Academic presents research on silence in Japans second language classrooms

Dr Jim King from the School of Arts has recently presented research in London to an audience of Japan experts and educationalists into why Japanese students are often reluctant to speak in a second language in classes in Japan.

Dr King, who has experience of teaching in Japan, argues that this can be due to a multitude of factors, including psychology, culture and teaching methods.

In a recent study, Dr King studied the behaviour of 924 students at nine different universities, and found that many had concerns that their English was not up to scratch and felt that if they tried to use it they would ‘lose face’ among friends.

He also found that many teachers spoke too much and gave students little opportunity to practice their English among themselves.

Dr King also suggests that Japanese students may be more at ease with silence in class due to cultural practices that emphasize the importance of being indirect, deferring to authority and not wanting to stand out in a crowd.

He said: “I think culture can lay the foundation or backdrop to explain some of this silence. Many Japanese learners are socialized into being aware of people around them and are taught to consider other people. This causes people to monitor themselves.”

Dr King suggests teachers must be prepared to step back and let their students speak and not try to fill the silence if they do not initially get a response, and that teachers should encourage task-based activities in groups and pairs and allow time at the start of lessons for a general chat.

Dr Jim King’s book ‘Silence in the Second Language Classroom’ is published by Palgrave Macmillan.

Professor Sarah Dixon, Pro-Vice-Chancellor International, added: "One of the biggest concerns for faculty in all UK universities is to increase interactions between Asian and Western students in order to ensure that all have a first-class educational experience and benefit from cross-cultural engagement. This research provides welcome insights into the key issues and highlights some of the ways in which they can be mitigated."