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Zero talkers 
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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2006 10:46 am
Posts: 2130
Location: Nagano, Japan
Post Zero talkers
Does anyone have a student who refuses to speak?

I have a JHS student now who is in her first year of English. She won't say anything, not even single words. She won't even try to say anything. It's been 6 months. I've had similar students in the past but their problem was a lack of confidence and that they were really shy. Before, a little pressure and lots of reassurance got the students to speak little by little, but this girl is stubborn :?

She also won't write anything, not even copy.

She attends class with everyone (30 students,) has friends, and her classmates are supportive and try to help her. She's in the volleyball club, and is pretty active between classes. She, evidently, won't speak in other classes as well.

Here's the question... What do you do when you start conversational activities, pair work or games? If the student doesn't participate the group is stuck with the choice of either sitting there and doing nothing or skipping and ignoring the student.

I can usually go over to those students and help them through their speaking part, but this student just won't do it.

Has anyone had an experience like this? I don't want to ignore the student and skip her, but at the same time I don't want to pressure her to the point of crying or hating English. She refuses conseling and the parents won't consent to taking her out and placing her in a special class (they don't want the shame or they are in denial ...)

So far, I have been giving her a chance to speak when it's her turn, waiting an uncomfortable few minutes, modeling the possible answers, then the answer, and finally giving in and skipping to the next student. I tell her to write down the answer, copying it from the board, but she won't do that either.


Build up! Be positive! Teach hard!

Wed Nov 14, 2007 9:40 am
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Joined: Mon Jun 18, 2007 11:33 am
Posts: 289
Location: Niigata
There is a student like what you explained in one of my elementary schools. The first time I taught the class, the teacher never gave me any heads up. Needless to say, I had a nice talk with the homeroom teacher after class.

He explained to me that she doesn't talk at all at school. However, whenever she comes over to his house, outside of school grounds, she talks all the time. I think schools perpertuating this type of behavior is detrimental to student's long-term adaptablity into society.

Personally, I don't want any student in the class that is not going to put in ANY effort. I came to my own personal compromise with my student. I treat her just like every other student. She doesn't speak, but she mouths the answers. I told her if I can read her lips, she can receive credit.

I think these types of problems will always exist as long as moral education and school education are combined and teachers are responsible for what other cultures deem the responsibility of the parents.

That's my two cents...

'Sharing a little, gaining a lot'

Wed Nov 14, 2007 11:34 am

Joined: Wed Dec 20, 2006 9:10 am
Posts: 71
Location: Japan
mark (can I call you that?) I have a student like that... At first I tried to get the student to talk.. then I tried to get her to mouth the words... then i just said fine if you don't want to participate then bring your Kanji work to class and sit quietly in the back and study there... If the student refuses and disrupts others then I remove them from the class and have them report to the kyoto sensei.
You also have to take into consideration that most of this behavior comes from home and school... not you....

Mon Nov 19, 2007 9:50 am

Joined: Fri Nov 10, 2006 3:35 pm
Posts: 119
Location: Yamaguchi, Japan
I guess the first thing I think is that there is something much bigger at play here. In NZ there would be an instant alert and then psychological professionals would be called in. If the parents resisted then Child Youth and Family services would be asked to intervene.

Is it a speech impediment or learning disability?
Does the student talk outside class at school? If so this could be the time to build the relationship.

I think that it is better to keep trying to include the student by offering opportunities to participate and if they are refused then don`t dwell with them but move on. If they can be encouraged to shake their head to indicate that they don`t want to then at least that is some form of communication!!

I guess the thing is this sort of problem is beyond most teachers training and things we do/try/suggest may lead to worse behaviours.

Mon Nov 19, 2007 2:15 pm

Joined: Thu Aug 10, 2006 5:14 pm
Posts: 117
Location: Adelaide Australia
I also had one student like this in Japan. His problem was that he didn't want to be in class, so refused to participate. Outside of class he was active, was involved in the soccer club and was really noisy.

I tried so many things to try to get him to talk, but he simply wouldn't. It was very frustrating. The other kids in the class were also frustrated with the situation since they did want to be there, and wanted to learn.

It took about 16 long months before I got him to utter a word!! The thing which made him talk was that I spoke to him in Japanese! Genius!! That's all it took. I was forbidden from using Japanese in class, but I just spoke to him out of sheer frustration and he responded .... in English! From then on he took part in the classes, and he was actually one of the best students. All that time he spent not talking he was actually listening. This amazed me!! At New Year's he sent me a beautiful card. I was really touched.

Wed Nov 21, 2007 5:52 pm

Joined: Mon Apr 16, 2007 2:32 pm
Posts: 35
Location: South Korea
I would love to know if anyone has any suggestions about this. I also have one student who does nothing in class. She used to be very popular at school with all the students, but then she did something 'bad' last year. Since that time her demeanour and attitute have been very bad, and she does not participate at all in my class. She is very happy to chat in Korean with her friends, but gets the sulky look when I try to get her on task.

The Korean teachers also have the same problem. Even if I give her a worksheet to do, she will not do it.


Chocolate makes the world go round in the best possible way!

Thu Nov 22, 2007 2:54 pm

Joined: Tue Mar 25, 2008 2:13 am
Posts: 4
I'm having this problem with a class. They're learning English as their second language and they're Intermediate level. In 2 days they'll have their final test. If they have good grades they'll go to Upper Intermediate level. But the thing is, when I try to do a conversation class they just answer like this: "Yes teacher."; "No teacher." or "I don't know"; but most of the times they just speak in portuguese. They have vocabulary and they have potencial but they don't even try. I already told them I won't be easy on their final oral test. They HAVE TO speak English and Portuguese is not an option and they seem to ignore this fact. What can I do? Every single question I make they just give an yes or no answer!

If it was a single student then I would talk to him/her and try to figure out what the problem is, but in this case it's impossible and I know their previous teacher - by the way she isn't working on this school anymore - didn't "force" them to speak English, she just aceppted they would never talk in English and she continued giving her classes. How can I change them?

Tue Apr 15, 2008 1:33 am

Joined: Tue Jan 23, 2007 4:33 pm
Posts: 41
Location: Ibaraki, Japan
There is a condition called "selective mutism", which I've done some reading on because of some of the students I've taught.

In particular, I had one girl who not only didn't speak, but seemed completely unable to and broke down if I or the teacher tried to coax her. After doing some reading, I think that neither of us were doing her any good at all- every time we tried to get her to speak I think it just made things worse.

The children like this need competent psychological help. The english teachers they see once a week can't change a deep-seated fear of speaking, but we can make it worse.

I tried making allowances when I could. My student would whisper in the ear of a friend, who spoke for her. Another student I had would write the answers if given pencil and paper. But if your student appears to have an anxeity attack if asked to speak, don't make them until you have at least talked in depth with their teacher.

Fri May 30, 2008 11:10 am

Joined: Sat Oct 21, 2006 8:16 am
Posts: 181
Location: Brazil
Maybe you could just tell her, before or after class, that you won't call on her anymore, but that if she ever wants to answer or be heard to raise her hand. If she won't participate in the games, maybe she can referee? Maybe you can put an extra person in her group so she can participate as an observer.

Mister Young's English Class
Minas Gerais, Brasil

Sun Jun 01, 2008 4:03 am
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Joined: Thu Jan 24, 2008 5:38 am
Posts: 128
Location: Italy
When I was at school, many centuries ago, there was a boy in my class who was pretty much unable to speak in front of the class, and painfully shy and awkward one-on-one. I later learned that there was some bad stuff going on in his life, but frankly no worse than bad stuff that goes on in several unfortunate kids' lives (nutty domineering mother, premature death of father). But it had totally wrecked his self-confidence.

Anyway, different teachers handled it differently. Some tried to force him to speak by having the whole class wait on him (cruel and pointless), some let him basically just be a spectator (this can't have done his already rock-bottom self-esteem much good).

I'm not saying this would necessarily work in any other case, but the teacher who handled the situation best, I think, gave the shy boy things to do which involved opening his mouth, but not being responsible for what he said. In other words, no pressure. I'm talking about reading aloud very short texts, keeping the score in games, "tell us what page we did in the last lesson " (he always knew), that kind of thing. Also non-speaking tasks - open the window, clean the board, collect in the homework... At least the poor lad then didn't have to leave the lesson feeling that he'd not contributed in any way yet again. His confidence did increase slightly in those lessons.


Tue Jun 03, 2008 10:17 pm
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Joined: Mon Sep 10, 2007 2:33 pm
Posts: 65
Location: nagano japan
hi mark, i have a class once a month and there are 5 students and ALL of them are like that, not just one student, and they refuse to speak and me being soft n all i just couldnt make them talk, every lesson with them has been tough, and they sit there acting like they dont understand and i know they DO understand, so i have started to be more strict with them, i just plainly say "can you say"in english first and if they dont say it, then i say in japanese "yute kudasai" this usually gets them to blurt the word out. It makes me feel like a dummy cos they sit there and stare at me as if am a clown or something, many of my lessons with them have failed.
I blame the parents here because they are either bringing their children up badly, OR they are pressuring their kids to learn something which the kids are plainly not interested in. I know us parents want the best for our kids education but some parents just dont get it. I used to sit there politely and patiently asking the kid to repeat after me, and now i have lost all patience, i plainly tell them in their own language to say the word or sentance, and when they see that i am not messing about then they react. Its hard for us teachers cos we dont want to pressure them, but hey the parents are paying for that kid to talk english so, do what you have to do.

Mon Jun 09, 2008 4:58 pm
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