(1) This study investigates the norms of speaking in the classroom by examining the speaking practices of Japanese international students (JIS)—a nonnative English speaking group—in classroom conversations with native English speakers (NES). (2) Semi-structured interviews in Japanese were conducted with 12 JIS in undergraduate programs at a predominantly White university in the United States. (3) The use of speech codes theory and Hymes’s SPEAKING framework, coupled with the grounded theory, reveal that all the interviewees dealt with conflicting feelings of eagerness and dread when deciding whether or not to participate in classroom conversations. The JIS revealed threatening classroom dynamics that made them feel inadequate, isolated, and intimidated. The norms for speaking in the classroom subjugate the JIS into silent observers and subalterns who lack colloquial English skills or local cultural knowledge. Unforgiving sanctions, including discrimination, exclusion, ignorance, and silent treatment, are used by the NES to illegitimize JIS membership in the classroom community. (4) These micro-level nuances of classroom culture are discussed in relation to the macro-level institutionalized structures of U.S. higher education that are, in turn, embedded in the socio-historical dynamics of the nation.
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