Behind the invisible curtain: Silence as a multimodal negotiation space in group Q-and-A sessions at a Japanese university

(1) * Junko Takahashi Mail (Doshisha University, Japan)
*corresponding author


The interactional phenomenon of silence is interpreted in numerous ways from different perspectives. In many Western pedagogical settings, it is typically considered a void to be filled, and seen as potentially representing a lack of knowledge or interest (Baurain, 2011), while many researchers have analyzed how and why silence occurs so frequently and is more widely accepted in Asia (Bao, 2014; Harumi, 2011, among others). Using the lens of conversation analysis (CA), this study is twofold. First, it focuses on the frequent silent spaces that Japanese presenters create during question-and-answer sessions in their group presentations at a Japanese university; second, it examines how teachers effectively steer such silences in a certain direction in the classroom discussion. In looking at the use of what I call multimodal silent negotiations and how presenters engage in themsilence no longer seems empty or meaningless, but instead “generative” (Fiumara, 1990) of new voices and ideas. 


silence; conversation analysis; multimodality



Article metrics

10.31763/jsse.v2i2.69 Abstract views : 222 | PDF views : 64




Full Text




Bao, D. (2014). Understanding silence and reticence: Ways of participating in second language acquisition. London: Bloomsbury.

Bao, D. (2020). Silence, talk and in-betweens: East Asian students’ responses to task challenges in an Australian university. In J. King & S. Harumi (Eds.), East Asian perspectives on silence in English language education (pp.17-36). Bristol, U.K.: Multilingual Matters.

Barnes, D. (1976/1992). From communication to curriculum. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Heinemann.

Barnes, D. (2008). Exploratory talk for learning. In N. Mercer & S. Hodgkinson (Eds.), Exploring talk in school: Inspired by the work of Douglas Barnes (pp. 1-16). Thousand

Oaks, CA: Sage.

Baurain, B. (2011). Teaching, listening, and generative silence. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, 27 (3). P.89-101.

Biggs, J. (1998). Learning from the Confucian heritage: So size doesn’t matter? International journal of educational research, 29, 723-738.

Biggs, J. (1996). Academic development in Confucian heritage culture, paper presented at the International Symposium on Child Development. Hong Kong.

Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. Anchor Books: New York.

Goodwin, C. (1980) Restarts, pauses, and the achievement of a state of mutual gaze at turn beginning. Sociological Inquiry,50 (3–4), 272–302.

Gregory, M. (2006). From Shakespeare on the page to Shakespeare on the stage: What I learned about teaching in acting class. Pedagogy, 6, 309-325.

Brown, P., & Levinson, S. (1987). Politeness: Some universals of language usage. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Harumi, S. (2011). Classroom silence: Voices from Japanese EFL learners. ELT Journal, 65, 260-269.

Harumi, S. (2020). Approaches to interacting with classroom silence: The role of teacher talk. In J. King & S. Harumi (Eds.), East Asian perspectives on silence in English language

education (pp.37-59). Bristol, U.K.: Multilingual Matters.

Harumi, S. (2023). Classroom silence and learner-initiated repair: using conversation analysis-informed material design to develop international repertoires. TESOL Journal, 14, e704.

Hashimoto, Y. (1994). Warai no komyunikēshon: Laughter in communication. Gengo, 23(12), 42-48.

Hellermann, J. (2009). Practices for dispreferred responses using "no" by a learner of English. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching (IRAL), 47(1),


Heritage, J. (2004). Conversational analysis and institutional talk. In R. Sanders & K. Fitch (Eds.), Handbook of language and social interaction (pp. 103-147). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Jacknick, C. (2022). Multimodal participation and engagement: Social interaction in the classroom. Edinburgh, U.K.: Edinburgh University Press.

Jefferson, G. (1983). Notes on some orderliness of overlap onset. Tilburg Papers in Language and Literature, 28, 1-28.

Kääntä, L. (2014). From noticing to initiating correction: Students’ epistemic displays in instructional interaction. Journal of Pragmatics, 66, 86-105.

Kang, S. J. (2005). Dynamic emergence of situational willingness to communicate in a second language. System, 33, 277–292.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2008). Cultural globalization and language education. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Kurzon, D. (1995). The right of silence: A socio-pragmatic model of interpretation. Journal of Pragmatics, 23, 55-69.

Lauzon, V. F. & Berger, E. (2015). The multimodal organization of speaker selection in classroom interaction. Linguistics and Education, 31, 14-29.

Lee, G. (2009). Speaking up: Six Korean students’ oral participation in class discussions in US graduate seminars. English for Specific Purposes, 28, 142–156.

Lemke, J. L. (1990). Talking science: Language, learning, and values. New York: Ablex.

Levinson, S. C. (1983). Pragmatics. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Liu, J. (2001). Asian students’ classroom communication patterns in U.S. universities: an emic perspective. Connecticut: Ablex Publishing.

LoCastro, V. (1996). English education in Japan. In H. Coleman (Ed.), Society and the language classroom. (pp.40-58). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Maher, K. & King, J. (2022). ‘The silence kills me.’: Silence’ as a trigger of speaking-related anxiety in the English-medium classroom. English Teaching & Leaning, 46, 213-234.

Maroni, B. (2011). Pauses, gaps, and wait time in classroom interaction in primary schools. Journal of Pragmatics, 43, 2081-2093.

McHoul, A. (1985). Two aspects of classroom interaction: Turn-taking and correction.

Australian Journal of Human Communication Disorders, vol. 13, Issue 1, 53-65.

Mehan, H. (1979). Learning lesson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Mondada, L. 2018. Multiple temporalities of language and body in interaction: Challenges for transcribing multimodality.” Research on Language and Social Interaction, 51 (1): 85–106.

Mortensen, K. (2008). Selecting next-speaker in the second language classroom: How to find a willing next-speaker in planned activities. Journal of Applied Linguistics, 5(1), 55-79.

Nakane, I. (2007). Silence in intercultural communication: perceptions and performance. Amsterdam: John Benjamin Publishing.

Nierenberg, G. & Calero, H. (1971). How to read a person like a book: The language that everybody uses but nobody speaks. New York: Fall River Press.

Pomerantz, A. (1984). Agreeing and disagreeing with assessments: Some features of preferred/dispreferred turn shapes. In J. M. Atkinson & J. Heritage (Eds.), Structures of social action: Studies in conversation analysis (pp. 57–101). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rao, Z. (2002). Bridging the gap between teaching and learning styles in East Asian contexts. TESOL Journal, 11(2) 5-11.

Reda, M. M. (2009). Between speaking and silence: A study of quiet students. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Reischauer, E. & Jansen, M. (1988). The Japanese today: Change and continuity. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Sacks, H. (1992). Lectures on conversation, vol. 1 & 2. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Sacks, H., Schegloff, E. A., & Jefferson, G. (1974). A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation. Language, 50, 696–735.

Salvi, C. & Bowden, E. (2016). Looking for creativity: Where do we look when we look for new ideas? Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 161. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00161

Schegloff, E. A. (1987). Recycled turn beginnings: A precise mechanism in conversation’s turn- taking organization. In G. Button & J. R. E. Lee (Eds.), Talk and social organization (pp. 70–85). Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.

Schegloff, E. A. (1980). Preliminaries to preliminaries: Can I ask you a question? Sociological Inquiry, 50(3–4), 104–152.

Schultz, K. (2011). After the blackbird whistles: Listening to silence in classrooms. Teachers College Record, 113(10).

Seedhouse, P. (2004). The interactional architecture of the language classroom: A conversation analysis perspective. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Sert, O. (2015). Social interaction and L2 classroom discourse. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press.

Sert, O. (2019). Mutual gaze, embodied go-aheads, and their interactional consequences in second language classrooms. In J. Hall & S. Looney (Eds.), The embodied work of

teaching (pp.142-159). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Shimizu, A. (1994). Iroirona warai In A. Shimizu & N. Sumitsuji (Eds.), Hito wa naze warau no ka. pp.43-66. Tokyo, Japan: Kōdansha.

Sinclair, J. M. & Coulthard, M. (1975). Towards an analysis of discourse: The English used by teachers and pupils. London: Oxford University Press.

Takahashi, J. (2019). East Asian and native-English-speaking students’ participation in the graduate-level American classroom. Communication Education, 68 (2), 215-234.

Takahashi, J. (2021). Answering vs. exploring: Contrastive responding styles of East-Asian students and native-English-speaking students in the American graduate classroom. Linguistics and Education, 64.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Walqui, A. (2006). Scaffolding instruction for English language learners: A conceptual framework. The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 9(2), 159-180.

Waring, H. Z., & Carpenter, L. B. (2019). Gaze shifts as a resource for managing attention and recipiency. In J.K. Hall and S. D. Looney (Eds.), The embodied work of teaching

(pp.122–141). Bristol, UK.: Multilingual Matters.

Waring, H. Z. & Creider, C. S. (2021). Micro-reflection on classroom communication: A FAB framework. South Yorkshire, UK.: Equinox Publishing.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2023 Junko Takahashi

Journal of Silence Studies in Education

Published by Association for Scientific Computing Electronics and Engineering (ASCEE)
P-ISSN: 2808-1005
: 19 Ancora Imparo Way, Clayton VIC 3800, Australia

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

View JSSE Stats