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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Are They Ready to Participate? East Asian Students’ Acquisition of Verbal Participation in American Classrooms


This study investigates seven East Asian graduate students’ acquisition of verbal participation competence in American classrooms. By examining the acquisition process, the study focuses on the factors that deactivate participants’ intents to participate, the strategies they develop to realize these intents, and the moments that signal readiness to participate. Participants’ struggles, strategies, and moments at which they participated were analyzed at four phases over a two-year period through semi-structured interviews, questionnaires, and participant observations. Cross- and single-case analyses of the data were conducted, and a complex mix of affective, cognitive and situational factors was identified. The analysis suggests that participants are challenged more by cognitive factors than by cultural factors in the acquisition process. Metacognitive and sociocultural strategies work interactively and shape effective access to full participation membership. A case is made for language teaching to treat cultural conventions of participation from an acquisitional perspective.

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