“communication in the foreign language classroom: verbal and non

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).
systemic potential.
- DISCOURSE or the ability to use different types of speech o
writing based on the situation and to do it coherently and
- SOCIOLINGUISTIC or the ability to adapt utterances to a
particular social context (socialclass, regional languages,
registers). 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
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 PHONOLOGY
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  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
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
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
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
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.
REACTIONS TO MESSAGES IN DIFFERENT CONTEXTS.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,
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
CONCLUSION.In this topic we have attempted to demonstrate the nature of verbal
The spoken language in each productive and receptive forms
depends not only on the understanding of sounds or the creation of these
10 TOPIC 2
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.
11 TOPIC 2