Beyond a discourse of deficit: The meaning of silence in the international classroom

Lynda Yates, Thi Quynh Trang Nguyen


English language proficiency and entry standards have dominated discussion of why many international students from Asia appear to be reluctant contributors in Australian university classrooms, a reticence that is usually understood to result from difficulty in forming and expressing their ideas in English. This paper draws on a qualitative investigation into the perspectives of ten Vietnamese postgraduate coursework students. The findings suggest that, while language factors are important, an orientation to Vietnamese communicative cultures favouring discretion over conjecture for novices plays a significant role. Differences between the cultures of learning in Vietnam and Australia and the philosophies that underpin them are also crucial. We argue that measures to counteract apparent passivity in class should therefore be tackled at the level of teaching philosophy and involve explicit discussion of the patterns of interaction that are valued in the classroom and why. The implications for both staff and student training are discussed.

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