In second language learning, even when we excel in reading and writing, and are knowledgeable in grammar structures in our target language, we often encounter a big hurdle in our race to fluency and this is Listening Comprehension.
Listening comprehension is indeed important; but it takes time and effort to acquire an ear for a foreign language. It requires a lot of adequate exposure to get use to the speed, intonation and different accents of native speakers.
It goes without saying that when our listening skills gets better, our speaking ability improves dramatically, hence its importance.
There are ways to help us grasp the gist of the conversation, and these are labelled under the title of Nonverbal Communication. This is through sending and receiving wordless clues.
Wordless clues can be:
* visual stimuli: for example eye contact, the action of looking while talking and listening, frequency of glances, blink rate.
* Body language: Distance between people conversing,voice, touch. etc.
Let me brake down the parts of Nonverbal Communication.
1- VISUAL CUES.
As mentioned they can be body language, distance, eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and postures.
You should pay attention to all these when sustaining a conversation with native speakers. Where do they stand from you?, their facial expressions when they talk: you might be able to perceive happiness, sadness, if they're annoyed or not or simply have a neutral expression.
observe their mouths, try to lip read especially when the speed of the conversation is fast.
Pay attention to the kind of gestures that accompany their speech. Gestures in any language are a familiar thing. There are some which are universal like the thumb up to say OK, or the shoulder shrug. Some other are "semi-Universal" like the hand-wave in Western cultures which signifies "hello" or "goodbye".
There are some gestures which are culture specific and you should bear that in mind and investigate what is allowed and what is offensive in the country where you are, to avoid disappointments and conflicts.
In countries like Italy you find quite a few conversational hand gestures. They accompany the speech and sometimes are used on their own.
Speech contains as well nonverbal elements known as paralanguage.Included in this category are: voice quality, rate, pitch, volume, speaking style, rhythm, intonation, and stress. All these can give you cues. For example if someone is speaking to you in a raised voice volume, it might mean that they are annoyed for some reason, but bear in mind cultural differences as well. In some countries people usually speak in a raised volume.
As explained, all these can help you guess. You just have to train yourself to observe and become a good listener.
3- INTERACTION MANAGEMENT.
Although a part of speech, I decided to break them into a different category for the sake of clarity. In this group we find:
Fillers alone or accompanied by pauses and/or gestures are frequent in all types of spoken communications. They are an integral part of spoken language, and they exist in most languages.
Fillers have various functions:
* Cognitive processes
* Word retrieval ( um, er, uh: In English)
The first one happens when the person is trying to process information that might be complex. They try to buy time using expressions such as : you know, so, I mean, you see.
Find out what are the fillers used in your target language. They will make your conversation look more natural when you use them, and you will sound more like a native speaker. You have to find nonetheless the right balance, because too much hesitation can also indicate uncertainty. In such case ,seeing it on the bright side, some of the people you're talking to may try to help you retrieve the word you're looking for or take over the conversation to give you a break.
To conclude, and answering the question, nonverbal communication can help you both ways: You'll be able to have a more complete insight of what the other person is saying, and at the same time it is a wonderful tool to help you fill the knowledge gap in your target language.
What about you? Have you ever used nonverbal communication cues to help you in your conversations in your second language? comment below.