TEFL Navigating Through a Foreign-Language-Classroom: Non-Verbal Vocalics

Navigating Through a Foreign-Language-Classroom:

Non-Verbal Vocalics

Teaching in a foreign country and to students that do not understand English poses as a tedious endeavor. Innately we as humans tend to gravitate towards people like ourselves, thus when a TEFL teacher enters a classroom full of students from a different culture the work that is entailed to teach is abundant. Not only must the teacher propose a lesson, they must also embark on communicating with their students. Nevertheless that communication is of utmost difficulty; not only are the students from a different culture, they also speak a different language. Therefore, a sense of understanding must arise between the student and the teacher? lack of language. Consequently the communication that goes on between the two must be non-verbal in fashion. Most specifically addressed in this paper is the use of vocalics or paralanguage within the classroom.

Vocalics are spoken communications that are nonverbal (Anderson, 1999). These include qualities such as tone, rhythm, tempo, pitch, resonance and accent; all features lend meaning to the verbal communication (Anderson, 1999). While most of these qualities are defined by how verbal communication sounds, there are also distinct parts of vocalics that pose as different nonverbal characteristics (e.g., laughing, screaming, sighing, yawning, hmm- ing, crying and other vocal segregates) (Trager, 1958). Burgoon, Buller, and Woodall (1996) explain that each person has their own set of distinct vocalics. These phenomena are comprised of both voice qualities and tones that indicate specific expressive feelings and features of the speaker.

These features, according to Crystal (1969), include culture, age, health, power and gender. They also regulate interaction between speaker and receiver (Crystal, 1969). To relay understanding through communication, it is important for humans to be able to decode and encode specific nonverbal messages accurately. For students learning a foreign language the vocalic messages they decode from their teacher pose as steadfast vehicles towards understanding. The importance of vocalics within a foreign-language- classroom is crucial. The steep language barrier that keeps the student and TEFL teacher from understanding each other makes those hidden clues within this paralanguage paramount; despite language or words spoken, it is important to accurately define what the speaker means through their use of nonverbal vocalics (Floyd & Ray, 2003). Therefore, different uses of vocalics could indicate different emotions: anger, pain, frustration, exhaustion, happiness, sadness to say the least?or in the case of student and teacher interaction indicating: questioning, encouragement, understanding and bewilderment. Thus, being able to define which quality is expressed by the sender or the receiver is imperative when communication non- verbally within such an environment.

Vocalics works hand-in-hand with language (Anderson, 1999). Without verbal communication, the use of vocalics would be nonexistent. Ekman (1965) developed six primary ways that vocalics influence verbal communication. These six roles include repetition, complementarity, accenting, substitution, regulation and contradiction. Each of these six functions proposes a specific agenda placed by the sender of the nonverbal cues:

?Repetition- this function is also known redundancy. There are specific nonverbal cues that help repeat what the sender has said to increase accuracy and clarify the message (Anderson, 1999).

?Complementarity- This function is also known as modification. Other nonverbal cues are used in modifying the importance of the message (e.g., deep tone of voice when saying no) (Anderson, 1999).

?Accenting- this function is also known as emphasizing. This uses certain vocalics to help stress a part of the verbal message. (e.g., emphasizing a specific word in a sentence gives the sentence different meaning) (Anderson, 1999).

?Substitution- this function is also known as replacement. This is when nonverbal communication can replace verbal communication (e.g., the use of segregates such as ?umms?, ?hmms?, and yawns) (Anderson, 1999).

?Regulation- this function is also known as control. This is when, instead of communicating a message with a verbal cue, you choose to use a pause or inhalation of air to address the receiver (Anderson, 1999).

?Contradiction- this is present when the nonverbal vocalics contradict the verbal communication (e.g., say your ?happy? in a soft, low tone) (Anderson, 1999).

These nonverbal messages connected to the voice play an important role in depicting what the sender of the message (e.g., the teacher) is trying to incur. Thus, when a student that speaks a different language is listening to an English teacher, these clues help when trying to understand the lesson at hand. Likewise, other nonverbal vocalics create an impression on the receiver. From the sound of a voice, one can depict the attractiveness of the sender. In the case of a teacher (especially those teaching in a foreign country), a student must be attracted to their demeanor in order to feel comfortable within a classroom. More attractive teacher?s voices tend to be ?more resonant and calm, less monotonous and lower pitched (for males), less regionally accented, less nasal, less shrill, and more relaxed? (Addington, 1968; Pearce, 1971; Zuckerman & Driver, 1989; Zuckerman , Hodgins, & Miyake, 1990 in Anderson, 1999, pp. 71).

While vocalics are defined by the individual expressing and receiving the nonverbal clue; there are many theories that suggest that these clues themselves are an outcome of cultural and behavioral factors. Thus, the necessity and need for specific characteristics change from one culture to the next (e.g., students in Thailand may respond differently than those in Taiwan).

Accordingly, we ask ourselves whether the nonverbal cues are resided in the behaviors themselves or rather influenced by the behaviors of a social context. Heider in Floyd and Ray (2003) proposes that meanings are not inherent in behavior, rather, that behaviors obtain their meanings from a larger social context. This would say that there is no clear-cut answer to specific vocalics used and their meanings. On the contrary, Burgoon and Newton?s (1991) social meaning theory suggests that interpretations of nonverbal cues are consistent across social context in regards to the society that you live in. Although, according to Floyd and Ray (2003), both of these theories have shown major inconsistencies.

Conversely, many theories predict that these types of nonverbal vocalics span across social context and culture. Thus, these cues are interpreted as being included in a broader human behavioral vocabulary (Floyd & Ray, 2003). This interpretation is grounded in Darwin?s (1958) theory of evolution by means of natural selection. Darwin suggests that there are a specific set of human characteristics that we have acquired throughout development (1958). These heritable characteristics are passed from generation to generation; those cues that are most detrimental to our survival are more frequently passed on (Darwin, 1958). Floyd and Ray (2003) give the example of the scowl; the scowl is associated with disgust of certain fumes or gases. It is suggested that the scowl was a product of human?s attempts at survival when presented with danger (Floyd & Ray, 2003). This would lead to an understanding that students from all walks of life would understand a wide set of paralanguage expressed by the teacher, regardless of where they are from.

Regardless of what viewpoint one may take, whether behavioral or biological, the use of vocalics within the foreign- language-classroom is amidst the leading avenues of understanding between the student and the TEFL teacher. This form of non-verbal communication is essential for the encoding of messages by the teacher and decoding by the student. Thus, the walls that separate the verbal understanding between the two are torn down through the use of such non-verbal cues.

Author: Chanel Hachez

Date of post: 2007-01-08