Silence as a challenge: How online language teachers deal with the void

Stickler, Ursula (2019). Silence as a challenge: How online language teachers deal with the void. In: Proceedings WorldCALL 2018 CALLing all the CALLers Worldwide (Barr, David; Banados, Emerita and Gimeno, Ana eds.), Universidad de Concepcion, Concepcion, Chile pp. 125–128.


Online language teachers are skilled in juggling numerous demands in terms of technical queries, L2 scaffolding needs and emotional or affective requirements of their learners. However, there are certain challenges that can interfere with a successful delivery of online language tutorials; prominent amongst them is the “wall of silence” or an unexpected breakdown in communication that makes teachers fear that they are talking into a void. Although silences in face-to-face language classes have been researched to a certain extent over the past decades, online silences can have a different quality due to a lack of information available to the participants in online communication. Specifically in online language tutorials, a lack of feedback can have various reasons, from technical problems to a lack of L2 skills on the part of the learners, and a general reticence or shyness when speaking to virtual strangers. This paper will provide an overview of different types of silences present in online environments and distinguish these in aspect and causes from silences in face-to-face classrooms. Data for this study comes from a range of sources, including classroom observation, eye-tracking experiments, and semi-structured and reflective interviews.

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