You are on page 1of 5

Non-verbal communication (body language, paralinguistics) has been a

focus of attention for some time in areas such as the refinement of

presentation skills, developing social skills, and even as a realistic
alternative to the lie-detector test.

Relatively little attention, however, has been given in language teaching to non-
verbal communication as a complement to spoken language, though recent trends in
neuro linguistic programming regarding mirroring and parallel body language have
filtered into current research and practice.

Components of non-verbal communication

Teaching non-verbal communication

A non-verbal communication lesson


Components of non-verbal communication

Since it is said that as little as ten percent of communication takes place verbally,
and that facial expressions, gestures and posture form part of our culture and
language, it seems reasonable that we should at least raise learners' awareness of
non-verbal communication in order to improve their use of natural language,
increase confidence and fluency and help to avoid inter-cultural misunderstandings.

On the grounds that; 'It's not what you say, it's the way that you say it', there is
much to be said for teaching non-verbal communication either parallel to, or
integrated with, a language and skills based syllabus, in the same way that
phonology is often treated.

Non-verbal communication is a system consisting of a range of features often used

together to aid expression. The combination of these features is often a subconscious
choice made by native speakers or even sub-groups/sub-cultures within a language
group. The main components of the system are:

Kinesics (body language) Body motions such as shrugs, foot tapping,

drumming fingers, eye movements such as winking, facial expressions, and gestures

Proxemics (proximity) Use of space to signal privacy or attraction

Haptics Touch

Oculesics Eye contact

Chronemics Use of time, waiting, pausing

Olfactics Smell

Vocalics Tone of voice, timbre, volume, speed

Sound symbols Grunting, mmm, er, ah, uh-huh, mumbling

Silence Pausing, waiting, secrecy

Posture Position of the body, stance

Adornment Clothing, jewellery, hairstyle

Locomotion Walking, running, staggering, limping

Of the above, body language (particularly facial expressions and gestures), eye
contact, proximity and posture are probably those which learners most need to be
aware of in terms of conveying meaning, avoiding misunderstandings and fitting in
with the target culture.

In terms of skills development, non-verbal clues should not be underestimated when

developing both the listening and speaking skills. Like grammatical structures, non-
verbal communication has form, function and meaning, all of which may vary from
language to language.

Teaching non-verbal communication

Relatively few techniques have been suggested for teaching non-verbal
communication, but some suggestions are:
Learners discuss the meaning of gestures and expressions (either
demonstrated by the teacher, from pictures, or from existing published materials).
This is particularly effective with multilingual classes

Learners mime adjectives of both physical and emotional feelings

Learners watch a video clip without sound, discuss body language,

relationships, emotions and feelings, then write the dialogue

Learners act out a dialogue using gesture and expression only

Learners make up a dialogue based on mime

Learners, in pairs, take turns in listening to each other for 30 seconds, using
only non-verbal responses.

A non-verbal communication lesson

Below I've described a sixty-minute lesson which was delivered by a trainee teacher
on a recent course at the Izmir University of Economics in Turkey. The lesson was
planned by the trainee, with advice and some materials provided by the course tutor.
Her aims were to raise learners' awareness of non-verbal communication, to present
a variety of non-verbal cues and to give the learners the opportunity to practise and
produce some of these cues, as well as to develop and integrate all four skills. The
class comprised adult students at good intermediate level.

The lesson consisted of six stages:

A running dictation using a short text about non-verbal communication, the

instructions for which were given without speaking by gesture and mime.

A brief brainstorming activity to elicit and teach key terms.

Focus on gestures through cartoon pictures of different hand or facial

gestures. Students were asked to discuss the meanings in their own culture, were
shown a variety of other meanings in other cultures, and were invited to contribute
other examples.

Practice using a scripted dialogue. Pairs of students rehearsed parts, then

acted out the dialogue using expressions, gestures and posture.

Students built dialogues based on silent viewing of a short video clip.

Students combined verbal and non-verbal communication in the context of a

short extract from a play.
On reflection, this may have been an overambitious lesson, attempting to take
students from an introduction to a concept with which they were unfamiliar to a full-
blown production stage.

Although the learners found the first three stages of the lesson both interesting and
entertaining, they found the practice activities progressively more difficult, though
this may have been due to the selection of materials. However, such immersion in
the topic may be the only way to fully expose intermediate students to a totally
unfamiliar area.

There are a number of lessons to be learnt from the experience:

Non-verbal communication needs to be taught in small chunks in appropriate

situations where the situational or thematic context lends itself to the language.

Time needs to be devoted to confidence-building, creativity and other drama-

based activities which help learners to produce natural language and to use
expressions and gestures to reinforce meaning.

Non-verbal communication, like phonology, should be taught from beginner

level. Crash courses in natural language production are unlikely to work. An
awareness-raising approach is appropriate.

Gesture and expression, in particular, add an extra dimension to language,

and certainly add to the cultural component that verbal communication carries. An
awareness of non-verbal cues also helps to avoid some of the misunderstandings
which are the inevitable but annoying consequence of cultural interpretation of

Further reading
Darn S. Aspects of Non-verbal Communication The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XI,
No. 2
Darn S, Ledbury R, White I. The Importance of Eye Contact in the Classroom The
Internet TESL Journal, Vol. X, No. 8
Feldman R. S.& Rime (Eds.) Fundamentals of Non-verbal Behavior CUP
Givens D. B The Non-verbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs and Body Language
Field J. Skills and Strategies: Towards a new Methodology for Listening ELT Journal
Vol. 52/2
Nolasco R. & Arthur L. Conversation (Activity 37) OUP (Good source of cartoons for

Dilek Eryilmaz and Steve Darn, Izmir University of Economics, Turkey