Reconceptualising the Silent Period: Stories of Japanese Students Studying Abroad

(1) * Tae Umino Mail (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Japan)
*corresponding author


In this paper I attempt to reconceptualise the silent period from the perspective of situated learning theory to understand how it is experienced by adult second language (L2) learners during study abroad. The silent period has largely been regarded as a cognitive phenomenon during which some beginning L2 learners are unwilling or unable to produce the language they are learning. It initially attracted attention in relation to Krashen’s Input Hypothesis but, even though a number of studies were carried out in the 1970s and 80s, they have not been followed up, leaving a number of questions unanswered. Furthermore, these studies did not take into account the perspective of the learners who experienced the silent period. In the present study I conducted life-story interviews with Japanese university students who experienced a silent period during their study abroad. As a result, it was found that their silence was related to their intolerance of insufficient self-expression in the target language. The study suggests that the silent period is not to be seen as a period of incomprehension, rejection or abandonment of learning but a site of struggle and a pathway to finding new ways for self-expression and participation in the new language.


silent period; second language acquisition; communities of practice; study abroad; life-story interviews



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