Behind the Silence of Japanese International Students in the U.S. Classrooms


Japanese international students (JIS) in United States universities are often labeled by peers, faculty, and administrators as shy, passive, and silent. This stereotypical image reflects, to a large extent, an outsider’s view that does not necessarily capture the understanding of the experience of the JIS. The current study examines JIS’ descriptions of themselves as classroom participants and the factors that influence their oral participation in U.S. university classrooms. Semi-structured interviews were conducted in Japanese with 12 JIS who were pursuing four-year college degrees in the humanities and social sciences. The interviewees’ average presence in the U.S. was 3.5 years. Although proficient in English by the length of time spent pursuing education on U.S. campuses, all the interviewees reported that they very rarely spoke out in the classroom. Analysis of the data uncovered four main factors that hinder JIS’ meaningful oral participation in class: (a) lack of confidence in their English speaking skills, (b) large class sizes that make participation challenging, (c) missing the window of opportunity to speak up due to the fast pace of classroom conversation, and (d) being treated differently by peers and instructors. JIS also revealed four factors that encourage their participation: (a) being asked to speak up, (b) receiving affirmation via others’ feedback, (c) having friends in the class, and (d) engaging in discussion topics that are meaningful to them. The study also discusses relevant pedagogical implications for enhancing inclusive classroom instruction in educational settings that involve international students.

Author Information
Ee Lin Lee, Western Washington University, United States
Kana Sorimachi, Kumagaya City, Saitama Prefecture, Japan

Paper Information
Conference: ACEID2017
Stream: Education for international exchange

This paper is part of the ACEID2017 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon