Observing Anxiety in the Foreign Language Classroom: Student Silence and Nonverbal Cues


  • Kate Maher Kyoto University of Foreign Studies
  • Jim King University of Leicester


student silence, language anxiety, nonverbal cues of anxiety, classroom observation, Japanese university foreign language classroom


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.


2020-06-26 — Updated on 2020-07-23


How to Cite

Maher, K., & King, J. (2020). Observing Anxiety in the Foreign Language Classroom: Student Silence and Nonverbal Cues. JOURNAL FOR THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LANGUAGE LEARNING, 2(1), 116-141. Retrieved from https://jpll.org/index.php/journal/article/view/maher_king (Original work published June 26, 2020)



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