening daily and for how long and their experiences?

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I personally have never seen someone who listened too much in the beginning and then suffered for that later. In fact, it’s pretty rare to meet someone who has actually listened enough. A lot of people listen to pop songs, which they don’t actually understand, and movies/TV with subtitles in their native language, which is probably of limited benefit.

I think Steve gives the best advice - speak if you want to, or if doing so is a big part of your motivation for learning the language - but concentrate on getting lots and lots of input, especially in the beginning. There are many language learners who speak ok, but who don’t understand very well. I’ve got 10 years experience as a language teacher, and I’ve seen this time and time again. People get relatively good at expressing themselves, but aren’t able to understand when native speakers are speaking normally, even when they know all the words being used. And this is just because they just haven’t listened enough. I used to put on TV shows and ask students what percent of the words being used they thought were new to them. Then I’d show them the script and they’d realize they actually knew all the words, but they just couldn’t understand what the people were saying.

I also wonder how much most people listen every day. It certainly gets easier to put in the time once you’re more advanced and can understand TV shows and podcasts well enough to enjoy them.


I often use timestretching on my mp.3s. Reducing the speed of a recording by 10% or so doesn´t make it sound too weird and makes it soooo much easier to understand what´s going on.


Maybe it would make sense to listen to the same content at increasing tempos. That´s how I practice(d) guitar solos and it worked out pretty well.

@Paule89 - Love the (d)! Same experience! :slight_smile:

@Paul, Derek
I started learning languages upon dropping out of music school and isolating myself from the music scene. It’s interesting how learning languages seems to satiate the same desires as does practicing an instrument.


This article reports on a suggested tie-in between music training and language acquisition. “Music Tones the Brain, Improves Learning,” by Rachael Rettner.

If music training can help learning a foreign language, maybe learning a foreign language can help in music training?

The basis of Rettner’s article was a report by Nina Kraus and Bharath Chandrasekaran, “Music training for the development of auditory skills,” which is behind a paywall.

Here is the abstract of Kraus and Chandrasekaran’s report:
“The effects of music training in relation to brain plasticity have caused excitement, evident from the popularity of books on this topic among scientists and the general public. Neuroscience research has shown that music training leads to changes throughout the auditory system that prime musicians for listening challenges beyond music processing. This effect of music training suggests that, akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness. Therefore, the role of music in shaping individual development deserves consideration.”

What research lies behind this report I can’t say.

Edited to amend my last line. I can see a bit of the research references on the side of a darkened page. Among the journals are “Nature” and “The Journal of Neuroscience.”

There are lots of thing you can do to make content more comprehensibe:

  • slow down the speed
  • read the transcript of what you’re listening to
  • if it’s news, listen to several stories on the same topic
  • if it’s TV/movie, watch with subtitiles in the target language
  • etc.

Personally, I’ve never gone into my computer and tried to reduce the speed on something. I’m sure it would increase comprehensibility, but my inclination is to just look for easier content. Maybe I’ll try it though.