I remember that when I started to learn Spanish, I was so anxious to speak Spanish that it was unreal. I could not understand why it took me so long to say even basic stuff spontaneously, even when I could do all the exercises and phrases right in my workbook. It just made no sense.
But then doing some research on the Internet, I came across Stephen Krashen’s theory known as The Silent Period. You can read more about this in Wikipedia.
According to Stephen Krashen’s (and quoting Wikipedia)
(…) learners are building up language competence during their silent periods through actively listening and processing the language they hear, and that they do not need to speak to improve in the language. (…) Silent periods of up to six months are not unusual.
And that’s when it hit me: this is what happens to babies learning to speak their first language too. You can talk to any one or two-year old baby and they can pretty much understand everything you say_ as long as you don’t talk politics. However, when they have to speak their vocabulary is rather limited.
With this idea in mind, I did some more digging and came across this interesting article that you can see here. It was awesome to see that my idea wasn’t so crazy after all!
Quoting the article:
The main characteristic of this stage is that after some initial exposure to the language, the learner is able to understand much more than s/he can produce. You can easily see this in two-year-old babies too! You can speak to them normally and they can definitely understand whatever you say. However, even if they wanted to say exactly what you said, they would not be able to. They may use some of your words but they would find it impossible to express their ideas in a similarly organized way, in spite of the fact that they may understand every single word we said.
It seems that just been unable to speak all we know is actually “normal” when learning a language and it’s just a matter of time until that “passive vocabulary” becomes active.
The Silent Period of Second Language Learning
What can we do in the meantime? I guess we just need to keep working on our lessons, watching videos for fun, reading as much as we can about topics we find useful and just be patient. What do you think?