Talk, silence and anxiety during one-to-one tutorials: A cross cultural comparative study of Japan and UK undergraduates' tolerance of silence
journal contributionposted on 27.11.2017, 15:48 by Jim King, Atsuko Aono
This paper discusses the issue of tolerance of silence within university tutorials from a cross-cultural, comparative perspective. A mixed methods, quasi-experimental approach was employed to measure the length of silence which individual students from samples in Japan and the UK tolerated during a one-to-one staged encounter with their instructor. The comparison groups consisted of two first-year intact classes, one in Japan (n = 20) and one in the UK (n = 15), both of whom were studying for a Bachelor degree in English. During the tutorial encounter, the instructor refrained from speech from a set point in the meeting. Participants’ reactions to the period of silence which ensued were examined in detail using non-verbal coding and their length of silence tolerance was measured precisely. Contrary to the popular notion of the silent ‘East’ versus the garrulous ‘West’, the study’s quantitative findings revealed there was no significant difference in the length of silence students from both groups could tolerate during tutorials. Furthermore, self-reported feelings of discomfort during the silence were relatively high for both Japanese and UK participants, but length of silence was not found to be correlated with degree of discomfort. Qualitative data were collected from retrospective interviews examining what participants were thinking and feeling whilst the silent encounter was in progress. Testimony illustrating acute feelings of anxiety on the part of both UK and Japanese students was the primary theme to emerge in this phase of data collection. We propose the construct situational silence anxiety to describe such feelings of apprehension during situated encounters in which talk is expected but does not occur.