Topic 2 – Communication in the foreign language classroom: Verbal and nonverbal communication. Extra-linguistic strategies: non verbal reactions to messages in different contexts.

Topic 2 – Communication in the foreign language classroom: Verbal and nonverbal communication. Extra-linguistic strategies: non verbal reactions to messages in different contexts.








Following L.O.E 2/2006, 3rd MAY we can see that “Acquire basic communicative competence in at least one foreign language to enable them to express and understand simple messages and get by in everyday situations”.

What is communication? The words communicate and communication are used in a wide range of contexts in their everyday say sense. We talk as readily of the communication of feelings, moods and attitude as we do of the communication of factual information. There is no doubt that these different senses are interconnected; and various definitions have been proposed which have been proposed which have sought to bring them under some very general , but theoretical , concept defined in terms of social interaction or the response of an organism to a stimulus.


The language is, according to Halliday, an essentially social an inter-organism activity. The sociolinguistic approach to language is concerned with what is involved in looking at his language people really use, in different places, for different purposes, in different social and personal contexts. It is also concerned with the mutual relations that can be seen to exist between different human social situations and different varieties of a language.

Another definition of communication considers it is the exchange of meanings between individuals through a common system of symbols and which has been of concern to countless scholars since the time of ancient Greece.

The English literary critic and author I.A. Richards offered one of the first and in many ways still the best, definitions of communication:

Communication takes place when one mind so acts upon the environment that another mind is influenced , and in the other mind an experience occurs which is like the experience in the first mind , and is caused in part by that experience.

Important aspects of this definition are the interactive character of communication, which is very important to understand the different parts of this theme. It is also important to remark that Richards’s definition separates the content of the messages from the processes in human affairs by which these messages are transmitted.


Current Communicative approaches to second/ foreign language teaching advise to try to replicate the spontaneous process of L1 acquisition , as far as possible and we consider that this is the approach to our future teaching task implied by the title of this theme.

For the reasons above mentioned , we are going to begin by defing the different aspect that constitute communicative competence according to Canale and Swain , in order to be able to organize our study of the main linguistic skills in a way that is coherent with the needs of acquiring C.C in English.


When trying to define grammatical competence it is a must to mention CHOMSKY because he was the first to speak about competence and performance in the 60,s , taking as a basis the distinction that DE SAUSSURE had made between language and parole. CHOMSKY have done a lot of research , which has eventually led to the concept of communicative competence . as we understand it nowadays.


HALLIDAY , who started from CHOMSKY´S views , but taking into account language in its social perspective. HALLIDAY , on his turn, is interested in language in use in the functions realised by speech.

According to this theory language functions are formal features of language, which enable communication to take place.

HALLIDAY rejects the distinction between competence and performance , as being of no use to study the sociological aspects of language and he developed a socio-semantic approach to language and language in use, trying to explain the relationships between language events and social context.

In this approach , he includes the notion of language potential , which is the set of options in meaning that are available both to listener and speaker. This implies that the speaker have behaviour options which he translates linguistically as semantic options , encoded in linguistic forms.


As far as HYMES is concerned , he criticises CHOMSKY because his notion of competence does not account for the sociocultural dimension of language , which is something CHOMSKY left out on purpose , for the methodological reasons.

HYMES , on the contrary , posits that to establish the idea of C.C. we need to know whether something is formally possible .If something is feasible, according to our means and whether it is appropriate in relation to a context , we should also take into account whether it is done and what its doing implies.

That is , according to Hymes , C.C. implies:

a)Grammatical ability to use what is formally possible

b)Psycholinguistic ability to use what is feasible.

c) Sociocultural ability to use what is contextually appropriate.


Current research has shown that communication cannot de understood unless we move away from the sentence level and try to understand language at discourse level , however complex it may result.

According to this , discourse competence would be the ability , which enables us to interpret individual message elements in terms of their relationship with the full text.

Also includes understanding lexical cohesion devices in context as well as grammatical cohesion devices in order to notice the cohesion of the different genres.

On the other hand it also comprises it also comprises grasping oral discourse patterns as well as written discourse pattern to be able to notice coherence in different genres.


Strategic competence is related to current interest in the cognitive devices through which we apprehend reality:

Related to strategic in so far as it is relevant for communication we should mention the following devices:

a)The use of reference sources

b)Grammatical and lexical paraphrase

c)Requests for repetition

d)Use of non-verbal language

e)Use of a single grammatical form

f)Use of the most sociolinguistic neutral form when we are not sure.

g)Use of the first language knowledge as an aid

h)Use of non-verbal symbols or emphatic stress or intonation to provide cohesion and coherence.

i)Use of pause filters and turn-taking devices.


As Krashen and Klein have very well noticed the psychological aspects play a very important role in the L2 acquisition or learning and they are very different in this situation from the situation in which the learner found himself when acquiring his L1


Acquisition occurs subconsciously, as a result of participating in natural communication, where the focus is on meaning.

Learning occurs as a result of conscious study of the formal properties of the language.

Acquired knowledge is stored in the left hemisphere of the brain, in the languages areas, and so it is available for automatic processing.

Learnt knowledge is metalinguistic in nature, so it is stored in the left hemisphere but not in the language areas and it is only available for controlled processing.

In performance, acquired knowledge serves as the major source for initiating the comprehension and production of utterances. Learnt knowledge is available only for use by the Monitor.


It affirms that learners may follow a more or less invariable order in the acquisition of formal grammatical features.

-We do not know the order of acquisition of every structure in every language.

-The existence of a natural order of L1 acquisition does not imply we should teach second languages along the same order.


It speaks about the manner in which language acquisition can be influenced by conscious awareness.

The Monitor is the device learners use to edit or revise their language performance. It utilizes learnt knowledge to modify utterances generated from acquired knowledge. So it is based on the previous distinction between subconscious acquisition and conscious learning. According to Krashen, learning is always effected through a Monitor, which can be effect in communication only if:

-There is enough time

-If the speaker is concerned with the correctness of his production

-If he knows the correct rule.

The Monitor, while fostering accuracy, is likely to hamper fluency.


In order to acquire language, the learners needs input. Acquisition takes place as a result of the learner having understood input that is a little beyond the current level of his competence (I + 1)

In order to make the input more accessible, it is convenient to provide the suitable context and as much extra-linguistic information as possible. Devices such as simplified speech, visual clues, key words, gestures or familiar topics can be used for this purpose

Input should be interesting and comprehensible for students. Themes should be chosen according to the student’s needs and interest.

Early speech is typically not accurate. Direct error correction should be avoided as useless, as self-correction will arrive in due time.

Speaking fluency emerges on its own time. We cannot teach it directly.


Dulay and Burt first proposed this notion. The factor which constitute the affective Filter are anxiety, motivation and self-confident, which are affective variants and have an effect on L2 acquisition.

If the Affective Filter is raised it produces a mental block which prevents input to enter. If it is lowered, lots of input are obtained and let in.


Strategic competence would enable the speaker to compensate for the lack of understanding at a given moment in the communication process due to different reasons: lack of language , lack of understanding due to internal or external factors , or time constraints.

Linguistic strategies are devices that we use in our mother tongue subconsciously to compensate for the lack of language , for the lack of understanding or for time constraints. Now it is considered that these strategies can be taught in the L2 since they are even more important when communicating in a foreign language , due to the smaller amount of language we possess in it.

We are going to follow BYGATE when we say that it is very helpful for learners to be able to facilitate oral production by using these strategies to help them to compensate for their problem.


Adjustment: Speaker has to pay attention to their listeners reactions and adapt their messages to them to make sure that communication is flowing smoothly.

Simplification: Grammar can be simplified by linking new sentences using coordinating conjunctions instead of subordinators or simply by juxtaposition.

Elision: In the real life we do not usually speak uttering complete sentences but just focus on that part in any case.

Formulaic expressions: Phrases in which each word keeps it original meaning but which tend to occur together.


They are used the speaker to compensate for this lack of language , the difficulties of understanding oral language in a given situation and the time pressure constrains that are present in speech.

Repetition: the teacher should repeat to make communication easier in the L2 class.

Rephrasing: We should remember that language is very redundant. So repetition and rephrasing implies repetition but changing structures and vocabulary though keeping the message.


In all verbal communication we are aware that the message is sent through a code that is made up of sounds travelling trough the air, having been emitted trough the articulation of the speaker´s speech organs. But this message is communicated by non verbal signals too real components of normal communication.

Knapp classifies the non verbal aspects as follows:

Body movements: includes gestures, movements of the body, limbs, hands, head, feet, facial expressions (smiling), eye behaviour such as blinking, direction of sight and also posture.

Physical characteristics: includes physical appearance, general attraction, body scents, height, hair, skin ton (these characteristics are constant).

Paralanguage: refers to how something is said and not what is said. It uses the non verbal vocal signs surrounding speech (tone, qualities of the voice, rhythm).

Proximity: is the manner in which man uses space as specific cultural product, the study of use and perception of social and personal space. The individual determines his own space base on social and personal rules (perception and use of personal and social space)

Tactile conduct: kissing, hitting, guiding …

Artefacts: include the manipulation of objects, which can act as non-verbal stimuli, with interacting persons. These artefacts can be: perfume, clothing, lipstick …

Surroundig factors: this category includes those elements that intervene in human relations which are not a direct part of it: furniture, interior decoration.

The purpose of non verbal communication is to be part of the functional aspect

of communication:

To communicate emotions

To regulate communication/conventions.

To interpret.

To identify social status, etc.

Meaningful language includes a knowledge of these aspects for true communication.

The importance of drama, mime, action songs, role-plays, simulation of real life situations to include as many non-verbal elements as possible cn not be underestimated.


In this part of the topic we will see how the use of extralinguistic elements is linked not only to achieving grammatical and sociocultural competence but to strategic competence.

This is the ability to plan and adapt communication, so that the desired end is achieved.

In different contexts different strategies are required.

We should make some points here:

Strategies develop and are sought when a need is seen. Children look for extralinguistic help when they are interested in, or enthusiastic about, or are seeing the advantage in communicating.

We should put children in different situations of verbal communication and help them to develop non verbal aids with games and activities which link non-verbal elements with the context and communication need.

This acquisition of language skills and non-verbal strategies requires an atmosphere of relaxation, with no tension, ridicule, pressure.

Children should see how language verbal and non verbal changes in different context, ruled by situation, climate, social class, age, formality and informality and so on.

One method which focuses on the aid of non-verbal communication is Total

Physical Response. Every extralinguistic resource its use is developing communication beginning with the listening skills, where imperatives are inferred by movements, actions, etc.

Though we may not wish to use a TPR methodology with all its implications, the contributions it makes to the teaching-learning process as part of our methodological plan in an eclectic approach can be valuable.

As teachers we will be aware that elements such as furniture, space, decorations and so on can help or hinder communication. There will be occasions when we will want to re-arrange desks, chairs, decorations, posters or other objects, so that they can help in a communicative process. For example, if we are performing a play we can set up various objects as scenery so that the children fell contextualized.

To give an example of a Total Physical Response methodology which uses extralinguistic strategies we can consider for instance the game of “Simon says” where, in the context of a game, children learn to understand simple imperatives along with associated parts of the body. They obey the orders of the teacher only when he or she speaks on behalf of Simon. To help the children the teacher performs the action, which the children imitate. Eventually they do not need this extralinguistic back-up.

From the very first days of learning a foreign language, children become accustomed to deducing meaning from the context, which is full of extralinguistic clues. When we say: – “ close the door, please” pointing to the open door and miming a closing movement. This is a very simple but effective T.P.R. activity.

Not only do children learn to understand spoken messages in this way. They begin to try to communicate using non-verbal and extralinguistic strategies at their disposal, from gestures to mime and with the use of other artefacts.