Le Castellet, © Marva A. Barnett

“Replacing Teaching Talk with Gestures:Nonverbal Communication
in the Foreign Language Classroom”

Marva A. Barnett
In Foreign Language Annals 16 (1983): 173-176.


Studies on nonverbal communication have generally focused on the elementary school and on teaching methods which may be employed in teaching any subject matter. Researchers have paid little attention to the unique situation in language classes. Yet foreign language teachers who consciously control their movements and stance enjoy a subtle but effective power. During drills they can increase noticeably the tempo of the class, while concurrently reducing teacher talk.

Throughout a class period encompassing such varied activites as conversation and choral repetition, language teachers can use gestures to signal and instigate changes in the class atmosphere and thus further their instructional goals. Moreoever, through nonverbal communication, they can effect personalization between class members and thus reduce the inhibitions which normally plague language students. For teachers who wish to analyze and improve their own use of gesture and nonverbal communication in the classroom, it is suggested that a videotape recording of the class provides useful and objective feedback.