Even the thought of it is ironic – to write a book about nonverbal communication. Although it obviously is possible, there is something extraordinary about describing nonverbal actions using printed words on a page, so when we set out to do this project for Multilingual Matters, we wanted to add a visual dimension to the printed words. In our 2014 book, Capitalizing on Language Learner Individuality, we wrote about technological modifications to various classroom activities to make them more accessible to teachers and students who are using modern technologies, and also to increase the value of the book to readers. We wanted to do the same with Optimizing Language Learners’ Nonverbal Behavior.
With respect to the book on nonverbal communication, after much discussion we settled on the idea of adding a 68-video library to the book. Multilingual Matters agreed to host the videos on their website. The University of Northern Iowa provided a grant to fund video production and we were fortunate to find an outstanding producer in Blake Lybbert and two musical wonder groups, “Amelia and Melina” and “John June Year”. They gave us permission to use their original music to provide a cool background vibe. Tammy asked students, family and friends to volunteer to demonstrate a variety of nonverbal actions to better capture the nature of nonverbal communication and as viewers, to be able to watch them. We are certain the audience will sense the fun that everyone had in participating! We did not see this sort of video in any other nonverbal text and thought it was an interesting innovation that would better capture the essence of our topic.
But then it hit us – could the e-book version possibly link to the videos? If possible, a reader could be reading the book on a computer, tablet or similar device, then click the video to watch the demonstration, and seamlessly continue reading. This allowed us to have both movement and sound inside the e-book.
When the publisher sent us the draft e-book it was more than impressive. It is absolutely amazing to be reading about a specific nonverbal action and then watch it move in full colour, with sound, and an added narration for explanation. This unique approach sets the book apart from other texts in the market. We are thrilled with the result and hope that readers will be able to check out the e-book version of the text to see for themselves what is possible to do these days in a text about nonverbal communication.
This month we published Optimizing Language Learners’ Nonverbal Behavior by Tammy Gregersen and Peter D. MacIntyre. In the first of a two-part blog post, Tammy and Peter explain what inspired them to write a book about nonverbal communication.
Readers may ask themselves why two people who have dedicated much of their academic careers to language-related issues would suddenly write a book on communicating without language – or at least making meaning through means that accompany the verbal. In the paragraphs that follow, we tell our stories…
Long before I ever read literature on Emotional or Interpersonal Intelligence, I anecdotally surmised that those individuals who had “people smarts” simply were those people who could read others’ nonverbals. They could make the initial acquaintance of a person and within milliseconds of their interaction, these people-savvy folks were able to pick up the other’s vibes and effectively act accordingly. Whether through conscious inspection or subconscious osmosis, I knew in my gut that such mind-and-body-language readers were gifted with the instantaneous interpretation of the bombardment of nonverbal cues that characterize all human interaction. I was hooked, and my curiosity about this phenomenon propelled me to investigate it further.
But now I get ahead of myself…my nonverbal intrigue actually started long before I could even process the simplest of thoughts. It began with my relationship with my dad – which means within hours of being born. If you read the Dedication Page of Optimizing Language Learners’ Nonverbal Behavior, I used this opportunity to honor my father. It says in part, “To my father, F. Neal Gregersen, who, had it not been for his characteristic silence, I would never have understood the awesome power of nonverbal communication.” You see, my dad is a man of very few words, so if one wants to have a verbal conversation, it often turns into a monologue. However, one would be gravely mistaken to think that he doesn’t communicate. Although he doesn’t often use language, those of us who know him well only need to see the smallest change in his demeanor to know exactly what he is thinking. As I was growing up, his only means of discipline was what the five of us kids deemed, “The Look”. Whenever we were the recipients of it, we immediately shaped up. Hence, I understood early in my life the immense power of nonverbal cues and I wanted to know more. That was then and this is now….
It was my first semester at university, one of our assignments was to do a review of a research paper. I chose a paper by Professor Nancy Henley on ways in which nonverbal communication relates to interpersonal power – the doctor touches the patient and not the other way around because the doctor is in a position of power. It was nothing short of a revelation! Other examples in Henley’s work brought to light the complexity of everyday communication. At the time I was taking courses in Psychology and Interpersonal Communication, and Henley’s work forged such a fascinating bridge between the disciplines, I’ve been hooked ever since. It is powerful to realize that I was a full and active participant in a process that had never been explained overtly, but I knew the rules – everybody knows the rules. I wondered, how is that possible?
I am sure many readers of this blog have had a similar experience in doing research on a topic – a process that is right in front of you is explained in a new way. But there is something unique about nonverbal communication, it is so ubiquitous and so effective in conveying information, yet it seems so natural. When we then add the idea of language and culture into the mix, and that sometimes people in different places have different ways of doing things, nonverbal communication becomes all the more interesting.
Like Tammy, I am dedicating this book to people who taught me a lot about nonverbal communication, my teachers and especially my mother. Unlike Tammy’s dad, my mom had no trouble with verbal communication, but for her the message was all in the tone of voice. I can vividly recall when I said that I didn’t want to do some chore, she would say “never mind.” By conventional definition, the words said I was off the hook but the unmistakable tone meant I had better get to it.
We hope that people will enjoy reading the book as much as we did writing it. Please be sure to check out the videos that demonstrate nonverbal concepts. Videos are embedded in the ebook and available on the web for the printed book. The videos were great fun to produce and add a unique dimension to this book – more on that in another blog entry…
Ever since I first started working on our SLA list people have raved to me about the International Conference on Foreign and Second Language Acquisition (ICFLSLA) and recommended that I attend. This year I finally found time in our busy conference schedule to go. En route to the conference venue in Szczryk (the seemingly unpronounceable Polish village whose spelling I have to check every time I write it!) I wondered if the conference would live up to its reputation.
Within moments of arriving any fears I had had were allayed. The organisers Danuta Gabryś-Barker, Adam Wojtaszek and Dagmara Gałajda were incredibly welcoming and ensured that everything related to our book exhibit went smoothly. The conference hotel itself was nestled at the foot of some mountains which provided luscious green views, when not obscured by low cloud and heavy rainfall! The mountain air certainly seemed to provide the delegates with plenty of breathing space and inspiration as the talks centring round this year’s theme of positive psychology were full of energy, ideas and optimism, so much so that we could easily forget the miserable weather outside!
Throughout the course of the conference I attended a range of sessions plus the keynotes given by Peter D. MacIntyre, Rebecca Oxford, David Singleton, Simone Pfenninger, Hanna Komorowska, Tammy Gregersen, Sarah Mercer and Alison Phipps. The speakers all spoke passionately about their work, views and experiences and provided plenty of food for thought. And as for real food, we delegates were truly spoilt with wonderful Polish cuisine throughout our stay. So much so, that I felt obliged to find some time out during the conference to go for a run ahead of the Channel View team entering the Bristol 10k run this weekend. The temptation of a stunning view from the top of the mountain lured me into trying to run up it, a very bad idea that I rapidly neglected! If I return to another ICFSLA conference I will certainly take the chairlift up to see the full view that I missed out on seeing.
We are both teachers at heart, so in many ways this is the book we’ve always wanted to write as it combines a meaningful review of theory and practical applications for teachers. As university professors, we feel fortunate to have jobs (and the inner passion) that inspire us to combine teaching and research, to play with ideas for a living; it really is a match made in heaven. We have found that most teachers, at every level of the education system, are at their creative best when they play with ideas, apply theory to specific cases, look for new approaches to age old questions, and have enough background information to get their creative juices flowing. This process fires their enthusiasm, which ultimately engages learners even more!
This book offers a chance for teachers and learners to play, apply, discover and let their imaginations flow. We don’t get into esoteric theoretical debates or outline the historical positions within this or that school of thought. Our book is made for teachers who are curious about what makes their students tick. Parker Palmer, in his book The Courage to Teach, says that: “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” After all, it is teachers who know their students best, and good teachers bring with them training in a background of theory and methodology to really apply and test concepts. We firmly believe that teachers who seek to actualize the potential of their students benefit from suggestions for activities to try, the reasons why they should work, and then the courage to go for it in real life, to succeed or fail with integrity. Master teachers are born to teach and their passion for reaching their learners at their deepest, emotional and individual levels emanates from their souls. Given the experimentation that goes on in every good classroom, we believe that all teachers are active researchers, open to new ideas and constantly asking “what if?”
Peter’s Journey: The writing process was more fun than most readers of the blog can imagine. When Tammy first asked me to join her in writing this book, I had said that I did not have the time – too many other items pressing for attention. But I was intrigued and wanted to help. So, initially I was a consultant of sorts, a sounding board for ideas. As we went along, usually talking at length over Skype or in exchanging documents, I came to see the awesome potential of the project more and more. Tammy’s approach to teaching and learning is very similar to mine – we both see students as individuals, with hopes and fears, dreams of the future and a collection of unique past experiences. The idea of the perfect teaching method, a ‘one size fits all’ solution in the classroom, is quite foreign to both of us. So as we went along sharing research and theory for this and other projects, and tossing around ideas about how to teach, how to find what students are capable of doing, it became very clear to me that at some point, I had already joined the project. I was hooked! So before too long the informal became formal and my wife Anne and I found ourselves near a lake in Northern Iowa, with Tammy and her husband, Mario, ready to sign a contract with Multilingual Matters. Signing the contract was easy – the book was already written!
Tammy’s Journey: Carl Jung once wrote, “One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” Through our book, we may have provided a bit of what Jung called the “necessary raw material” but it will be up to you, our fellow teachers, to touch your learners’ human feelings and provide the warmth to grow their souls. Working (…well, more like “playing”) with Peter in the sandbox called Skype was a real hoot! Our collaboration never really felt like “work” to me. We often felt like we were in each other’s heads (a much more dangerous place for Peter than me!), tossing around ideas and laughing a lot. Not only do I think that the wedding of theory with practice was a match made in heaven, but so too was Peter’s psychological bent with my applied linguistics leanings.
Peter reminisced in his journey about the way that we – together with our spouses – got together in Iowa as a culminating event where we jointly signed our contract. I also have fond memories of the initiation of our first collaborative efforts when Mario and I traveled to Cape Breton. I will never forget lounging in the Governor’s Pub in Sydney, Nova Scotia with Peter and Anne, the evening we first discussed the idea of this book. “Busy Betty” was sitting at the next table intently (and yes, somewhat impolitely) listening, scrutinizing what Mario and Peter were talking about, bent over and scribbling equations on a piece of paper as they excitedly discussed the dynamic complexity and physics of emotion in language learning. To Betty’s L1 English ear, my husband’s accented English (he’s Chilean) sounded deeply suspect, so she strutted over wanting to know exactly what they were designing with all that math! Did they have sinister intentions? Were we all in danger? After a good laugh, she ended up joining our little party and gave us some great advice on what to put into our book! So here’s a big shout out to Betty and her insight!
This book has been one of the most tangible outcomes of our collaboration. Readers of the blog might also want to check out our virtual seminar for TESOL on December 4, 2013 called “Talking in order to learn.” We will be discussing some of the theory and activities found in the book. We hope you can join us live from wherever you happen to be. If you miss it, the webinar will be archived on the TESOL International site shortly after it is complete.
Finally, we must mention that we are so pleased and honoured that colleagues we deeply respect, Zoltan Dornyei and Andrew Cohen, agreed to help us by writing for the cover. Rebecca Oxford and Elaine Horwitz wrote a preface that told us we had found a sweet spot with the book. All of these people have earned their reputations as teachers and researchers; we thank them for their kind words and for taking the time to write them.
You can find further information about the book on our website.