Chris Sollett raised an interesting question about non-verbal communication (thank you so much, Chris) . He was referring to a crew resource management (CRM) training site I’d linked to that claimed:
What does this mean for a teacher, should we be putting less effort into verbal communication and working more on the other 93 per cent?
I don’t understand how anyone can quantify how much information gets communicated verbally and non-verbally. So I feel very skeptical about the stats on that site. That said, we never stop communicating whether we’re saying words or not, so for example, silence can speak volumes. I love the way that site challenges some common assumptions about communication. eg.
How more meaning gets conveyed than with just the words spoken is central to pragmatics. Helping people convey meaning is central to ELT /TESOL. So pragmatics needs attention in my view. That said, vocabulary (and other stuff like grammar and pronunciation, obviously) is important for meaning as well, so we can’t sling the baby out with the bath water. They all seem inextricably entwined to me.
I think CRM is very revealling about ‘best practice’ in communication. For example, CRM indicates that message abandonment is a serious problem in conversations amonst NSs. Here’s a cockpit conversation from a plane that wasn’t going fast enough at take off:
First Officer: Ah, that’s not right.
Captain: Yes, it is, there’s 80 [referring to speed].
First Officer: Nah, I don’t think it’s right. Ah, maybe it is.
Captain: Hundred and twenty.
First Officer: I don’t know.
Message abandonment problems are likely to be amplified in intercultural communication (see here). So how to address this stuff in class seems like a really important question to me.
Oh, and another lesson to draw from CRM is that language to do with building relationships really matters. But that’s something for another day…