What Factors Affect Learners’ Ability to Interpret Nonverbal Behaviors in EFL Classrooms?

  • Nobuhiro KamiyaEmail author
Original Paper


This study examined how learners’ age, English proficiency, and years of learning English, affect the accuracy of the interpretation of nonverbal behaviors among English as a foreign language (EFL) learners. The participants consisted of four groups of Japanese students: (a) 32 sixth graders attending public schools, (b) 18 sixth graders attending English immersion schools, (c) 30 university students with lower English proficiency, and (d) 32 university students with higher English proficiency. They watched 48 video clips taken from EFL classrooms in Japanese elementary schools without sound and judged whether the teachers had asked a question. The accuracy of their judgements was statistically analyzed and their comments were qualitatively analyzed. Multiple regression analyses pointed to students’ years of learning English as the sole predictor almost significantly affecting accurate judgements but only when teachers’ utterances were accompanied by gestures. This indicates that learners’ ability to correctly decode nonverbal behaviors developed only for teacher gesture. In addition to this qualitative aspect, a quantitative aspect was also found to be affected by the duration of study. Precisely speaking, those learners with over 6 years of learning English noticed a larger number of nonverbal behaviors, including gestures, for correct judgements, which boosted the minimum accuracy of their judgements. This implies that the effect of age and nativeness observed in past literature on the interpretation of nonverbal behaviors may have been in fact under the disguise of the amount of exposure to the target language and culture.


English as a foreign language classrooms Teacher gesture Questions Classroom experience 



I am very grateful to all the participants as well as school administrators and principals who allowed me to recruit their pupils for this project. I am also thankful to Mark Freiermuth for proofreading in his busy schedule.


This research was supported by the Prefecture of Gunma for a grant for research at Gunma Prefectural Women’s University.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Human and Animal Rights

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of International CommunicationGunma Prefectural Women’s UniversitySawa-gunJapan

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