The silent experiences of young bilingual learners : a small scale sociocultural study into the silent period

Bligh, Caroline (2011). The silent experiences of young bilingual learners : a small scale sociocultural study into the silent period. EdD thesis The Open University.



This ethnographic study focuses upon the experiences of a small number of early years bilingual learners' during the emergent stage of English language acquisition - the silent period.

Building upon historical understandings of sociocultural theory, Vygotsky (1986), Lave and Wenger (1991), Wenger (1998), Rogoff (2003) and Gee (2004) provide the platform upon which the evolution of sociocultural learning theory is applied and tested out in relation to the interconnectedness of the spoken mother tongue, thought, and learning.

Legitimate peripheral participation is examined as a workable concept through which to explore the initial learning trajectory of an emergent bilingual learner whilst negotiating participation within, through and beyond the early years community of practice during the silent period.

A multi-method ethnographic approach to data gathering adopts Flewitt's (2005) `gaze following', as an alternative means of participant observation through which to identify silent participation within an early years setting. Additional ethnographic methods include unstructured interviews with bilingual and monolingual participants, which are interspersed with significant auto-ethnographic accounts.

Funnelling the data through thematic analysis facilitates both the emergence of significant patterns and the `encapsulation' of significant data within vignettes. Sociocultural theory is tested out against the research findings through the analysis of nine selected vignettes.

The findings present the silent period as a crucial time for learning; distributed through a synthesis of close observation, intense listening and copying. Examining the silent period through a sociocultural lens tentatively reveals silent participation as a significant but lesser acknowledged contribution to the early years community of practice.

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