Observing Anxiety in the Foreign Language Classroom: Student Silence and Nonverbal Cues
journal contributionposted on 06.08.2020, 08:40 by Kate Maher, James King
This study looked at multiple forms of silence and nonverbal cues of language anxiety in the foreign language classroom to explore their functions from the perspectives of students. Using the Classroom Oral Participation Scheme (COPS) developed by King (2013), 18 hours of observation produced data on learners’ verbal and non-verbal participation behaviours in Japanese university EFL classes. The data was analysed using the COPS participatory categories. Three recurring forms of silent L2 behaviour were identified: short responses, use of L1, and non-talk. Semi-structured follow-up interviews were carried out with 14 studentswhose silent behaviour was observed and transcribed into a corpus of 43,711 words. In addition to facilitative functions of silence such as cognitive processing, interviewees reported using silence to navigate interpersonal interactions with their classmates and fear of negative evaluation by peers. Findings illustrate how anxious learners may limit social exchanges in the target language for image protection purposes. For example, some students used short responses to avoid revealing a different opinion to their partner that might lead to an awkward interaction. The results suggest that awareness of nonverbal cues and silent behaviour - with multiple forms and functions, should be explored further as an approach to detecting language anxiety in EFL contexts.