Leeds Beckett University
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Reticence, motivation, and interpersonal closeness: a study in an EFL university classroom in Spain

posted on 2024-04-11, 12:44 authored by Katharine D'AmicoKatharine D'Amico
This research aims to understand reticence in adult multilingual learners in the EFL University classroom by discovering the underlying influencing factors for motivation and meaningful interpersonal L2 discourse in addition to transactional output through teacher prompted interaction. It operates from the premise that verbal participation and spontaneous discourse is associated with motivation and with learning, and that language learning is a deeply social event. Reticence (Li and Liu, 2011) hinders efficiency and reduces the potential of learning from others’ insights, observations, and experiences, as well as preventing the automatization of the speaking skill. The context of this study is Barcelona, Spain with adult undergraduate students in EFL. It was a common occurrence in all EFL classes, even in advanced and proficiency levels, that students exhibited reticent behaviour. This thesis Reticence, Motivation, and Interpersonal Closeness: A study in an EFL university classroom in Spain explores the answers to four research questions: What are the factors that cause students to remain silent and refrain from oral participation in the classroom? Do reticent students share certain feelings, thoughts, and behaviours that their un-reticent counterparts do not? Can including the social dimension and interpersonal closeness as a strategy be effective in addressing reticent behaviour? Does the role of interpersonal closeness increase frequency of L2 use and motivated spontaneous interpersonal participation? A total of 166 multilingual EFL learners in 11 classes carried out in self-disclosure task questions, adapted from Aron et al´s 1997 study: The Experimental Generation of interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings. The data was analysed using Stream Analysis (Porras, 1987) to simplify and understand complex behaviour, and to distinguish the problems from the symptoms, together with data collection from teacher observations of the participants during the study. The contributions to the field of research are a heightened understanding that some students can transition from the silent learning period to transactional and self-initiated peer to peer interpersonal discourse and other students experience persistent interpersonal reticence which blocks them from this transition with a potentially detrimental effect on acquisition. It also positions the teacher as an important figure in the transfer of benefits of interpersonal closeness to classroom discussions and to teacher-student interactions. It presents a new theory of interpersonal reticence and discusses a transformational language framework, a conceptualisation of where the learner experiences periods of silent learning (individual internal processing), and experiences episodes of collaborative peer interaction (transactional – teacher prompted) and ultimately peer to peer interpersonal discourse. It also introduces interpersonal closeness as a practical intervention, adapted from the main study and new to EFL and a practical application The Intimate Discourse Guide for Teachers, Trainers, and Materials Developers: How to reduce Interpersonal Reticence, and move from transactional to meaningful discourse. This application is aimed at teacher awareness, material development but most of all for students – so they may find their L2 social voice in the EFL classroom reality and so we are able to credit them with true understanding.


Qualification name

  • PhD


Timmis, Ivor ; Hann, Naeema

Awarding Institution

Leeds Beckett University

Completion Date


Qualification level

  • Doctoral


  • eng


Leeds Beckett University

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