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

INTRODUCTION (a) – (you have two intructions)

First of all, I would like to point out an important change that has taken place in the teaching of foreign languages in the past few decades.

Traditional approaches used to treat foreign language teaching and learning as a package of knowledge that needed to be analysed and observed, as successive series of rules –mostly grammatical – that needed to be learnt before moving on to further sets of rules. This is, basically, the way foreign languages were learnt in our country for many years.

The Communicative Approach, developed by Robert Langs in the early 1970s), has greatly changed the way foreign languages are learnt and taught. The communicative method can be summarised as follows:

1 It focuses on language as a medium of communication

2 It recognizes that all communication has a social purpose – the learner has something to say or find out.

3 It embraces a whole spectrum of functions (e.g. seeking information/ apologising/ expressing likes and dislikes, etc)

4 New syllabuses based on the communicative method offer some communicative ability from early stages, even at a

very early age. In this sense, the Spanish Syllabus is no exception.

Language as communication

In order to fully understand what is meant by the 1st heading of our topic, “Language as communication”, it is convenient to distinguish two different levels or stages: the “practice” level and the “production” level. I will explain the difference between the two with a simple example.

A teacher of a class of 7 year-olds asks several of her students How old are you? in order to practise the English pattern for asking about / expressing age: “How old are you?” “ I am X yers old”. The teacher, of course, knows the age of the pupils in the class, and the pupils also know that the teacher knows their age. They are all performing at “practice” level, that is, they are simply practising how to ask / express age in English.

But if suddenly, a member of the class raises his/her hand and asks the teacher ‘How old are you?. This is language being used at a totally different and higher level, i.e. the ‘production’ level (the pupil doesn’t know the teacher’s age, but actually uses the construction practised at the ‘practice’ level for a specific purpose, namely that of finding out the teacher’s age. (*) i.e. en latín “id est” = es decir. Se lee “that is”

One has to practise language at ‘practice’ level first in order to be able to exercise it at ‘production’ level. Teaching patterns and rules is only half the work, we need to engage the children in using English for real communicative purposes. Communication is, therefore, a key word for us as English teachers.


The communicative approach with its focus on communication in the target language, as both a means and an end in itself, is a relatively new phenomenon in language teaching. It was developed by Robert Langs in the early 1970s and has greatly changed the way foreign languages are learnt and taught not only in Spain, but worldwide.

Traditional approaches used to treat foreign language teaching / learning as a package of knowledge that needed to be analysed and observed, as successive series of rules –mostly grammatical – that needed to be learnt before moving on to further sets of rules. The use of the target language in class was only marginal and it was limited to, for example, reading a text aloud or reading the sentences in a drill in order to correct them.

The communicative approach can be summarised as follows:

5 It focuses on language as a medium of communication

6 It recognises that all communication has a social purpose – the learner has something to say or find out.

7 It embraces a whole spectrum of functions: e.g. seeking information/ apologising/ expressing likes and dislikes, etc

8 New syllabuses based on the communicative method offer some communicative ability from early stages, even at a very early age. In this sense, the Spanish Syllabus is no exception.

Consequently, if our National Syllabus for FL has adopted the communicative approach, it is quite obvious that the target language, English in our case, should be the language of communication and interaction in English class. This refers to communication and interaction between teacher-students and between and among students.

Communication in English class at Primary School level has two aspects:


First, a type of communication that belongs to ordinary everyday classroom interaction, which includes the use of

(a) routines like “ Good morning/afternoon, How are you today? What’s the weather like? What’s the date today? ” etc.

(b) and also certain everyday language functions that are commonly used in the classroom, such as asking permission, saying thank you, excusing oneself, expressing needs, of asking about the name of something in English. These functions have the corresponding structures that students need to learn and use: For instance, Can I + infinitive to ask for permission, or What’s the word for … in English? When they don’t know vocabulary item that they want to use in a communicative situation.


The other type of communication that is common in English class is topic-based. Most Primary school text books have units based on topics. For instance, some topics that we typically teach are Food, Clothes, or Family, in 2nd cycle and Shopping, Hobbies or their Favourite school subjects in the 3rd cycle. The Communicative activities that the students do in class are normally related to whatever topics are dealt with in the course, normally through controlled practice of the language. By “controlled practice” we mean, for example, role-plays in which students practice a particular structure. For instance in the third cycle of P.E. students may engage in pair-work asking and answering questions with the adverbs usually / always / sometimes / never in order to express how often they do something.

As regards teacher-to-student interaction, I would insist on the need for us, teachers, to communicate with students in English, avoiding the use of Spanish as far as possible. A great part of the listening input that students receive should come from the teacher. This listening input from the teacher may have different forms. For example, storytelling –which is something that children enjoy especially in the first and second cycles of P.E. Our instructions to them should also preferably be in English. In order to help students understand us we often need to use a lot of gesturing and body language, visual aids such as flashcards, etc. And of course we should adjust our language level to the students’ level, using vocabulary that is easier for them to understand, or using simple structures that they are more familiar with, etc.

It is interesting to note that in the communicative approach the teacher is supposed to act as initiator or facilitator, prompting students to interact with one another. In other words, the communicative approach promotes a student-centered approach rather than a teacher-centered approach.

As regards student-to-teacher interaction, we should always promote their use of English when they talk to us. In this sense, we should provide students with the language for basic functions that are normally used in everyday interaction. For instance we can stick small posters or notices on the walls containing some frequent expressions for student-to-teacher interaction. Some examples are:

Can I borrow….(something)….? What ‘s the word for ….. in English?

Excuse me, I have a question. I don’t understand.

I don’t know. I’m sorry, I forgot.

Could you say that again, please? Could you explain that again, please?

Could you speak more slowly, please? What does…… mean?

How do you pronounce this? I don’t have a partner.

Classroom language for student-teacher interaction needs to become part of the student’s active vocabulary so that little by little to students are capable of instantaneous production when the need arises.

Student-to-student interaction

Student-to-student interaction normally the places the following forms:

A. in everyday language classroom interaction. E.g. one student saying to another: Can I borrow your red pencil. B. in pair-work activities in which students practice a structure or the language for a specific situation. C. in small groups of 4 or 5 , while paying a game, for example bingo… and D. in “mingle” activities in which the school class is involved and we have students walking around interacting with all their partners. An example of an activity of this type would be conducting (or doing) a survey, and compoleting a chart where they have to reflect all the information they have gathered.

During pair-work and mingle activities, interaction proceeds much more smoothly if they learn to use expressions like the following:

Pair work Mingle activity

OK, I’ll ask you first Can I ask you a question

Do you want to start by asking me? Go ahead, ask me

You can ask me first. Have I asked you yet?

Pre-teaching these expressions provides students with an opening line to break the ice when they sit down with their partner or circulate around the classroom in a mingle activity.

The students’ level of English throughout the whole of the Primary Education stage is at the Beginner level. They do not usually go beyond beginner level, so obviously, their English production is necessarily limited by lack of vocabulary and structures. Consequently, most of the students’ production in both the oral and the written is guided or controlled production. The language input students receive should be just a little higher than their actual knowledge. This is what Krashen calls Input +1.

The three PPPs. Oral lessons are usually divided into three stages, with different types of interaction. The 3 stages I am referring to are : presentation, practice and production. I will briefly explain the three stages, focusing on the type of interaction in each stage: either teacher-students or student-student.

The aim of the presentation stage is to present the meaning and form of the new language. Our main role in this stage is to act as an informant. The interaction in this stage is teacher-to-students, therefore, it is a teacher-centered stage.

The second stage is practice, which can be done in group or in pairs. Guided oral practice is useful. We must make sure that they have something to say, and that what they are saying is meaningful to them, and not just mechanical oral practice. Oral practice should be as extensive as possible, that is: the more, the better. This type of interaction is, of course, student-centered and student-to-student,

As regards the production stage, our pupils use the language in freer, more creative ways and check how much they have learned. We should not interfere too much, so it is important they have clear instructions for purposeful tasks. At this stage they can do different activities, such as games, role plays, discussions, etc. The aim in this step is to fully develop our pupils’ ability to speak in English. The Production stage is student-centered and the type of interaction is student-to-student

verbal and non-verbal communication

As regards verbal and non-verbal communication in the context of language learning / teaching , we must point out that acquisition of verbal skills has set the standard, whereas non-verbal communication skills have been largely overlooked (pasar por alto). On the other hand, non-verbal skills are relatively easy to teach because students use them when communicating in their own native language, although they do it unconsciously. So our aim as English teachers is to help students use those skills when they are communicating in English.

I would also like to stress the fact that the terms verbal and oral should not be confused. Verbal communication means communication through words, and these words may be spoken or written. A verbal translation, for example, is a translation made word for word. The term “oral”, on the other hand, excludes the written form of language.

We will now focus on NON VERBAL COMMUNICATION.

Messages are sometimes communicated by non verbal signals. The following are typical contextual non verbal elements:

1. Body movements including 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 include physical appearance, general attraction, body scents, height, hair, skin tone (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: the use and perception of social and personal space. The individual determines his own space based on social and personal rules.

5. Tactile conduct: kissing, hitting, guiding, etc.

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 intervene in human relations which are not a direct part of it: furniture, interior decoration.

The purpose of non verbal communication is to :

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 be highlited (Spanish and English gestures, for instance, are different).

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

On the other hand, the importance of drama, mime, action songs, role-plays, simulation of real life situations to include as many non-verbal elements as possible cannot 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 are developed and 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 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.

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

4. Children should see how verbal and nonverbal language changes in different contexts, ruled by situation, age, formality and informality and so on.

One method which focuses on the aid of non-verbal communication is Total Physical Response. For example, when 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 perfoming a play we can set up various objects so that the children fell contextualized. For instance, in a play about Goldilocks 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 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 stralinguistic strategies as an aid to effective comminucation.


As a conclusion, I would say that since/as our National Syllabus for FL has adopted the communicative approach, it is quite obvious that the target language, English in our case, should be the language of communication and interaction in English class. This refers to communication and interaction between teacher-students and between and among students. And on the other hand we must also acknowledge (reconocer) the importance of strategies in the language-learning process, and consequently we should help students acquire and put into practice any strategies that may help them learn the target language, English.

(lo que sigue no tiene mucha relación con el título del tema, pero está en el tema de Magíster)

Chomsky was one of the first language investigators to try to explain how a child learns language; he says that the infant begins to produce language by a process of deduction using the input received and constructing an internal grammar.

Later, Hymes, noted that a child doesn´t simply know a set of rules. He/she learns how and when to use them. According to Hymes, a native speaker takes into account factors such as:

1. Systematic potential. Whether language structures work grammatically or not, whether or not they fit into the grammatical system.

2. Appropriacy. Whether a word or structure is suitable in the context according to 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 (e.g., foreign learners of English from latin countries often use more latin-sounding words than a typical native speakers).

Halliday proposed a definition of language communication from a functional point of view. His theory implies that acquisition of grammatical rules is not enough, as we can be grammatically correct and socio-culturally incorrect or with ill-designed strategies. And so communication breaks down.

Canale and Swain developed the idea of communicative competence, which consists, basically, of five subcompetences:

(1) GRAMMATICAL Competence or the ability to use the rules of the language system. (example: the position of the adjective in English) (2) DISCOURSE Competence or the ability to use different types of speech o writing based on the situation and to do it coherently and cohesively. (3) SOCIOLINGUISTIC C. or the ability to adapt utterances to a particular social context (social class, regional languages, registers). (4) STRATEGIC C. or the ability to influence the course of a communicative situation (body movement, intonation). The aim is to maintain the channel of communication open or to improve the reception.

(5) SOCIOCULTURAL C. being familiar with the social and cultural context, the background where the language is spoken.(e.g., 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).

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