WHY SILENCE IS NOT ALWAYS A BAD THING

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In the English as a Foreign Language classroom, we are often led to believe that talking is king. The whole aim of our lessons is communication, right, so it makes sense that our students are talking as much as possible during the lesson. If our students are not talking, we may feel that they are daydreaming or slacking or, worst of all, not learning. After all, student talking time is much more important than teacher talking time.

However, we need to consider thoughts like these quite carefully. There is no doubt that student talking time is more beneficial to our students than teacher talking time, but it doesn’t mean that if our students aren’t talking that we are. It’s quite possible for our classroom to be quiet and our students to be silent – in other words, no one is talking.

Can you think of the last time your classroom was quiet? Or, to put it differently, how much of your lessons involve quiet time? Your lessons are probably skewed more towards speaking than not speaking, which is a product of our teacher training system.

But, just as we are taught the importance of needs analyses and catering to different learner styles, so we need to consider the possibility that some of our students don’t need to speak to learn. Or rather, some students need time to think and consider and reflect on the language without worrying about producing the language on demand.

When should we allow quiet time?

Obviously we are not saying that you should have totally silent lessons. But there is a time and a place for quiet reflection. Reading, writing and taking tests are the obvious examples of quiet time in the classroom. But how about during a regular language lesson? After teaching a grammar point, for example, allow some time for your students to take notes, reflect and take in the language you have just taught them. Not all students will need this time, but those who do will appreciate it.

Bear in mind that this may be a cultural issue. Many cultures focus more on the written word than the spoken word when learning English, so some nationalities may be accustomed to learning this way. Pressurising them to speak when they are not yet comfortable to do so will only hurt their motivation levels.

How will our students benefit from quiet time?

Even if your students are used to talking while thinking and producing language on demand, having quiet time will give them time to focus their thoughts and clarify any uncertainties they may have. They will be able to consolidate their knowledge better and you may find they have more questions than usual.

So the next time you find students in your class who are reluctant to speak, understand that they may be used to thinking a bit more before producing language. Silence may be what they need to retain language. Remember these students when planning your lessons and plan some time for quiet reflection as well as the usual communicative activities.

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