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Communication skills

Within communicative skills, language would be the last necessary tool before formulating any statement. But long before arriving at the external expression of our ideas, you must go through a process that is going to be affected by various factors, which together will mold the student’s communicative abilities.

One of these factors would be the style of communication. This is learned at home and develops in the early years of a student’s life. It is very much linked to his culture of origin, that is to say to the community where he was born and spent his childhood, but it is independent of it, and it does have to do with the style of communication of his closest environment and of his family in particular. This can be a closed, open, top-down, bottom-up, diagonal, or indirect style of communication. Certain styles will facilitate communication, while others will hinder it, making it unintelligible and even conflictive.

Another group of factors would be related to the student’s person on a psychic and physical level. Their personality, their strengths and weaknesses both physically and psychically, their personal characteristics such as extroversion or more open and communicative temperaments will facilitate, to a certain extent, communication, while physical weaknesses or defects in sight, hearing or psychological or nervous type, will lead to communication difficulties. Motivation or attitude towards communication and learning will depend on each student’s needs, preferences, and beliefs about the outcomes of their actions.

The culture of origin, including their mother tongue, also plays a very important role in the development of their communication skills. The mother tongue, with a greater or lesser richness or specialization in vocabulary will affect the individual’s communicative ability. Each culture defines things in a way, both material things and abstract concepts, and it is in the latter that the greatest differences between different cultures occur. Concepts such as time, space, feelings, social relationships are different in almost all cultures. The style of communication varies considerably in each culture, being some more open and spontaneous and others more formal and strict in their communicative styles. The recipient of the message greatly influences the content and form of the message. The recipient’s age, sex, or social status can severely restrict the message in many cultures, while in others, the differences are smaller.

Another important and influential factor in the development of the student’s communicative skills is, without a doubt, the learning style of each student, given that they mark to a great extent how the student acquires both linguistic and communicative skills in general. Some students have developed more visual or graphic learning styles, while others, on the contrary, acquire knowledge and skills more easily through a more auditory style, or have greater receptivity and comprehension to abstract or logical concepts, in other cases.

On the other hand, the language changes historically, geographically and socially. It also changes in each situation, according to the identity of the participants (age, sex, social status, social group and role), the topic discussed (legal, technical, etc.), the environment (in a court, in the bar association), the medium (written or spoken), the degree of formality (intimate, ceremonial, etc.) and the writing style (descriptive, persuasive, etc.), or the spoken style used (rhetoric, pejorative, etc.). So many variables, with several parameters to take into account within each variable, could make the learning of a language a task of enormous proportions and difficult to manage. Luckily, many native speakers tend to forgive non-native speakers when they make mistakes, as they are aware of the complexity of the task at hand. In short, I dare to define communicative competence as a linguistic realization of a particular language, i.e. adapted to a particular situation, or as the ability to produce a suitable version of the language, appropriate for a particular purpose, person or situation.


During my over 30 years of experience. Part 2

Uniting meaning and form in the teaching of languages is the aim of various methods and procedures today. Whether grammatical rules are taught deductively or inductively, the language learner must learn the grammar of a language, including morphology, syntax, semantics, phonology and phonetics, in order to function in that language; in addition to other communicative aspects of the language that will shape his communicative competence.

Fortunately, the teaching of languages for special purposes revealed the need to change this logocentric approach and derive it towards the specific interests and needs of students, which implies an inescapable psychocentric approach, which would manifest itself in all areas of language teaching; in the selection, graduation, contextualization, integration of skills and intrinsic differentiation of contents, not only by specialty but also by levels and skills. This new approach is known as the learner-centred approach, as opposed to the language-centred approach, which has characterised for many years, and still characterises, many language teaching curricula and materials.

On the other hand, the contents used, in many cases, were of no interest to the majority of the students for several reasons, the first being that they have been chosen for their linguistic content and not for their individual or general interest. Other reasons would be, their lack of relation with the importance and interest that these contents could have for this determined group of students (psychocentric criterion), correlation with the social present of the students (sociocentric criterion) and lack of connection between them. That is to say, the contents have been selected following a logocentric criterion, according to the importance of the language they must learn. This is a language-centered approach, not a student-centered one.

Using articles about the space mission to Mars or endangered animal species in Sumatra, or similar; as content for language learning, I find them irrelevant to most students of any language, which goes against one of the fundamental principles of the student-centred approach, which seeks to ensure that students learn according to their particular characteristics, needs and interests, and acquire the knowledge and skills that will enable them to function effectively in society. I very much doubt that contents as disparate and specific as the previous examples, have the capacity to create a context similar to those they will face when they use the language they are learning, or even the one or those they already know.

The ultimate goal of any language is communication. That’s his alma mater, the reason for his existence. The communication facilitated by language is established, in all cases, between human beings; and in the case of foreign languages, between human beings of different cultures. In order to be able to interact with those human beings who speak other languages, students have no choice but, in many cases, to travel to their countries where they will learn about their territories and customs, and there, they will encounter different varieties of the language they are learning, depending on the geographical areas they are going to, the people they interact with and the situations they face. The culture shock they experience will affect, to a greater or lesser extent, their vision of the world, of foreign culture, of their own culture, and of themselves.

As language teachers, we are the window to the outside world of their own culture and this makes us mentors. This is not just about language skills, but also about social and cultural skills that might eventually contrast with your own worldview or mental model of reality.

In addition, all learners will need a range of tools and strategies to facilitate language learning and a personal attitude that will be affected by all the factors and circumstances outlined above.