The silent period – a comfortable way to waste time

Now I like Benny and think he’s a pretty cool guy, but I’ve always felt he drastically misrepresents what Krashen and others have to say on the idea of a “slient period” during foreign language learning. I’ve linked one of Benny’s recent articles above on this very issue. I gather he’s doing it partly to stir, but he does also genuinely feel it’s a waste of time. I know too that his approach to language learning has been discussed several times here, so it’s not really “news” as such, but I thought that those of us here who in fact do appreciate such an approach - initially more input-based - might find his recent article interesting, for better or worse. What do you think?

I liked this part << Because “everyone knows” that if you make a single mistake in front of another human being, the whole world will point their fingers at you and guffaw in unison for weeks straight – your reputation will be ruined, and you’ll likely die of embarrassment. >>

This is what’s holding my French back. I have this mechanism in place that scares me to death to speak French in front of people for those reasons described above, so I’ve been silent for a year. However, I’ve noticed my French has exponentially improved this month. I signed up to Alliance Française a few weeks ago and I was placed in an advanced level class. The teacher asked me to speak and answer a bunch of questions and he told me that I speak far better than every other student in the class and I skipped several advanced bands.

So the silent period is not a waste of time. Benny discredits Steve on how-to-learn-any-language by saying Steve’s French is not so good and non-local in terms of common street French. It’s all jealousy and thinking of ways to promote his system by being controversial. Acting in an opposite makes people pay attention.

Milan,Benny has many fans, but I fail to understand why. To me he is just a clown. People should speak when they want to, and using an initial silent period, is for many, the most practical and comfortable way to prepare for eventually speaking. Why he would attack that is beyond me.

His French is, to me, very hard to listen to, as are most of his Romance languages, where he speaks with a sort of forced natural accent that sounds strange. His Spanish is quite fluent but he lived and studied in Spain for 18 months. Many others have achieved the same without bragging about it. I cannot judge his Irish or Esperanto, but his German is fine, but he did not learn it using the three month speak first approach that he preaches about, he studied it at school and lived in Germany long before his Berlin stunt. Where he attempted his three month to fluency approach, Czech, Hungarian and Thai, he failed.

I am curious to see the thread where Benny discredits my French. Do you have the link?

Here it is (finally found it): Benny the Irish polyglot (Polyglots) Language Learning Forum

“I’m afraid I disagree about Steve Kaufmann’s French being “near native” based on what I have seen in his videos. A native French speaker should comment, but I find his English accent really strong and I have only seen him talk about the fact that he speaks French, so I’d prefer to hear other topics. In my youtube channel I talk about many things (travel, technology, culture, dances etc.) in various languages.”

he also adds: “I think Steve would do better than me at formal events, whereas I would do better than him at parties and making friends within my age group.”

Personally, I’ve never met a person who can speak very good formal language and struggle in normal day-to-day conversations within any age group.

oh well, he does say Steve sounds good in asian languages to say the least.

Chris, I have never heard him talk about “many things” in French, have you? It really does not matter, I am sure he manages just fine in French, and he is certainly entitled to his opinion of my French accent.

But Benny says, in this thread, that

"I think Steve would do better than me at formal events, whereas I would do better than him at parties and making friends within my age group. Each one of us is happy with that and that’s all we need for our own purposes :wink: "

I am sure he is more popular with his own age group than a 65 year old grandpa like me, but that may not be a reflection of language skills. Anyway, as I say, he is just a clown.

No i haven’t heard him discuss many things in French, but I’m willing to believe he can. He apparently did a job interview in French over the phone, so I’m sure his level’s pretty good. Obviously I disagree with his assessment of your own abilities, as I posted in that thread directly underneath his comments. The FrenchLingQ podcasts are a clear rebuttal of any comments in that direction, surely?

I will wait to see a video of him speaking naturally in French rather than make assumptions about his French, since many of his claims are simply not true.

Benny is just a clown who wants to sell his book. His “method” shows no great results: see his performance after his stays in Thailand or Hungary. And he knew already a lot of German when he arrived in Berlin, and failed the exam.

It is so tedious the discussion about “native”,“near native” or “non native” speakers. In my case, I have an non native accent in every language I speak. Even in the one which is supposed to be my mother tongue! My advise is, don’t waste your time listening to (as Steve said) clowns. It’s better to sing up for a discussion with a “native” or “near-not native” speaker and enjoy learning languages.

“see his performance after his stays in Thailand or Hungary”

You can’t really judge from that though, seen as in Thailand he clearly stated he was just there to learn the basics and had a lot of other work to do and Hungary he was there for just two months. He was still conversational by the end of it though.

James, In the case of Thailand, Hungary and Czech, he announced with much fanfare that he was going there to prove his fluency in three months approach to language learning. I have not seen any evidence that this was achieved. This is an important point since these are the only examples of him using the three-month strategy from scratch.

I am not sure what conversational means. But the name of his site is, I believe, three months to fluency.

Steve, did he actually announce with Thai that he was to be fluent? I started reading his blog much later than when he announced Thai. He could’ve changed his objectives after he failed, I don’t know. Nor do I truly know what the difference between conversational and fluent is. They seem to me to be much the same thing. I just heard Benny saying it. Anyway, to the main topic, I partly agree and disagree with both you and Benny. I always read and listen to increase my vocabulary, but speak early and write early so I truly remember things. It works best for me!

Here is a video of one of Benny’s star students

shorter link

Jamie, and so it should be. People should start speaking when they feel comfortable doing so, and I do not think that starting to speak from day one is practical for most people.

I am not a dogmatic silent period proponent, but just find that for most people, studying at home,away from where the language is spoken, gorging themselves on lots of content, listening and reading, is powerful. This fact is not sufficiently well recognized and people feel they have to go to class, or find someone to speak to, or go to the country where the language is spoken. In fact they don’t they can achieve a lot just by listening and reading, and then speak when they have the opportunity. For Benny to discount this is doing a disservice to many potential or actual language learners in my view.

As to the difference between conversational and fluent. I guess being able to say a few things is conversational, fluency means being able to understand and express yourself comfortably in most situations.

Yes, I agree. Speaking is good, very good, but from day one, I do not have much vocabulary, so it will be difficult to even get by in a country and be able to function in a conversation, especially as most of the stuff I learn on day one is “Hello”, “How are you” etc. On walks or whatever, when listening, I will try to speak to myself, for example in Italian saying “I can see a car” (I think it is puo’ vedere una macchina).

I’ve recently heard Benny’s Czech. In short, it was disaster.

I personally think that one cannot reach ‘fluency’ in a difficult language like Czech (or say Russian, which I’m learning) in just 3 months. It’s just not long enough. Of course you can learn a considerable part of the language, but fluency isn’t possible.

For me the ‘silent period’ has proven to be very interesting and helpful, and I do not experience as if it was a big waste of time at all. I just do what I enjoy, so how can it be a waste of time? Я не понимаю почему Бенни сказал это!

In discussing the “silent period”, I think it is important to have a clear distinction between an activity such as pronunciation practice and conversing with native speakers when your vocab is low.

Pronunciation practice can manifest in a number of ways; recording yourself and comparing your effort against a dialogue, using software that rates/scores your pronunciation, having a tutor note and correct your pronunciation etc. Pronunciation practice should be a major part of any language learning process, particularly at an early stage.

Sure, you can use general conversation in early learning, but many people are unlikely to correct you when you are an adult, and your ability to quickly reinforce a large vocab is often a slower process.

Engaging in general conversation before your vocab is anywhere near ready (less than 2-3000 words) is far less productive (in my experience at least) when compared to a 6-12 month concerted listening and reading program coupled with pronunciation practice.

In my own case I prefer to delay pronunciation practice until I have heard the language a lot. I know that my pronunciation of Russian was very poor for at least a year. If you are going to record and compare, it may better to wait until you are more familiar with the sound and can distinguish them better when listening.

But I am not sure what works best, and wonder what others think.