LINGUIST List 32.1224

Tue Apr 06 2021

Review: Applied Linguistics; Psycholinguistics: King, Harumi (2020)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 28-Sep-2020
From: Jeff Peterson <>
Subject: East Asian Perspectives on Silence in English Language Education
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Jim King
EDITOR: Seiko Harumi
TITLE: East Asian Perspectives on Silence in English Language Education
SERIES TITLE: Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2020

REVIEWER: Jeff Peterson, Brigham Young University


‘East Asian Perspectives on Silence in English Language Education’ is a peer-reviewed edited volume presented in the field of Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching. This 200-page volume comprising nine chapters is intended for researchers, second language instructors, and administrators in English language education. The chapters of this volume provide differing views on silence and take various approaches to exploring silence among English language learners from East Asian contexts. The study reported in Chapter 9, however, attempts to illustrate the effects of cultural context on participation rates in medical students rather than language learners. The following is a summary of each chapter.

Chapter 1 East Asian Perspectives on Silence in English Language Education: An Introduction by Seiko Harumi and Jim King
Chapter 1 sets out the main goals of the volume as a) to provide insight into the complexity of learner silence within multiple contexts, challenging “the stereotype of the silent, passive East Asian learner” and b) “to show a complete picture of classroom silence seen from interdisciplinary perspectives” (p. 2). This chapter also defines the scope of the work as one including cognitive, interactional, and sociocultural perspectives. A historical overview of research provides a variety of both negative and positive perspectives on silence over the past 40 years. Chapter 1 also uses a summary of the studies within the volume to further discuss the complex and multifaceted phenomenon of language-learner silence and its various definitions.

Chapter 2 Silence, Talk and In-betweens: East Asian Students’ Responses to Task Challenge in an Australian University by Dat Bao
In Chapter 2, Dat Bao takes a positive perspective on silence in the second-language acquisition (SLA) setting presenting silence as language output suggesting that learners’ preference for learning modes (silent and verbal) are influenced by classroom task type as well as cultural context. Using in-depth interviews with 10 postgraduate students from various East Asian backgrounds attending an Australian university, Bao takes a phenomenological approach to investigating a) What kinds of classroom tasks tend to trigger more silent or verbal processing from students? and b) When does tension occur, during students task performance, in the choice between the silent and verbal learning modes? Bao found that independent tasks, pre-tasks, deductive tasks, and discovery tasks most facilitated silent processing. Tasks that elicited verbalization were those that involve collaborating with classmates and include fluency tasks, exploratory tasks, communication and feedback tasks, collaborative projects and post-tasks. Some tasks also triggered both silence and talk; for example, problem-solving tasks. Bao also found that other task elements, such as peer dynamics, also influence learners’ choice of learning mode. Based on his findings, Bao suggests task designers specify which part of a task involves audible speaking and which involves silent learning or self-talk. He also suggests that during productive silent tasks, instructors also remain silent as to avoid disrupting the learning process. The chapter concludes indicating that silence isn’t an undesirable behavior and actually a form of engagement rather than disengagement.

Chapter 3 Approaches to Interacting with Classroom Silence: The Role of Teacher Talk by Seiko Harumi
In her chapter on the role of teacher talk in approaching classroom silence, Seiko Harumi argues for a close analysis of the relationship between classroom silence and teacher talk, specifically teacher strategies using wait time and other oral elicitation techniques. Thus, her study investigated the relationship between student silence and teacher wait time within turn-taking systems. This investigation uses a mixed-methods approach including questionnaire surveys on the use of teaching strategies when encountering learners’ silence (completed by 56 English teachers of varying experience at private universities in Japan) as well as conversational analysis of eight hours of video-recorded classroom interactions between instructors and lower proficiency learners of English as a foreign language (EFL). Harumi concludes that teachers’ level of comfort with learner silence correlated well with the teachers’ own familiarity and understanding of the Japanese cultural context. The conversation analysis also presents multiple elicitation strategies used by instructors to support interactional flow; e.g., direct prompts, reformulations, and alternation of question types.

Chapter 4 Silence and Anxiety in the English-Medium Classroom of Japanese Universities: A Longitudinal Intervention Study by Jim King, Tomoko Yashima, Simon Humphries, Scott Aubrey and Maiko Ikeda
While acknowledging some facilitative effects of micro-silences, in contrast with the previous chapters, King et al. argue that learner unresponsiveness and withdrawal hinder the learning process and that anxiety is one reason for inhibitive silence in learners. Looking for a better understanding of behavior in relation to oral participation and anxiety and to test the ability of an experimental treatment to create a low-anxiety, cooperative classroom atmosphere to combat low-quality inhibitive silence, King et al. conducted a longitudinal intervention study described in Chapter 4. Seventy-one learners of EFL from three different university EFL communication classes in Japan underwent two experimental interventions including a) an in-class discussion on dealing with anxiety when learning English and b) an out-of-class group relationship building activity chosen by class participants. A mixed-methods approach was used to collect a) quantitative observational data on a number of classroom variables including silence as well as b) student and teacher perceptions of the interventions. The study reports a decrease in the number of silences following the interventions and mixed views from students and teachers on the effectiveness of the interventions. The chapter makes the tentative claim that the treatment was effective in improving group dynamics and led to a decrease in learner silences.

Chapter 5 Examining L2 Learners’ Silent Behavior and Anxiety in the Classroom Using an Approach Based on Cognitive-Behavioral Theory by Kate Maher
In the next chapter, Kate Maher argues that there is a relationship between anxiety and silence and attempts to examine the relationship between an individual learner’s anxiety and her in-class silent behavior. Following structured and unstructured observations of EFL classes, Maher uses a series of Cognitive-behavioral Theory (CBT)-style interviews and an intervention activity with Mari, a university student who had displayed many anxious non-verbal cues during observations, in order to collect qualitative data on Mari’s perceptions of her thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and bodily sensations related to her silent behavior. Maher found that although Mari’s perceptions kept her in a cycle of negative thoughts and anxiety which seemed to lead to inhibitive silence in the classroom, the interviews and intervention likely increased Mari’s confidence to overcome her silence and speak up more.

Chapter 6 Communicative Language Teaching and Silence: Chinese (Pre-service) Teachers’ Perspectives by Michael Karas and Farahnaz Faez
In Chapter 6, Michael Karas and Farahnaz Faez discuss the importance of considering how Chinese teachers view Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) methods and approaches for EFL contexts in China. Three questions direct their study a) What is the role of silence in the CLT classroom? b) How do participants view the suitability of CLT for the Chinese context? What may be some issues? and c) How can teachers implement CLT in traditionally teacher-centered contexts and account for students who may prefer to learn more silently. Using a qualitative research design, Karas and Faez recruit 91 Chinese international graduate students to participate in their study. After students are introduced to CLT, are given a lecture on CLT and silence, and complete pre-reading on CLT and silence, they participate in a focus group where the researchers collect focus group discussion summary notes and field notes. A thematic analysis of these notes as well as reflective writing pieces completed by participants are used to answer the research questions. The researchers found many themes with regard to Chinese teachers’ perceptions of CLT and silence, one of particular significance being that although participants had positive perceptions of silence and CLT in general, most perceived the coexistence of silence and CLT as unsuitable in the Chinese context. Reasons for these beliefs are discussed in the chapter.

Chapter 7 Silence in Japanese Classrooms: Activities and Factors in Capacities to Speak English by Simon Humphries, Nobuhiko Akamatsu, Takako Tanaka and Anne Burns
The views of a unique participant population are then presented in Chapter 7. Specifically, Humphries et al. describe an ongoing effort to overcome silence in Japanese classrooms through the lens of Japanese high school students’ capacity to speak (CTS) and their preferences for certain speaking activities. The research questions addressed are a) What types of activities have students experienced in class? b) What activities increased and decreased students’ CTS? and c) What underlying factors strongly influenced students’ CTS? Humphries et al. conduct a quantitative study using a variety of statistical analyses of 260 high school students’ responses to a questionnaire addressing the research questions. They found that other than group discussions, most participants had participated in a range of speaking activities of varying difficulty levels and that students largely preferred activities with a lower cognitive load such as repeating after a teacher. They also found that student confidence was the most important factor in their CTS.

Chapter 8 Willing Silence and Silent Willingness to Communicate (WTC) in the Chinese EFL Classroom: A Dynamic Systems Perspective by Jian-E Peng
In Chapter 8, Jian-E Peng emphasizes the relatedness of second language (L2) willingness to communicate (WTC) and silence and uses Dynamic Systems Theory (DST) as the lens for examining this interaction in the Chinese context. Specifically, Peng seeks to find to what extent Chinese university students are silent in their EFL class and how L2 WTC and silence interact with each other in naturally occurring classroom communication situations. Data was collected on 23 students with a focus on four of them. Data collection was done through direct observation of their behavior during three lessons and through three follow-up stimulated recall interviews. Peng found that participants were often silent, and that L2 WTC and silence were in fact interacting in complex ways. She categorizes this interaction into what she calls five attractor states. For example, findings showed that a majority of silences could be categorized as students being unwilling and silent; i.e., silence due to linguistic difficulties and no desire to talk. Peng offers multiple suggestions to teachers on how to push students to speak based on these findings.

Chapter 9 Conclusion: Silence in EFL Classrooms Revisited by Amy B.M. Tsui and Rintaro Imafuku
Amy B. M. Tsui and Rintaro Imafuku conclude the volume summarizing Chapters 1-9 and shining a light on the multiple meanings and interpretations of silence. They discuss the similarities in results and responses among the chapters with an emphasis on the relationship between silence and East Asian cultural values in general. They further illustrate the effects of cultural context on silence using a brief report of a study of their own looking at the reticence of two Japanese medical university students. In their mixed-methods study, they collect data on students’ participation in video recorded problem-based learning (PBL) tutorials and analyze stimulated recall interviews with a focus on two participants. They found that these two students’ participation trajectories over 8 PBL tutorial sessions is greatly influenced by group dynamics and cultural values and that these factors are interrelated and fluid.


In Chapter 2, Dat Bao provides a thought-provoking perspective on silence as language output and how task design and cultural context is connected to active silence or reflection. Although the results of the study could have been bolstered with the inclusion of classroom observation alongside participant self-reporting, the insights gained from the in-depth interviews provide new details regarding how tasks may affect learner non-verbal behavior. This study will benefit task designers seeking ways to employ active reflection in their learners. It will also help many instructors rethink the role of silence in SLA and become more familiar with why learners may choose to be silent at times.

Seiko Harumi’s study on the role of teacher talk takes a positive perspective on the facilitative aspects of classroom silence, providing examples of facilitative silences and interactional strategies. Her well designed mixed-methods approach provides not only teacher perspectives but also observational data showing techniques used in the classroom to facilitate learner L2 output when silence is encountered. The reoccurring theme of cultural awareness is paramount to further understanding active silence, its connection with wait time, and L2 output in the East Asian context. Although one less familiar with learner silence may at first be unsure of its facilitative effects, this study and the discussion questions that follow will assist teachers of East Asian students in capitalizing on silent moments to increase speaking opportunities and create a space for learning.

In a break from the previous two chapters, Chapter 4 takes an unapologetically negative view on silence. The approach to increasing student interaction and group cohesiveness outside the classroom is quite intriguing and innovative and was used alongside an in-class discussion to build a foundation for a cooperative learning atmosphere within the classroom. Although the chapter makes some tentative claims, there are some limitations to the study design and interpretations of data that require closer inspection. Besides lacking a control group as indicated in the limitations section of the chapter, the design is endangered by some threats to internal and external validity including a history threat (classroom learners often become more familiar and adjust to each other and the class format as a function of time passing), subject characteristics (participants’ English proficiency was above average), non-random sampling, and an implementation threat (each class was taught by different instructors; no indication of control of specific class content). There is also a problem of multiple comparisons (nine t-tests) without a Bonferroni correction. A Bonferroni correction may have led to a statistically non-significant difference in the number of pre- and post-silences. The chapter concedes that any improvement in group dynamics and decrease in learner silences “could well have occurred anyway as the courses progressed, even without the helping hand of the extracurricular activities” (p. 73). However, as many of the students had positive perceptions of the experimental interventions, replications of this study with further controls would shed more light on the possible effects of these innovative treatments to combat learner inhibitive silence.

In Chapter 5, Maher also has a negative perception of silence and attempts to help an individual learner, Mari, overcome her negative thoughts to increase her speaking abilities. This study too uses a unique approach (CBT-style interviews) to overcoming anxiety and inhibitive silence. Throughout the chapter Maher creates a clear image of anxiety-induced silence, a problem faced by Mari that, if not treated, would likely have continued to lead to a cycle of negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Although a specific example of the intervention activity is provided, one less familiar with CBT-style interviews could also have benefited from further examples of questions posed during the four interviews conducted. Teachers and researchers who wish to use a CBT approach in assisting students to overcome anxiety-induced silent behavior will benefit most from this chapter. The suggestions for using a CBT-based approach provided by Maher at the end of the chapter will help in this effort.

Although Chapter 6 takes a positive view on silence in general, the study itself provides a stimulating discussion on the views that Chinese teachers have on CLT and silence. Overall the chapter is well written and follows the goal of the volume itself to provide uniquely East Asian perspectives on silence. There are a couple of things that this study could have benefited from. One is that audio recordings of the focus groups would have provided a more detailed view into what participants thought of CLT and possibly more on silence. Another is that silence is not discussed in as much depth as other chapters up to here as participants seem to not have brought it up as much in their focus groups and reflective writing pieces. However, the study discusses many themes found in the qualitative data that will help researchers and graduate-level instructors understand more deeply the thought processes of Chinese teachers regarding CLT in the Chinese context. Furthermore, many of these themes are not unique to the Chinese context, but those of other East Asian countries as well.

Readers are returned to a study that takes a negative view of silence in Chapter 7. However, just like Chapter 6, this study focuses more on the views of participants rather than that of the authors. This chapter provides detailed background information regarding factors that influence one’s CTS and provides a robust analysis of students’ perceptions of their abilities to speak. The authors discussion on the results provide insight into what activities are currently being used in Japanese secondary schools and how some of these activities likely aren’t helping students improve their fluency in spontaneous conversations. The chapter also connects reasons for silence in high school students to the cultural context or norms of the Japanese education system. For example, an emphasis on preparing students to pass written exams. As the authors suggest, further replications in other East Asian countries would provide further understanding of students’ CTS in the East Asian context.

Chapter 8 sees silence as something to be overcome. In this chapter, Peng provides a good background on the topics of WTC, silence, and DST on which the study is based. The study uses mixed methods; however, the focus is on the qualitative side, looking at the reasons Chinese students remain silent in the EFL classroom and how that silence interacts with WTC. The methods used to assist learners to recall their silence during classroom communication situations is well devised taking advantage of audio recordings, student self WTC reports, as well as the instructor’s teaching materials. The presentation of the averages of 23 students’ longitudinal WTC data as well as cases focusing on four individuals helps to make clear student WTC in general as well as the variability of WTC in individuals. The author helps the reader understand the interaction of WTC and silence through different scenarios, student interview excerpts, as well as categorizations. Although space constraints left discussion of the second and third class sessions completed for the study impossible, it would have been insightful to have a report on whether similar results were found in those lessons or not. The suggestions at the end of the chapter are sure to help instructors more fully trigger student action among learners with East Asian cultural backgrounds.

In their concluding chapter, Tsui and Imafuku do not take a stance on silence; rather they present a summary of the volume in general along with a brief report of their own study. In contrast to the other eight chapters, the study presented in this chapter investigates participation of students in a medical university context rather than an EFL context. Despite the disconnect, the study is a good illustration of the complex nature and prevalence of silence in East Asian cultures and further demonstrates its effect on not only language learning settings but other group settings as well.

The goal of East Asian Perspectives on Silence in English Language Education has mainly been to provide insight into the complexity of learner silence and to build better awareness and understanding of this phenomenon in East Asian language classrooms. Overall, I believe it has achieved this goal and serves as a good introduction into the study of silence among EFL students from East Asian backgrounds. Beyond the audience explicitly stated in the text, teachers of East Asian languages such as Japanese, Chinese, or Korean will also likely benefit from the expanded understanding the book provides regarding silence in the East Asian context. Teachers less familiar with the field of silence in language learning and teaching may find the authors’ perspectives insightful and will likely lead to a better understanding of how to approach silence in their own teaching.

Each chapter provides thought-provoking insights and research findings followed up by self-reflection/discussion questions, recommended readings, and a list of references. Because of the structure of the text, each chapter will likely work well as a springboard to further discussion, thus making it a good fit as pre-reading material for lectures and discussion on silence in TESOL programs such as those discussed in Chapter 6. The chapters of this volume cohere well presenting various voices, perspectives, and research methodologies used to provide a balanced view of silence in East Asian cultures.


Jeff Peterson holds a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics/Foreign Language Acquisition from Purdue University and is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Japanese in the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages at Brigham Young University. He has taught English in Japan and Mongolia and has experience teaching Japanese at three universities in the U.S. His recent research focuses on extensive reading in Japanese and its effect on learner reading rate. He is also interested in SLA, CALL, and corpus research. Recently, he worked with the North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources as a consultant on the council’s Tadoku-Extensive Reading LibGuide.

Page Updated: 06-Apr-2021