Listening to body language


This article discusses how to use English to teach students more effectively, share practical ideas, such as the ability to regularly listen to video content in English, and describe physical characteristics. Body language is very important, therefore its description is in our language. Communications experts say that only a small percentage is verbal, and a large percentage is through body language.

Body language plays a key role, especially at the subconscious level, in communication and an awareness of it and how it can vary from culture to culture, can be particularly important in helping students to develop their ability to understand in a real environment.

Listening is an important part of our everyday life. When you are learning a new language it sounds like everyone is speaking very fast. With lots of listening practice your ears will get accustomed to the sounds of the English language.

Listening in communication has several beneficial results. Good listening leads to getting useful and updated information. Good listening creates a better understanding and rapport between the speaker and listener. Good listening leads to better decisions. Good listening provides the best feed back to the speaker. [1]

  1. The features of body language.
  • Eye contact
  • Facial expression
  • Proximity
  • Posture
  • Gesture
  1. How to teach body language?
  2. Conclusion

I. The features of body language.

Body language is made up of a whole range of features many of which we combine together without ever thinking about what it is we are doing or what we are expressing.

Eye contact can have a very significant influence when you are interacting with them.

It can play a key role in helping to establishing rapport and failing to make eye contact in many cultures is associated with being dishonest or having something to hide.[2]

Eye contact also plays an important role in turn taking during conversation. Among a group of people, a speaker will often make eye contact with the person he or she wants a response from. Someone who wants to enter or interject in a conversation will catch the eye of the person speaking to indicate that they want to interrupt, and equally someone who no longer wants to listen will avoid eye contact.

People who know each other well can communicate mutual understanding with a single look.

Eye contact is also a way of communicating attraction.

Facial expression is one of the most obvious and flexible forms of communication and can easily convey mood, attitude, understanding, confusion and a whole range of other things.

Proximity is a far less obvious form of body language but can be equally as meaningful. It is also something that can easily be misinterpreted as it can vary so much from culture to culture.

Many British people require a lot of 'private space' and will often stand much further away from people than other nationalities whilst talking to them. They seldom touch each other whilst speaking.

Breaking these invisible boundaries can either make them very uncomfortable or signal attraction.

Posture can communicate a number of things.

Your posture can convey a whole range of attitudes, from interest or the lack of it, to degrees of respect or subordination.

Speakers often use posture to punctuate what they are saying, shifting forward in their seat or leaning in towards their interlocutor to punctuate an important point, or slumping back to indicate that they have finished making a point.

Gesture can be used to replace verbal communication.

Different finger, thumb or hand gestures can convey a range of meanings in different cultures, from insults to approval or even attraction.

Many good speakers or storytellers use hand gestures to illustrate their stories.

It can also form part of punctuation with head nods and hand movements, which relate to the stress, rhythm and tempo of their sentences. Speakers who use their hands a lot often let them drop at the end of a sentence. Heads often nod down when words in sentences are stressed.

One ofthe most obvious and in many ways useful gestures is pointing. "It's over there." "I want that one."[3]

II. How to teach body language?

So how can we deal with body language and help our students to interpret it. For me one ofthe most useful mediums for this has been video.

There are a number of different tasks that I've used depending on the type ofclip being shown.

  • It's often interesting to play the video through and get students to speculate about the relationships ofthe people in the scene.

о Who is emotionally closest or involved with which other characters?

о What's the relationship between characters?

о Who is feeling angry?

о What is each person feeling or thinking?

  • You can also try to get students to predict what they think characters are talking about or even what they are saying. If their level is low then they can predict what kinds Ofthings they would be saying in their mother tongue.
  • If we have access to, or can transcribe the script for the clips you use, you can get your students to try to act out the scene using the script before they hear it. Just let them watch first and think about what the character they have to play is likely to be thinking or feeling. This gets the students attempting to interpret their body language and express it through the way they read the script.
  • I've also found it interesting to do cultural comparisons using a scene from the target culture with a similar scene on a video from their own culture. Just choose something fairly straightforward, like a group of friends in a cafe or restaurant and asks students to look for differences in the way they interact.[4]

Getting students to view silently before they listen to a scene or video clip can also help them to look for 'subtext'. It is often the case that things are being implied which aren't stated in words. Getting students to focus on these factors can help to raise their awareness of the non-verbal communication, which is happening.

If we can't get access to video from the target culture then we can still use clips from the students' mother culture. Things like politicians speaking or televised debates where there are a number of people round a table discussing something can be really useful. We can pause and get students to predict who will be speaking next, or who is making a point. [4]

Watching the video only once is not enough. It's important to watch and to listen to the video two or three times. This will help your ears get accustomed to the different voices. Watch the characters' faces and actions. Much of our communication is body language and it will help you understand the spoken language.


I believe that whatever kind of silent viewing we will do and whatever we choose to focus on will ultimately help our students to understand when it comes to listening. They will at least have developed a conceptual framework for what they need to understand and will have built up some expectations of what they will hear. Listening should not be an activity we do divorced from visual context. What we see is part of the comprehension experience and body language forms a large part of how we communicate our message, even if at times we are unaware of it. Comprehension of body language may not help them when it comes to expressing themselves, but it's surprising just how much we can understand without ever hearing a word.


List of references:

  1. Field J. 'Skills and Strategies: Towards a new Methodology for Listening' ELT Journal Volume 52/2 April 1998
  2. Willis J. The Role of the Visual Element in Spoken Discourse' ELT Documents 114. (Paradigm)
  3. Experience of teaching English at Kazakh British Technical Unoversity: Chova, LG; Martinez, AL; Torres, 5th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies (EDULEARN), Barcelona, SPAIN Publ. JUL 01-03, 2013 EDULEARN13: 5TH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE, EDULEARN Proceedings, 2013. -R. 1901-1904.
  4. Milrud R. P. Modern conceptual principles of communicative teaching of foreign languages / R. P. Milrud, I. R. Maximova. - M.: ISL, 2000. - p. 17-22.
Year: 2019
City: Atyrau
Category: Pedagogy