Many years ago Polish teachers had to prepare final exams for their students. I did, too (today exam papers come from the exam headquarters in Warsaw). I still remember one text which I intended to include into a reading comprehension exercise. It was about schools in Japan, exactly about students who are discouraged to ask questions in class due to certain cultural tradition - asking questions is/was considered bad manners. I was amazed reading it. How can students acquire knowledge if they aren`t allowed to get explanation or dissipate their doubts with the teacher`s help? Well, I am not like a Japanese teacher, I constantly request, even admonish my students to ask me questions about words, phrases and longer structures which they don`t understand in our textbooks. I sort of urge them to take advantage of me and my knowledge. Whenever someone asks a question, I happily thank him/her. I repeat my request during every lesson, I suppose my students are fed up with it. But I noticed they respect me more than other teachers in my school. I have less problems with discipline, students don`t argue with me or start brawls with each other like it has happened to other teachers.
Funny you should mention this...I was just speaking today to a friend who teaches at a private Catholic high school. He was telling me that they have several international students who come to the school hoping to be well enough prepared to be accepted at American colleges.
He mentioned that many of those international students are Asian, and he was expressing his frustration with the fact that they will never ask him questions, and he knows they aren't understanding everything. His frustration is increased when he asks them if they understand and they always say "yes!"
I wonder if that attitude toward asking questions in school is characteristic of other Asian cultures besides just Japanese culture...