An Investigation into Reticence and Vocabulary Knowledge of Iranian EFL Learners

Document Type : Research Paper


University of Sistan and Baluchestan


  A growing body of research has indicated that students of ESL/EFL are reticent and unwilling to be engaged in oral activities in English lessons. Communicative language ability includes speaking ability, so vocabulary knowledge plays an integral role in speaking a language. However, there have been few studies examining the degree to which vocabulary knowledge affects speaking ability. The present study aimed to explore the degree of reticence in Iranian EFL learners and to find out the roles that productive vocabulary knowledge and gender may play in their reticence. To accomplish this, 56 male and female English language learners participated in the study. Unwillingness-to-Communicate Scale and Vocabulary-Size Test of Controlled Productive Ability were used. To analyze the data, descriptive statistics, Pearson Product-moment Correlation and an independent t-test were used. Results of the study revealed a relatively low level of reticence among Iranian EFL learners. However, it seems that learners mostly avoid communication rather than have a negative attitude toward class participation. In addition, it was found that the learners’ vocabulary knowledge had a significant relationship with their reticence; while, no significant difference was found between Iranian male and female learners in terms of reticence.


Backman, L. F., & Palmer, A. S. (1996). Language testing in practice: Designing and developing useful language texts. Oxford University Press.
Barjesteh, H., Vaseghi, R., & Neissi, S. (2012). Iranian EFL learners’ willingness to communicate across different context- and receiver-types. International Journal of English Linguistics, 2(1), 47-54. doi:10.5539/ijel.v2n1p47
Burgoon, J. (1976). The Unwillingness-to-Communicate scale: Development and validation. Communication Monographs, 43, 60-69. doi:10.1080/03637757609
Burgoon, J., & Koper, R. (1984). Nonverbal and relational communication associated with reticence. Human Communication Research, 10, 601-626.
Carroll, J. B. (1968). The psychology of language testing. In A. Davies (Ed), Language Testing Symposium: A Psycholinguistic Perspective. London: Oxford University Press.
Chau, F. (1999). Reticence and anxiety in language classrooms: with regard to F.1 students in a Hong Kong secondary school. Master’s thesis, University of Hong Kong. Retrieved 13th December, 2012 from       /10722/27586
Cheng, X. (2000). Asian students’ reticence revisited. System, 28, 435-446.
Donovan, L. A., & MacIntyre, P. D. (2004). Age and sex differences in willingness to communicate, communication apprehension, and self-perceived competence. Communication Research Reports, 2(4), 420-427.
Ishizuka, H. (2000). Correlations between depth of vocabulary knowledge and speaking ability. STEP Bulletin, 12, 13–25.
Jackson, J. (2002). Reticence in second language case discussions: Anxiety and aspirations. System, 30, 65-84.
Jackson, J. (2003). Case-based learning and reticence in a bilingual context: Perceptions of business students in Hong Kong. System, 31, 457-469. doi:10.1016/j.system.2003.03.001
Keaten, J. A., & Kelly, L. (2000). Reticence: An affirmation and revision. Communication Education, 49, 165–177.
Kelly, L., Keaten, J. A., & Finch, C. (1996). Exploring changing beliefs associated with reticence. Paper presented at the annual convention of the Speech Communication Association, San Diego
Kelly, L., Keaten, J. A., Finch, C., Duarte, L. B., Hoffman, P., & Michels. M. M. (2002). Family communication patterns and the development of reticence. Communication Education, 51, 202-209.
Koizumi, R. (2005). Relationships between productive vocabulary knowledge and speaking performance of Japanese learners of English at the novice level. Retrieved 3th October, 2012 from      /limedio/dlam/ B25/B2599596/1.pdf
Koizumi, R., & Kurizaki, I. (2002). Speaking characteristics of monologues given by Japanese junior high school students. English Language Education Society, 16, 17-28.
Laufer, B., Goldstein, Z. (2004). Testing vocabulary knowledge: Size, strength, and computer adaptiveness. Language Learning, 54(3), 399-436.
Laufer, B., & Nation, I. S. P. (1999). A vocabulary-size test of controlled productive ability. Language Testing, 16, 33-51. doi10.1177/026553229901600      103.
Lee, W., & Ng, S. (2010). Reducing student reticence through teacher interaction strategy. ELT Journal Advanced Access, 64(3), 302-313. doi:10.1093/elt/ccp080
Levelt, W. J. M (1993). Language use in normal speakers and its disorders. In G. Blanken, J. Dittmann, H. Grimm, J. C. Marshall & C. W. Wallesch (Eds.), Linguistic disorders and pathologies (pp. 1-15). Berlin; de Gruyter.
Li, H., & Liu, Y. (2011). A Brief Study of Reticence in ESL Class. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 1(8), 961-965. doi:10.4304/tpls.1.8.961-965
Liu, M. (2005a). Causes of reticence in EFL classrooms: A study of Chinese university students. Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching, 1(2), 220-236.
Liu, M. (2005b). Reticence in oral English Language classrooms: a case study in China. TESL Reporter, 38(1), 1–16.
Liu, M., & Jackson, J. (2009). Reticence in Chinese EFL students at varied proficiency levels. TESL Canada Journal, 26, 65-81.
Meara, P. (1996). A note on passive vocabulary. Second Language Research, 6(2), 150-154.
Nation, I. S. P. (1993). Vocabulary size, growth and use. In R. Schreuder, & B. Weltens (Eds.), The bilingual lexicon. Amsterdam/Philadelphia (PP.115-134). John Benjamins.
Oya, T., Manalo, E., & Greenwood, J. (2009). The influence of language contact and vocabulary knowledge on the Speaking performance of Japanese students of English. The Open Applied Linguistics Journal, 2, 11–21.
Phillips, G. M. (1965). The problem of reticence. Pennsylvania Speech Annual, 22, 22-38.
Phillips, G. M. (1991). Communication incompetencies: A theory of training oral performance behavior. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
Tani, M. (2005). Quiet, but only in class: Reviewing the in-class participation on Asian students. Retrieved 13th December, 2012 from
Tong, J. (2010). Some observations of students’ reticent and participatory behaviour in Hong Kong English classrooms. Electronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 7(2), 239–254.
Tsou, W. (2005). Improving speaking skills through instruction in oral classroom participation. Foreign Language Annals, 38(1), 46–55.
Ukrainetz, T. A., & Blomquist, C. (2002). The criterion validity of four vocabulary tests compared with a language sample. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 18, 59-78.
Vermeer, A. (2000). Coming to grips with lexical richness in spontaneous speech data. Language Testing, 17 (1), 65–83. doi: 10.1177/026553220001700103
Zhang, X., & Head, K. (2010). Dealing with learner reticence in the speaking class. ELT Journal, 64(1), 1–9. doi:10.1093/elt/ccp018
Zou, M. (2004). EFL learners’ perceptions of in-class relationships and their voluntary responses. In Y. Gao (Ed.), The social psychology of English learning by Chinese college students, 149-167.