October 2018
ALIS Forum



Natalia Dolgova

Heather Weger

Dear Readers,

Welcome to AL Forum, newsletter for the TESOL Applied Linguistics Interest Section (ALIS)! For this issue, we are privileged to have a special guest co-editor—Dr. Heather Weger. Heather holds a PhD in applied linguistics from Georgetown University and has most recently joined the Legal English faculty at Georgetown University Law Center. She has more than 15 years of experience in the field as classroom educator, teacher-trainer, and international consultant. Her research focuses on effective teaching strategies as well as the social and co-constructed nature of language learning and language teaching. Thank you, Heather, for lending your expertise for this issue!

Three authors share their fascinating work with the AL Forum readership. First, the 50th president of TESOL, Andy Curtis, defines and promotes peace linguistics as a crucial direction of future research in applied linguistics. In the second article, Angelica Galante highlights the importance of plurilingualism in the classroom, reporting on a study that showed positive effects for plurilingual (as opposed to monolingual) English for academic purposes instruction. Finally, Willem de Goei discusses sociocultural implications behind Japanese EFL students’ use of silence in the classroom and shares suggestions for how Western teachers can approach this phenomenon. The wide range of topics featured in these articles showcases the exciting breadth of current applied linguistic research.

In other content, the joint letter from our Chair, Kathy Howard, and Chair-Elect, Ben White, gives us an overview of ALIS 2018 activities, shares important details about the new submission process, and highlights key sessions organized by ALIS for TESOL 2019. Future developments described by our chairs promise to be very exciting, so please stay tuned for details to be shared in our next newsletter issue and through direct communication from ALIS.

We hope you enjoy the issue and wish you a successful semester!


Natalia & Heather


Welcome to the newsletter! I have been asked by Natalia, newsletter editor, to report on our recent activities for the Applied Linguistics Interest Section (ALIS).

Greetings, ALIS members! Our interest section (IS) has a robust membership within TESOL that represents a wide range of interests and interdisciplinary connections. As stated in our IS’s recently revised statement of purpose, our goal is to “promote research in all areas of language use, particularly research that contributes to our understanding of language learning and teaching…to promulgate knowledge derived from such research…in an attempt to address real-world, language-based issues pertinent to English language teaching.” We have been working to fulfill this goal through broader communication within our IS and beyond, through broad-based activities not only at the TESOL Convention but also in webinar formats and in innovations to our newsletter format under the editorship of Natalia Dolgova.

During this past year, we organized a successful webinar in collaboration with the Computer-Assisted Language Learning IS, entitled “Technology and Language Research and Teaching” with Shannon Sauro and Volker Hegelheimer. We hope to organize another webinar this fall or winter (U.S. time), so keep an eye out for that invitation. TESOL 2018 was also a great success, including a panel on critical approaches in applied linguistics, and two well-attended InterSections.

We are looking forward to the 2019 TESOL Convention, which will be organized under the new “strand” structure for the first time. This means that proposals were submitted directly to a set of theme-based strands that are distinct from the ISs. The ISs, on the other hand, still organize InterSection panels (in collaboration with one or more other ISs) and an academic session. One of our InterSections will be organized in conjunction with the Second Language Writing IS, exploring the challenges and barriers to ensuring that current research is represented in writing textbooks, in a session entitled, “Beyond Five-Paragraph Essays: Why Don’t Writing Textbooks Reflect Current Research?” Our second InterSection is a collaboration with the Refugee Concerns IS, investigating how refugee-background learners are represented in societal discourses, in classroom materials, and in their own narratives and discourses, and is entitled, “Discourses of Representation for Refugee-Background Learners: Empowerment and Collaboration.” Our Chair-Elect, Ben White, describes the academic session that he is organizing:

As the chair-elect, I am responsible for organizing an ALIS academic session at TESOL 2019. Work is currently underway on a colloquium that will spotlight cognitive linguistics and sociocultural theory and the promise both hold for more effective ESL/EFL pedagogy. Further details on the individual talks will be provided in the next (preconvention) newsletter.

We hope that you will join us in Atlanta for these sessions! Also from Ben:

I am in the process of establishing a series of webinars with authors of recent TESOL Quarterly articles. The basic idea is to invite authors of the most-read articles for an opportunity to interact directly with readers—in a sense, to bring their articles to life. TESOL members will be able to pose questions directly to these researchers, and the researchers will have the opportunity to tell the stories behind their studies. Stay tuned for details.

On another note, we invite your participation at the TESOL Convention and beyond. We are hoping to entice members into leadership positions, such as co-editor of the newsletter, or social media coordinator. These are good entryways into more substantial leadership positions, such as IS chair. I’d like to thank Olga Griswold for her work over the past few years as chair-elect, and then chair. Ben White has also been active as co-editor of the newsletter, and now as chair-elect, contributing significantly to our successful IS transition proposal to TESOL. Natalia Dolgova has done a fabulous job with this newsletter over the past few years, bringing new directions and connections to this venue. And, I am also grateful to our veteran leader, Eli Hinkel, who remains our community manager.

Please let me know if you are interested in joining our leadership team to help steward and grow our IS. If you have suggestions for webinars that you would like to see us sponsor, please let me know. See you in 2019!

ALIS Chair,

Kathryn Howard



The Promise

Why is peace linguistics (PL) still largely unknown and unheard of within the field of applied linguistics? The answer to this question relates to the politics of language education and the role of applied linguistics in helping to address some of the key contextual political and socioeconomic factors affecting the teaching and learning of languages. For example, it is possible that, in response to the hateful, hurtful, and harmful rhetoric emanating from the current government of the United States, the field of PL could help us better understand and alleviate some of the damage being done.

There are very few people in the TESOL field who have connected English language teaching (ELT) with the teaching and learning of second/foreign languages for the purposes of peacebuilding or peacemaking. One of those is Francisco Gomes de Matos, a professor emeritus of linguistics at the Federal University of Pernambuco in Brazil, who dates the first formal mention of PL back to 1977 (Gomes de Matos, 2014). However, in the 40+ years since then, very few applied linguists have even come across the term, much less read about it, and until very recently, nobody appears to have carried out, published, or presented any PL research. According to Friedrich (2007):

Crystal (1999 and 2003) has defined Peace Linguistics as more of a concept than a discipline: “A term reflecting the climate of opinion which emerged during the 1990s among many linguists and language teachers, in which linguistic principles, methods, findings and applications were seen as a means of promoting peace and human rights at the global level.” (p. 76)

Unfortunately, the reference to “many linguists and language teachers” does not appear to have been the case. Indeed, none of the many linguists and language teachers whom I have asked about PL, in more than a dozen countries over the last 2 years, have heard of PL. One reason for that may be the lack of linguistics as an integral part of what has been called PL, in terms of phonetics and phonology, morphology and syntax, and semantics and pragmatics.

In January and February 2017, I was invited to teach what appears to be the first course of its kind, titled Peace Linguistics, at Brigham Young University-Hawaii (BYU-H), as a key part of the University’s vision is to “assist individuals…in their efforts to influence the establishment of peace internationally” (https://about.byuh.edu/mission). Also, the course was offered by the English Language Teaching and Learning Department at BYU-H, rather than as part of the University’s Intercultural Peacebuilding program. Despite the desire to focus on language and linguistics, finding suitable materials around which to build the class proved formidable, as there are myriad materials on linguistics but none designed for a PL course.

After an extensive search for books, papers, course syllabi, curriculum documents—anything related to the teaching and learning of PL—we chose for the core course text a book by one of the few other people who have connected ELT with peacebuilding and peacemaking, Rebecca Oxford. Known for her work on learning styles, in more recent years, she has turned her attention to what she refers to as “peace language,” which she recently defined as “concerned with understanding and transforming communication to promote peace within ourselves, with others, and with our environment.” (Oxford, Gregersen, & Matilde Olivero, in press).

One of the distinctions between Oxford, Gregersen, and Matilde Olivero’s (in press) “peace language approach” and PL is that the former begins with a focus on intrapersonal communication, in terms of being at peace with our selves. However, PL focuses on interpersonal communication, especially the spoken and written texts produced by some of the world’s most powerful people, as their messages have the potential to make peace—or to start wars.

The Anticlimax

The anticlimax referred to here describes the sense of exciting possibilities when I first came across the idea of PL, followed by the disappointment when I found that, apart from Gomes de Matos (2014) and Oxford (2013), and maybe one or two others from many years ago, and in spite of Crystal’s 1999 prediction (Friedrich, 2007), there was still no field of PL, and not one in sight.

Having established that PL as a field did not yet exist, I set about trying to find out what PL was. After reviewing 20 years of published articles in the Journal of Peace Education and in the International Journal of Peace Studies, I found fewer than 10 articles in 400 that were focused on language, and none that focused on linguistics (Curtis, 2017). That was perhaps a reflection of the publish-or-perish pressures of the academic, university system which may have contributed to the creation of unconnected silos of academic knowledge, in which large amounts of work are being published in one field, but without that work being connected to other fields.

Perhaps as a result of those silos, the thousands of published papers in the fields of peace education/studies do not appear to have been connected to the tens of thousands of papers published in the fields of applied linguistics. But could academic, institutional “siloization” fully account for this missing link? There had to be more; another powerful factor in the nonexistence of PL as a field appears to have been, as previously noted, the lack of “L” in PL—in other words, the lack of linguistics. That, of course, raises the question of what we mean by linguistics, which is a question that has been discussed over many years by many groups, including the members of TESOL’s Applied Linguistics Interest Section.

The homepage of the Linguistic Society of America website provides a clear and concise definition: “Linguistics, in a nutshell, is the scientific study of language,” which is reiterated in their tagline: “Advancing the scientific study of language,” although it is important to note that there are many different theories of linguistics. As a senior science officer, working in hospitals in England in the 1980s, I was a product of many years of training in the classical, Western scientific method, complete with its highly problematic notions regarding objectivity. Therefore, in my work (Curtis, 2018), I have slightly redefined linguistics as the systematic study of language, by which I mean, in a nutshell, identifying language-related points of interest, seeing the patterns made by those points, and drawing on the traditional linguistic tools of phonetics and phonology, morphology and syntax, and semantics and pragmatics.

The presence or absence of those kinds of tools brings us to Gomes de Matos, whose work has been very important, over many years, in connecting ELT with peacebuilding and peace making. That said, there appears to have been little or no linguistics (i.e., systematic language study) within his use of the term peace linguistics. However, Gomes de Matos has given a great deal of useful advice to language teachers, to help them and their learners to be more aware of and more peaceful in their language use. In that sense, his work may be closer to the idea of “peaceful language use,” while Oxford’s work on peace language is “concerned with understanding and transforming communication to promote peace within ourselves, with others, and with our environment” (Oxford, Gregersen, & Matilde Olivero, in press). Those two bodies of work have made important connections between language teaching/learning and peacebuilding/making. However, PL, as I define it, uses in-depth language analyses to deconstruct the language used by people in positions of power, such as the president of the United States, to peel away the surface layers, so that the deeper, underlying meanings of their words can be laid bare.

The Resurrection

By resurrection here, I am using the lower-case, nonreligious, non-Christian meaning of the word related to bringing something back into use. After teaching the pilot PL course at BYU-H in January and February of 2017, I was invited back to coteach the course in January and February of 2018, with Dr. Nancy Tarawhiti, who will be the professor teaching the course from 2019 onwards. As a result of those two experiences (Curtis, 2017, 2018) and the research needed to teach a course that appears not to have been taught anywhere else before, a special issue of the TESL Reporter will be published (online and freely available) in November/December of 2018, titled “From Peace Language to Peace Linguistics,” and a new book, the first to be titled Peace Linguistics, will be published by the University of Michigan Press in the Spring of 2019. Based on that teaching and research in PL, this is the current definition that I have developed and am using:

Peace linguistics (PL) is an area of applied linguistics, based on systematic analyses of the ways in which language is used to communicate/create conflict and to communicate/create peace. PL is interdisciplinary, drawing on fields such as peace studies/peace education and conflict resolution/transformation, bringing those together with fields such as sociolinguistics and critical discourse analysis, including text/genre analysis.

It is my firm belief that PL will begin to be more recognized and to grow rapidly in the next few years.


BYU-Hawaii. Mission and Vision. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://about.byuh.edu/mission

Curtis, A. (2017). Back from the battlefield: Resurrecting peace linguistics. TESL Reporter, 50(1), 20–34. Retrieved from http://tesol.byuh.edu/sites/tesol.byuh.edu/files/TESOLReporter50-1_article2.pdf

Curtis, A. (2018). Introducing and defining peace linguistics. The Word, 27(3), 11–13. Retrieved from http://www.hawaiitesol.wildapricot.org/resources/Documents/Word/2018%20May.pdf

Friedrich, P. (2007). English for peace: Toward a framework of peace sociolinguistics. World Englishes, 26(1), 72–83.

Gomes de Matos, F. (2014). Peace linguistics for language teachers. DELTA: Documentação de Estudos em Lingüística Teórica e Aplicada, 30(2), 415–424. Retrieved from http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0102-44502014000200415

Oxford, R. L. (2013). The language of peace: Communicating to create harmony. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Oxford, R. L., Gregersen, T., & Matilde Olivero, M. (in press). Peacebuilding: Fostering the language of peace in TESOL. TESL Reporter.

Andy Curtis received his MA in applied linguistics and his PhD in international education from the University of York, England. From 2015–2016, he served as the 50th President of TESOL International Association.


In the past decades, the field of TESOL has been primarily concerned with teaching English through a monolingual framework, that is, with the use of English as the only medium of instruction. This monolingual tradition has been based on assumptions that students would learn best if they were immersed in the target language and did not use other languages. Often, instructors who have taught EFL or ESL, including myself, have been asked to implement an “English-only” policy in the classroom and reward students who abide by it. Recently, however, applied linguistics research has called for a plurilingual turn in TESOL (see overview in Taylor & Snoddon, 2013), which encourages the use of students’ languages and cultures in classroom practices to maximize the learning experience.

What Is Plurilingual Instruction?

The plurilingual turn in TESOL has emerged as a response to the increasing linguistic and cultural diversity inherent in many urban centers worldwide (Kubota, 2016). Plurilingualism puts forth the notion that people can make use of languages and dialects to communicate with others, including code-switching, and proficiency levels in these languages vary depending on communication needs. For example, a person may be proficient in one dialect of Spanish (L1) and one dialect of English (L2) but also know a few expressions in other languages and dialects. These languages and dialects are part of people’s plurilingual repertoire, which also includes cultural knowledge, such as behaviours, values, and customs in different cultural contexts. In societies with increasing linguistic and cultural diversity, developing plurilingual and pluricultural competence is timely so speakers can use their repertoire to access information in different languages as well as appropriately communicate with people from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

Plurilingual and Pluricultural Competence

Besides the linguistic and social dimensions of English, such as grammar, vocabulary, and pragmatics, plurilingual and pluricultural competence (PPC) should not be neglected in TESOL. PPC is a relatively new competence in language pedagogy and refers to the need of using language and cultural knowledge flexibly when communicating with others (Council of Europe, 2018). For example, one can read an article written in Brazilian Portuguese, write a summary about it in English, talk about the summary using Azorean Portuguese, and listen to a podcast about the same topic in Spanish. Language users can code-switch when communicating, especially when their interlocutors know the same languages. This mix is not considered a deficiency; it is in fact a rich resource that has agentive power: Speakers may use different languages to establish close connections with others and improve efficiency in communication.

Recently, the new Companion Volume of the Common European Framework of Reference for languages (CEFR) has introduced PPC descriptors to guide language teaching and learning and can help shift TESOL pedagogical orientations from monolingual to plurilingual (see a list of descriptors in Council of Europe, 2018, p. 157).

Research on Plurilingualism in Language Teaching

A solid body of international research on plurilingualism exists, and results have largely been positive suggesting that plurilingual instruction enhances learners’ motivation, agency, and metacognition, among other factors (see overview in Galante, 2018). However, there is a paucity of research examining the benefits of plurilingual instruction compared to monolingual instruction, the latter being a tradition in TESOL. To address this gap, I conducted a quasi-experimental study in an adult English for academic purposes (EAP) program in a Canadian university located in Toronto, the most multilingual city in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2016).

The Study: A Comparison Between Plurilingual and Monolingual Instruction


The study investigated the extent to which a plurilingual approach would impact international students’ perceived PPC levels compared to a monolingual approach, as well as students’ and teachers’ perceptions of overall affordances and challenges of plurilingual instruction. Seven teachers were recruited, and each taught two sections of an Academic Listening and Speaking course: one using a plurilingual approach (treatment group, n = 79) and one using a monolingual approach (comparison group, n = 50). All of the students had international status (study visa) and were from Turkey, Russia, Japan, Korea, Ecuador, and China, with the vast majority from China (84%).


Ten plurilingual tasks, designed in collaboration with the teachers, were delivered in the treatment group, and 10 monolingual tasks were delivered in the comparison group, one per week. While the monolingual tasks were regular EAP tasks, the plurilingual tasks included an element of PPC, which was based on the PPC descriptors of the CEFR (Council of Europe, 2018). For example, while one monolingual task required that students match the definition of idioms to their meanings and use them in an oral monolog in English, the plurilingual tasks required that students reflect on idioms in the languages of their repertoire and orally discuss whether the idioms had the same meaning across the languages and cultures they knew. In one of the classes, for example, students explained that the idiom reach for the stars has an equivalent translation in Chinese but with a slightly different meaning compared to English: In Chinese, reach for the stars has a negative connotation that refers to unrealistic goals. All tasks (both plurilingual and monolingual) lasted approximately 30–40 minutes each.

Data Collection and Analysis

To measure PPC levels, I designed and validated the PPC scale, a 4-point Likert scale with 24 items that asked students to either agree or disagree with the items. The PPC scale was applied to both groups at the start and at the end of the EAP program, 3 months later, to examine if there would be any differences over time and across groups. In addition, weekly diary entries asked students to write their perceptions, both positive and negative, about the plurilingual tasks. To further gather students’ perceptions of plurilingual instruction, two more data collection instruments were used: classroom observations at three different times—Weeks 1, 5, and 9—in all seven treatment groups (total of 21 observations), as well as focus groups with students at the end of the program to gather general information about tasks in their EAP program, with no explicit mention of the plurilingual and monolingual tasks. Finally, semistructured interviews with all seven teachers were conducted at the end of the program to elicit their perceptions of both affordances and challenges of plurilingual instruction compared to monolingual instruction. Following a concurrent embedded design (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011), data from classroom observations, learner diaries, and focus groups were analyzed inductively, and data from the PPC Scale and teacher interviews were analyzed deductively.

Plurilingual Instruction Is More Beneficial Than Monolingual Instruction

The goal of the study was to examine potential affordances and challenges of plurilingual instruction compared to monolingual instruction, as well as determine whether there would be differences in students’ perceived PPC levels depending on the instructional approach and over time. Analyses from student diaries and focus groups indicate several affordances of plurilingual instruction, including the enhancement of cognition, plurilingual and pluricultural awareness, empathy, English and additional language learning, and critical thinking, among others. From the students’ viewpoint, no challenges of plurilingual instructional pedagogy were found but students indicated challenges relating to translating from one language to another as well as the need to maintain a monolingual posture with monolingual speakers outside of the classroom.

Teachers unanimously reported preference for plurilingual instruction, as it validated students’ plurilingual practices, challenged monolingual ideologies, and offered an engaging environment in which students took the role of the teacher. All of the instructors suggested that teachers implement plurilingual instruction in the future and argued for the need to “give up” their power in class and allow students to develop agency over their own plurilingual and pluricultural practices. In addition, strategies used by the teachers, such as translanguaging and cross-linguistic/cross-cultural comparisons, gradually became part of the EAP curriculum. Finally, PPC scale data were analyzed using a repeated measures ANOVA and post-hoc independent samples t-tests, with results indicating that students in the treatment group had a statistically significant increase of perceived PPC levels over time compared to students in the comparison group. These results show that plurilingual instruction was more beneficial than monolingual instruction for PPC improvement.

Implications for TESOL

This study is significant as it provides evidence from multiple data sources and viewpoints that plurilingual instruction in TESOL offers benefits that are not afforded by monolingual instruction. Pedagogically, a practical achievement of this study is that it opens up possibilities for validating students’ plurilingual practices and enhancing the language learning experience in ways that are not possible if monolingual instruction remains unchallenged.

As an ending thought, teachers who wish to implement plurilingual instruction in their classes can make use of PPC descriptors suggested in the CEFR Companion Volume (Council of Europe, 2018) and ensure that implementation suits their contexts; thus, teachers need to analyze their language program, student population, and administrative support (or lack thereof). Ultimately, by inviting students to share their languages and cultures in the English classroom, teachers are not only teaching the English language but also equipping students with skills to develop PPC, a competence needed for the 21st-century societies that are linguistically and culturally diverse.


Council of Europe. (2018). Common European framework of reference for languages: Learning, teaching, assessment-companion volume with new descriptors. Strasbourg, France: Author. Retrieved from https://rm.coe.int/cefr-companion-volume-with-new-descriptors-2018/1680787989

Creswell, J. W., & Plano Clark, V. L. (2011). Designing and conducting mixed methods research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Galante, A. (2018). Linguistic and cultural diversity in language education through plurilingualism: Linking the theory into practice. In P. P. Trifonas & T. Aravossitas (Eds.), International handbook on research and practice in heritage language education (pp. 313–329). Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Springer.

Kubota, R. (2016). The multi/plural turn, postcolonial theory, and neoliberal multiculturalism: Complicities and implications for applied linguistics. Applied Linguistics, 37(4) 474–494.

Taylor, S. K., & Snoddon, K. (2013). Plurilingualism in TESOL: Promising controversies. TESOL Quarterly, 47, 439–445.

Statistics Canada (2016). Linguistic diversity and multilingualism in Canadian homes. Retrieved from http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/as-sa/98-200-x/2016010/98-200-x2016010-eng.cfm

Angelica Galante is assistant professor in applied linguistics at Concordia University in Montreal, Québec, Canada. Visit http://www.breakingtheinvisiblewall.com to learn more about her research and the plurilingual tasks used in the study.


Silence in a Japanese Context

Research shows that Japanese learners have a disposition toward silent behaviour (Cutrone, 2009). This tendency may be explained by the fact that in Japanese education, the teacher is traditionally considered a transmitter of knowledge who should not be questioned. Furthermore, in Japan, silence serves a communicative purpose as a way to show respect and agreement. Although considered a virtue in a Japanese context, Western teachers in Japan often seek to avoid silence in a communicative EFL classroom because they think it impedes the process of language learning; communication—perceived by most Western teachers as the active oral production of a second language (L2)—is often favoured and encouraged, and moments of silence are generally considered awkward and are frowned upon.

Although silent behaviour may be caused by numerous factors, Cutrone (2009) points out that Japanese EFL learners’ reluctance to speak is largely due to the language anxiety caused by

learners’ social and cultural codes for speaking…Japanese learners are likely to experience language anxiety in oral EFL classes because they are simply not prepared to deal with the social components of western-style teaching practices, where a great emphasis is put on individualism, challenging the teacher, and original opinions. (p. 58)

This implies that certain classroom virtues are not shared by Western teachers and Japanese learners. As a result, Western teachers may need to redefine the concept of communication in a Japanese EFL classroom, taking into consideration the various sources and functions of silence as well as acknowledging the fact that both communication and silence may be perceived and interpreted differently across cultures. A heightened awareness among teachers of the interplay between both sociocultural and psychological variables may provide a more complete understanding of Japanese EFL students’ inclination toward silence.

Willingness to Communicate

An exploration of willingness to communicate (WTC), defined as “a readiness to enter into discourse at a particular time with a specific person or persons, using L2,” allows researchers to incorporate psychological, communicative, and linguistic approaches in examining L2 acquisition (MacIntyre, Dornyei, Clement, & Noels, 1998, p. 545). Fostering a WTC (i.e., engaging in oral production of L2) among Japanese EFL students is one of the main concerns of Western teachers in Japan because these teachers are expected to “activate” students’ passive knowledge of English by facilitating an environment in which students feel comfortable developing their English through trial and error. Therefore, the argument that “the ultimate goal of the learning process should be to engender in language students the willingness to seek out communication opportunities and the willingness to actually communicate in them” (MacIntyre et al., 1998, p. 547) resonates with the classroom reality Westerns teachers in Japan and many other Asian countries find themselves in.

The model of WTC presented by MacIntyre et al. (1998) shows how 12 social and psychological variables are interrelated and may affect students’ choice to engage in L2 communication. Here, the investigation will be limited to one of these 12 variables: state communicative self-confidence, which refers to “a momentary feeling of confidence” and encompasses both “perceived competence” as well as “a lack of anxiety” (MacIntyre et al., 1998, p. 549). State communicative self-confidence is one of two situated antecedents that most immediately determine WTC (MacIntyre et al., 1998); thus, this is a key variable that may help explain why Japanese EFL students do not engage in communication and remain silent. As established before, levels of anxiety may render students silent, and anxiety caused by cultural differences may be decreased by teachers’ awareness of various perceptions and interpretations of silence across cultures. Closer examination of language learning anxiety and its potential sources may help us better understand and address students’ silence.

Foreign Language Learning Anxiety and Its Sources

Defined as “a distinct complex of self-perceptions, beliefs, and behaviours related to classroom language learning arising from the uniqueness of the language learning process” (Horwitz, Horwitz, & Cope, 1986, p. 128), foreign language anxiety is linked to three similar performance anxieties: communication apprehension, fear of negative evaluation, and test anxiety. Because the focus of the present article is on silence in communicative oral EFL classroom settings, communication apprehension, defined as “an individual’s level of fear or anxiety associated with either real or anticipated communication with another person or persons” (McCroskey, 1977, p. 78), will be further discussed, and fear of negative evaluation will be touched upon briefly.

Young (1991) mentions three psychological phenomena as important sources of foreign language anxiety, including speech anxiety, embarrassment, and communication apprehension. Communication apprehension is subsumed by social anxiety arising from people being evaluated by others in imagined or real social settings. Social anxiety directly links to the performance anxiety resulting from fear of negative evaluation, as discussed by Horwitz, Horwitz, and Cope (1986). Another psychological phenomenon is “club membership,” referring to individuals’ affective filters going up when they do not consider themselves to be members of a certain group (Young, 1991). Last, existential anxiety is a psychological phenomenon concerned with a learner’s self-identity: When students learn a new language, they may feel that they lose their own identity (Young, 1991).

Thus, social anxiety (subsuming both communication apprehension and fear of negative evaluation), club membership, and existential anxiety “may be the seeds for students’ language anxiety as expressed in fear over speaking in front of others” (Young, 1991, p. 428). This fear is likely to negatively affect students’ WTC, resulting in silence.

Implications and Suggestions

If they are insufficiently aware of cultural differences and student expectations, Western teachers may perceive of Japanese EFL students’ silence as disinterest or shyness. Although at times this may certainly be the case, and many instances of Japanese EFL students’ silence may be attributed to sociocultural aspects (e.g., silence to show respect and agreement as well as a reluctance to challenge the teacher), these sociocultural aspects do not operate separately from psychological aspects; rather, many of the sources of anxiety previously described are a mix of sociocultural and psychological influences. An awareness of these influences is vital if teachers are to address students’ silence in EFL classrooms.

It is important for teachers to realise that the development of communication apprehension is like a vicious cycle: Students apprehensive of communication often avoid situations that allow them to enhance their ability to communicate (Daly, 1991). When, after much avoidance, students are put into situations where teachers—unaware of the psychology of silence—push them to produce language, the pressure for students may become intolerable. The resulting negative evaluation from themselves, peers, or teachers may reaffirm expectations of poor performance and result in even greater anxiety. This may lead to an increased avoidance of participation in communication. Teachers can encourage students to be less apprehensive by creating a learning environment supportive of students suffering from communication apprehension. For instance, teachers may have to extend their tolerance toward moments of silence as well as allowing students to take their time expressing ideas.

For the affective filter to go down, a sense of group membership within the classroom needs to be created (Young, 1991). Collaborative learning activities may help students to open up and share ideas. By facilitating opportunities for students to engage in nonevaluated communicative activities, teachers may be able to build a sense of group membership.

Teachers need to be aware of how existential anxiety impacts students’ self-perception, rendering them silent in class (Young, 1991). Teachers can share with students their own experiences of how foreign language learning may have impacted their own identities. Designing lessons around the topic of identity forming, teachers may help students realise that it is not uncommon to question one’s identity when learning a foreign language.


Japanese and perhaps other Asian EFL students’ proclivity to silence is a complex phenomenon influenced by sociocultural and psychological variables, which if not acknowledged may lead to serious misunderstandings between Western teachers and students. Western teachers need to realize that both communication and silence may be perceived and interpreted differently by Japanese learners. Japanese EFL students should know that their Western teachers are aware of the fact that in Japan, silence plays an active role in communication. Finally, teachers need to be aware that pushing students to produce language may further increase levels of foreign language anxiety.


Cutrone, P. (2009). Overcoming Japanese EFL learners’ fear of speaking. Language Studies Working Papers, 1, 55–63.

Daly, J. A. (1991). Understanding communication apprehension: An introduction for language educators. In E. K. Horwitz & D. J. Young (Eds.), Language anxiety: From theory and research to classroom implications (pp. 3–13). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Horwitz, E., Horwitz, M., & Cope, J. (1986). Foreign language classroom anxiety. The Modern Language Journal, 70(2), 125–132.

MacIntyre, P., Dornyei, Z., Clement, R., & Noels, K. (1998). Conceptualizing willingness to communicate in a L2: A situational model of L2 confidence and affliction. The Modern Language Journal, 82(4), 545–562.

McCroskey, J. C. (1977). Oral communication apprehension: a summary of recent theory and research. Human Communication Research, 4(1), 78–96

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Willem de Goei, MA, is an English as a foreign language instructor and teacher trainer currently based in Accra, Ghana. His main research interests include foreign language acquisition, teacher education, intercultural communication, and the integration of information and communications technology in language instruction. For the past 10+ years he has taught English at various higher education institutions in Thailand, Japan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Ghana.



TESOL's Applied Linguistics Interest Section (ALIS) looks at language as a communicative system from both theoretical and practical perspectives, applies research and theory to real world contexts, and explores implications for the enhancement of language learning and communication. It draws on linguistic disciplines (e.g., linguistics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics), as well as on studies of a broad range of language phenomena.

ALIS explores implications for the enhancement of language learning and communication. It seeks to do so through the promotion of discussion, the exchange of information, and joint research.

The ALIS leadership team is as follows:

Chair: Kathryn Howard
Ben White
Past Chair: Olga Griswold
Newsletter Editor:
Natalia Dolgova
Community Manager:
Eli Hinkel