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.


Communication is a key word for us as English teachers. Not only is it the essence of human interaction, it is the centre of language learning.

Chomsky was one of the first language investigators to try to explain why a child learns language; he says that the enfant begins to produce language by a process of deduction using the input received and with natural resources construct an internal grammar.

But later, linguists such as Hymes, noted that a child doesn´t know just a set of rules. He/she learns how and when to use them, and to whom.He says that when a native person speaks, he or she takes into account factors such as:

1. Systemic potential. Whether something (word, structure…) works grammatically or not if it fits into the grammatical system.

2. Appropriacy. Whether a word or structure is suitable in the context according factors such as the relative social class of the speakers, regional variations, age and status differences, the topic being discussed and so on.

3. Feasability. Knowing whether a construction is possible or not. It may be possible grammatically but seem ridiculous in real use such as the use of six adverbs together.

4. Occurence. A knowledge of how often something appears in the language (example: foreign learners of English from latin countries often use more latin-sounding words than a typical native speakers).

Halliday considers that language is, indeed, learned in a functional context of use. To summarize all the above, a communicative context governs language use, and language learning implies an acquisition of these rules of use.

Grammar is not enough, as we can be grammatically correct and socioculturally incorrect or with ill-designed strategies. And so communication breaks down.

Canale and Swain developed the idea of communicative competence, a design taken on by the M.E.C. as the basis for objectives in the curricular design and as a guide for teaching methodology.

This communicative competence consists of 5 subcompetences: grammatical, discourse, sociolinguistic, strategic and sociocultural.

– GRAMMATICAL or the ability to use the rules of the language system. (example: the position of the adjective in English).à systemic potential.

– DISCOURSE or the ability to use different types of speech o writing based on the situation and to do it coherently and cohesively.

– SOCIOLINGUISTIC or the ability to adapt utterances to a particular social context (socialclass, regional languages, registers).à appropiacy.

– STRATEGIC or the ability to influence the course of the communicative situation (body movement, intonation). Related to redundancy. The aim is to mantein the channel of communication open or to improve the reception.

– SOCIOCULTURAL – being familiar with the social and cultural context, the background where the language is spoken.(example:when we say “milkman” we understand all the contexts such as: Who is the milkman?, When does the milkman deliver the milk? and so on).

This communicative competence and its subcompetences seeks to help children to provide opportunities for gaining real language in real use.

Communication is the activity or process of giving information to other people or to other living things, usign signals such as speech, body movements or radio signals.

Communication is then the basis of a foreign language class from the basic curricular design and aims to lesson plans and methodology.

In the 20 th Century worl of international travel, commerce, culture, technology and news/information, communication needs to be optimun and our pupils will want to, or need to have the four skills in language on many occasions for communicative purposes.

We shall now look at what this means in terms of verbal and non verbal communication.

This is part of their preparation for life in general, and for their development as people.


This consists of two skills, namely listening and speaking.

LISTENING precedes speaking. It consists of the decoding of sound according to acquired rules.It can be defined as the process of discriminating the sounds of the English language through a process of hearing and understanding them. Listening is related to PHONOLOGYà This science studies the phonemes, the relationship between units of sounds and differences in meaning.

We need to remember that there are differences between the Spanish sounds and the English sounds. We must allow the children to be clear on these differences, using accent, rhythm and entonation.

All material used in teaching sounds and meaning should be based on its usefulness in real communicative interaction.

There are many ways of presenting material so that it can be a means of helping children in oral-comprehension. We may use flash-cards, real objects, pictures from magazines, gestures, mime, language laboratory, radio, t.v., fims, tape-recorder and so on.

SPEAKING is the encoding of the acquired sounds, deduced by listening, into signals.The end of this is to communicate something to someone and is related to PHONETICS à The study of sounds: how they are produced and how they are received.

Pupils need a lot of practise in comprehension (listening) in order to hold a conversation in English. Both skills (listening and speaking) are linked in the learning process, since the people need to absorb the elements of a message if they are going to contribute to a conversation.

This encoding and decoding is not only on a grammatical level, as Chomsky inferred at first, but as Guiraud affirms a process which takes logic from phonology, semantics, etc, but also subjective experience and social rules.

So, we will begin talking about oral-comprehension techniques. If we want to develop this ability in our children we shall need to observe the processes used by the learner in listening comprehension.

At first, the pupil hears a series of noises and he/she can´t tell what the difference is between them. After some time, he/she begins to note that the sounds are in some sort of order, with regularity in the pauses and voice pattern.

As he/she learns some simple expresions, he or she begins to see that there are recurring sounds, and he/she associates them with meaning. So, he or she is starting to recognise familiar elements, but doesn´t see all the relationship. He/she does not really understand.

As he or she becomes more familiar with the language, he/she recognizes the different elements, but doesn´t remember what he/she recognized. This is because he/she is recognizing single elements and not the whole message. The mind is eliminating information which it can´t take at first; only a certain amount can be taken into short-term memory.

The receptive system in the brain then takes these selected elements into long-term storage. But only a small part of the total message will be remembered, this is why pupils seem to be able to understand very little at first. They have to concentrate very well to be able to take in not only the sounds, but their meaning, the brain is not able to do this too fast, and we must remember this.

That´s why we help our pupils by giving them short sequences of sounds so that they can get the meaning easily and store it automatically. So, REPETITION is essential for acquiring this process

The LOGSE, in its 9 objectives of the curricular design, reflects the importance of proficiency in these skills.

No child can ever really communicate in English without some ability to listen and speak. In traditional “Grammar Translation” these skills were often neglected.

The reason for this neglect was that some people consider speaking and listening to be primitive skills. They saw that children acquired these abilities naturally and so it was felt that verbal communication was less sofisticated than the written form of the language.

So, more importance was given to a study of the written language and for many years verbal communication was nor considered to be worthy of study.

This is reflected in the approaches to teaching of languages wich followed a classical methodology imitating latin and greek approaches which by their very nature center on reading and writing.

In this century however, and thanks to the contributions on social anthropologists and linguistics we have come to understand that the spoken form of a language is a valuable communication tool full of sophisticated rules of use and which is a vehicle for social interaction.

We can think of Vigotsky studies on ethnic groups where he demonstrates how complex the verbal communication is within societies which some people consider to be primitive.

So, speaking and listening are complex skills and even though they are acquired in an apparently natural way there is a process involved which is intricate.

As an example of this we can look at some of the features which are unique to verbal communication.

Goffman highlited some of these.

We could mention that in verbal communication there are signals which the adresser and adressee recognize as open-close signals such as the word “well” or a cough to open and there are other non-verbal signalssuch as hand movemet to open or close a conversation. We could also think of the fact that in verbal communication there is an inmediate and constant response from the adressee which we don´t have in written communication. This leads to the possibility of the speaker using strategies to ensure the message is being received.

These strategies include back signals such as the hearer nodding his/her head or expressions such as “really” or “umhm”.

These demonstrate to the hearer that the message is being received.

If he or she feels that the adressee is having difficulty in receiving the message because he/she notes a lack of interests,comprehension, etc, he/she may choose to use strategies such as raising the voice, repetition or gestures to improve attention or understanding.

We can not do this in written communication because the adressee is not usually present and we can´t judge the receiver´s response and then react.

Further to this in verbal communication speakers and listeners pay attention to the norms of what is acceptable in a given context as regards quantity, for example.We could imagine that a British conversation consists of shorter exchanges than in an anaerobic context.There are also, of course, complex rules of what is socially and culturally acceptable in specific contexts depending on the relative age, social class and regional origin and so on of speaker and hearer. For example, the speaker is aware of taboo words or topics and of conventions which are appropiate in a given situation.It would be inappropiate, for example, to use some swearwords in polite company.

In written communication the writer does not always know who will read the message and cannot always select suitable exppressions, topics and vocabulary.

Taking the above into account we can affirm that when a child begins to listen with understanding and to speak with intelligibility he/she is acquiring very useful social skills for everyday use.

These skills are not primitive instruments but elaborate competences which society demands and values.

Within verbal communication we recognize that there are non verbal elements. We will now look at these aspects of spoken communication.


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 componets of normal communication.

The following are typical contextual non verbal elements.

Knapp clasifies the non verbal aspects as follows:

1. 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.

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

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

4. Proxemics: 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).

5. Tactile conduct: kissing, hitting, guiding …

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

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

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

of communication:

a) to communicate emotions

b) to regulate communication/conventions.

c) To interpret.

d) To identify social status, etc.

The cultural specificness of these elements should highlited (Spanish and English gestures are different).

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:

1) 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.

2) We shoul 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.

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

4) 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 occassions when we will want to re-arange desks, chairs, decorations, posters or other objects, so that they can help in a communicative process. For example, if we are perfoming a play we can set up various objects as scenary so that the children fell contextualized. For instance, in a play about Goldilock and the three bears we could put a table in the centre of the classroom with three different-size chairs beside it.This extralinguistic elements help children, who can use them as aids in communication.

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 initate. Eventually they do not need this extralinguistic back-up.

From the very first days of learning a foreign language, children become accostumed 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 stralinguistic strategies at their disposal, from gestures to mime and with the use of other artifacts.


In this topic we have attempted to demonstrate the nature of verbal communication.

The spoken language in each productive and receptive forms depends not only on the understanding of sounds or the creation of these sounds.

The context of this communication includes many elements which are aids in the process and we should be aware of how we can maximized verbal and non-verbal items to encouraged children to infer meaning and to use all sorts of extralinguistic strategies to improve communication.

By means of meaningful, motivating activities which use aspects such as body-movement, gestures, artifacts, the five senses, we can motivate our young learners of English to believe that communicating in the English language is within their reach.