How we communicate
Most people would say that we communicate by the written or spoken word. However, this is far from true. Most communication is, in fact, non-verbal and only a very small amount is spoken. Research carried out by Professor Albert Mehrabian shows that 53 per cent of our message is communicated with our bodies, 38 per cent by the tone of our voice and only 7 per cent through the words we use.
When there is a discrepancy between ‘what’ we say and ‘how’ we say it, it is the latter which carries more weight. Do you know when someone is angry without them having to utter a word? Have you ever heard somebody say “Yes” when they really mean “No”? This mismatch between verbal and non-verbal communication is known as incongruency.
Mehrabian’s research focussed mainly on the message conveyed in any communication by body language (facial expression, posture, gestures, etc.) as well as the tone of voice together with any words spoken.
He began by asking American high school students the question, “How do you know if someone likes you?” Of course, physical appearance was considered the most important.
However, his research has sometimes been criticised with overemphasising the role of physical appearance and suggesting that you’ll “be” OK as long as you “look” OK. He concluded that this was especially important for first impressions but was reduced once people got to know each other more. It’s here that non-verbal communication plays an important part in relationships because most people, often unknowingly, judge and even prefer how people use this type of communication and frequently much less from they might say.
How does this apply to language learning?
Make sure that non-verbal and verbal communication are congruent. Use all three channels: body, voice and words so that the message you want to transmit is in harmony.
Learners of a foreign language need to notice and practice non-verbal as well as verbal interaction and be able to use these resources to get their message across. This is far from easy.
How would you express these emotions non-verbally?
So, there you are. The next time you speak English (or any language for that matter), be aware of how your body is expressing itself. Maybe, the message is not being clearly understood because you might be saying something in words but conveying a very different meaning with your body language.
Happy English learning!!