Chinese whispers: international Chinese students’ language practices in an anglophone Higher Education context

Anna Filipi, Mu-Sen Kevin Chuang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This study explored the language practices of a small group of international Chinese students in an anglophone Higher Education context where English was the medium of instruction. The context was the first year of an early childhood education course at an Australian university. Building on findings from research in conversation analysis on language alternation and medium of interaction, the analyses sought to unveil the students’ classroom verbal and nonverbal practices as they switched between Mandarin and English. Findings show that students’ preferred medium was monolingual: English for discussing taskwork and Mandarin for resolving disagreement or confusion, establishing understanding, and selecting a speaker. Alternation to Mandarin was accompanied by whispering and the embodied actions of ‘hiding’ behind the laptop while co-occurring laughter was used to signal a language switch or to index trouble or a delicate situation. These findings suggest that language choice was not simply a practice for restoring the preferred medium. Rather the students continued to speak Mandarin until the interactional motivation for its use was completed, which legitimized the use of their shared language. The paper ends with recommendations to inform pedagogy that is sensitive to the linguistic needs of international students in Higher Education in anglophone contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)238-257
Number of pages20
JournalClassroom Discourse
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • anglophone Higher Education contexts
  • conversation analysis
  • international students
  • Language alternation practices
  • medium of interaction

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