Communication Skills for Teachers of English

Communication skills include many things – using the target language effectively, the way in which to the person we are speaking to, our body language including facial expressions, pitch and tone of our voice, interpersonal skills and a lot of other things. Effective communication skills are now required in each and every aspect of our life. Teachers of English are expected to have good command over the language and possess excellent communication skills.
A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to visit a school in Chennai, India and interact with the teachers and the students of the school. Most of the teachers had good communication skills. Even students were able to express themselves in English well. Later, I met the principal and complimented the teachers on their communication skills: “Your teachers have good communication skills. With these teachers you can do wonders and produce students who can become powerful communicators.” The principal said, “We recruit only those teachers who can speak good English and communicate well.” Yes, teachers are expected to possess excellent communication skills. For a teacher, it is not just important to give a quality lecture but it is more important for the presentation of a lesson or lecture in class. A teacher with communication skills can enhance the learning process of students.
A week ago, I was a resource person at a workshop on ‘Effective Communication Skills’ at a rural arts and science college for women. The participants were students of English literature. Most of them want to do B.Ed. after completing their B.A. English and become teachers of English. When the organizer of the workshop approached me I was reluctant to accept his invitation to conduct a workshop at the college thinking it would be a tough task to train the students. The organizer gave me a clear picture of the college and the students studying there in one of his emails. “It is a rural college. Almost all the students are from villages. They are very poor in communication skills. We, teachers, try to make them speak but we find it difficult to develop their communication skills. We want you to speak on the importance of soft skills, including communication skills, and motivate them to speak.” On the eve of the workshop the person contacted me over the phone and said, “Sir, your target audience is a group of final year students of English literature. They are future teachers of English.”
I took it as a challenge and accepted the invitation. As soon as I entered the seminar hall, I was greeted by the students. Most students were bubbling with enthusiasm and their desire to learn new things and acquire essential soft skills was reflected in many ways. Inaugurating the workshop the principal of the college stressed the need for good communication skills for students who want to excel in the job market. When my turn to interact with the students came, I narrated a couple of anecdotes on the importance of soft skills and threw a few questions.

  • Why are you here today? Do you really need to develop your communication skills?
  • Why did you opt for English literature?
  • What are the career opportunities for those who specialize in English literature?
  • What do you want to become after completing your degree?
  • What are the characteristics of an effective teacher of English?
  •  What are soft skills? Why do we call soft skills by that name?
  • Which is more important: confidence or competence?

Very interesting answers were given by the participants. My friendly approach helped me break the ice and establish a rapport with them. As a trainer, my main objective was to motivate the students and make them speak in English in public without fear and shyness. How to help the students channelize their enthusiasm and enable them to develop the much needed communication skills? My interaction with the students helped me understand the situation of the rural students better.
- Communication skills are often neglected in schools and colleges.
- The students have never had an opportunity to take part in group discussions, oral presentations, mock interviews, etc. - Some teachers of English are not proficient in English.
- Those teachers who are keen on teaching communication skills have not been trained in the field.
- The teachers have not heard the term ‘communicative approach’ and are not aware that they can teach communication skills through literature.
I spoke to the participants on the importance of communication skills and conducted a workshop on developing group discussion skills. For the first time, many students took part in group discussion. Though many were shy and helpless, some of them exhibited confidence and enthusiasm. There were a number of grammatical errors in their utterances, but they spoke confidently. “Had we had opportunities before, we would have done much better now,” said one of the students.
For me it was a very enriching experience.  The participants realized that mere reading of literature will not help them make  progress with their life and that they should develop their communication skills. “Can’t literary pieces be used as a tool to develop students’ soft skills including communication skills? asked a highly motivated student. “We don’t know how to guide our students. We teach them English literature the way we were taught when we were students,” said one of the lecturers. “What strategies should we follow to improve our students’ interaction skills?” asked another lecturer. “How can we teachers develop our own communication skills? What is communicative approach? Can we develop students’ communication skills through literature?” were a few other questions asked by the teachers.
Teachers of English must possess the following communication skills: proficiency in English, positive motivation, effective body language, sense of humour, interpersonal skills, etc. The second part of the article that will appear next week will focus on these aspects of communication skills.

girishseshamani's picture

Hi AlbertI went through your write up. Having been a trainer for over 8 years, let me tell you that lot of English Language Trainers shy away from training, if they find a group similar to what you have mentioned. I settled down South over the last 4 years. Your experience of meeting up with teachers in Chennai, having excellent communication skills and also the response from students, gave you the picture of how an excellent teacher can convert a student into a powerful communicator. I have travelled across all parts of India, and I would like to share my thoughts with you.You have given your insights on the basis of a single visit. I do not know the reputation of the school, since you have not mentioned the name. According to me, the true class of a trainer comes into picture, only when he is able to turnaround and transform a group similar to what you had got. Down South, training students for Spoken English has become a lucrative business. I have met only a handful of trainers who have transformed students with absolutely no grounding in the English Language.Another pertinent point I would like to make here, is the fact that anyone can train students who have a reasonably good command over the English Language. Moreover it the prerogative of the trainer to help students rediscover themselves and not show off his command over the English Language. Training requires lot of skill sets, which most trainers down here lack. The ability to built trust in your students, making them come out and speak, gradually taking them to a higher level and ultimately getting them to a standard where they are employable, is what a classy trainer is all about. 

albertrayan's picture

Hi Girish
Many thanks for your views. 
I have been a teacher trainer since 1998 and have conducted numerous ELT workshops in the southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.  I have been in contact with teachers of English working in different parts of the country. 
The focus of the article is on the importance of communication skills for teachers of English.  I have highligted that most students studying English literature in rural colleges do not have opportunities to develop their communication skils.  The need of the hour is to take steps to develop those students' communication skills.  It can be done through the effective teaching of literature.

Fernando M Díez Gallego's picture
Fernando M Díez...

Hello, Albert and Girish,
I have just read your entries. I appreciate telling about your experience.
Definitely this point is paramount: communication. This is the goal of our job.
In case it be some useful for any teacher, I briefly tell my experience, plus what I have learned from my trainers, to whom I am so grateful.
My classes are fully in English. No Spanish. Although the students may be (false) beginners.
I pretend I do not speak Spanish; it's like a game: they do know I speak Spanish. It's funny.
In that way they struggle to make themselves understood with their English, and helping each other.
I try all things available for me to make myself understood. All kind of skills, and we all have real fun in the class-periods. We practice the grammar and vocab by games.
I use entonation, speaking slowly, giving examples, enthusiasm, good humor, the white board, mimicry, gestures, acting out.
We do have some communication, authentic communication.
The basic plan for my students are: first step: just words; second: we'll try full sentences; thirdly: conversations.
Just one more point. I notice a nice learning strategy by them: they try to "invent" the word they need in English; they try to make a mental but fast theory of what the real word might be. I gently praise them when communication is accomplished.
Someone told me that a teacher with enthusiasm fosters and boosts their students' success in learning/acquiring a foreign language.
Further about my experience and research on http://fernandoexperiences.blogspot.com
Best for you all
Fernando Diez Gallego
Granada (south of Spain)

albertrayan's picture

Dear Fernando Many thanks for sharing your experience of making your students communicate in the English language.  You have written:  "Someone told me that a teacher with enthusiasm fosters and boosts their students' success in learning/acquiring a foreign language."  Yes, I do agree with the person who has made the statement.  A great teacher is energetic, enthusiastic, and encouraging.  A teacher of English who cannot smile at their students should not continue to be in the teaching profession. Best wishes Albert    

PRAVIN MULAY's picture

Hello, I would like to add something more to be opted by the teacher of English and that is to consider the importance of soft skills along with their technical skills that they use in teaching learning situations. Broadly speaking, we can analyze teachers as having two kinds of skills: one set used to perform basic duties at work, and another set of skills used to have a particular approach for work at the workplace. The former can be categorized as technical skills and the latter as soft skills. To elaborate more on soft skills, these are the ones that define one's approach towards work, life, problems, etc. Soft skills are people skills. The best part about mastering them is that the application of these skills is not limited to one's profession, but their scope reaches all aspects of life. Technical skills may teach one how to meet the expectations of the job, but soft skills teach one to succeed, and to exceed expectations. It is surprising that we spend our time educating almost exclusively in technical skills.   Having said so much in favour of soft skills, my intention is never to demoralize the importance of technical skills. It's nearly impossible for a teacher to survive in the profession without sound technical skills. What I intend to challenge here is a popular myth: Technical skills, and only technical skills make a teacher a complete professional. I firmly believe that both technical and soft skills compliment each other and the balance between these two is what makes a teacher a complete professional. Prof. Pravin Mulay Department of English BYK College of Commerce - Nashik Maharashtra [India]

Charlene Solomons's picture
Charlene Solomons

Thank you for enlightening me on the various methods of strenghtening us as effective educators.
I am a little perturbed on the comment of technology completing an educator. Even though I may be very resourceful and accessible to computers, reality is that there are many educators, (South African, as well as other third world countries) who have not been given the opportunity to handle a computer.
Most of our rural schools do not have good library resources, let alone computers.
Looks like we have a number of educators who are incomplete.

Syvaeng's picture

How the English teacher will improve their teaching, it is so difficult because there many country they action different each other?. 

TeffJones's picture

Knowing the level of English language proficiency at which your students are functioning academically is vital in order to be able to scaffold appropriately. Not all strategies are appropriate for all levels of language learners. Knowing which scaffolds are most appropriate takes time but will support language learning more effectively.

elbacaseres's picture

Good night colleagues, I am an English Teacher from a little town in Entre Rios Argentina. I was looking for new strategies to help my students to communicate in English. The subject I teach to my students its called Communication, and the fact is that I have never had the chance to speak with a native speaker myself. I am interested on finding a teacher of Spanish in any English speaking country to create colaborative classes for my students, we can have real conversations, we can help our students to speak fluenty. Is anybody interested on this? Help! ELBA