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Student Information


Important to use facial expressions when communicating in English

Before your read, here is some vocabulary to learn:

Shake your head, nod your head

Facial expressions:  frown  (other examples: smile, pout, wink, sneer, grimace, grin)


It really helps to shake your head when you say no or when you are giving information that has negative meaning.  For example: a student told me the immigration lawyer CAN help him because she CAN guarantee the visa will be approved.  Because I did not hear a T sound at the end of CAN, I was confused until I remembered that many learners have difficulties with CAN and CAN’T.  So I asked another question to clarify what he meant. 

Because I am an English teacher I knew what he meant.  One of the challenges with understanding him was that he looked happy when he told me this information.  If that was me speaking, I would have shown my disappointment with my facial expression.  I would have LOOKED disappointed or upset.  My face would give more information than my words.  My head would shake a little when I say CAN’T.

We rely on facial expressions to provide sometimes more than 50% of the message.  If your face shows the same expression no matter what you say, it can be difficult to understand your meaning. 

One very helpful tip is to shake your head when you use a negative word like CAN’T,  DON’T, WON’T, WOULDN’T, SHOULDN’T, etc.  A little frown will help give the message. 

When you are giving affirmative information or responses, it helps if you nod your head up and down, just a little. Give more information by showing that this response means that it is GOOD, or you AGREE, or you are aware that this information is POSTIVE to the listener.

Responding to NEGATIVE questions:

We often ask negative questions when we think we know the answer is NO.  For example, “You don’t like mushrooms, do you?”  The answer is probably no.  (And you will make a terrible face showing how much you don’t like mushrooms).  That kind of question is called a tag question when we repeat the question in the opposite form at the end.

But I might ask a more difficult question, such as, “Didn’t you bring your gloves?”  (I am surprised).  If you did not bring your gloves, you should answer, “No, I didn’t”, or “No, I forgot them”, or add any other reason.  We don’t care if our question is correct or your answer is following grammar rules, we just want to know if you brought your gloves or not.  If you DID bring your gloves, you should answer, “Yes, I brought them.  They are in my bag”.

Remember, the important thing about answering any question is to give the information the person wants.  Give more information than a yes or no.  Yes or no does not tell us anything.  Yes, I had dinner / No, I can’t find my keys / Yes, I know that the meeting was cancelled, thank you. / No, I didn’t see the bear.

And remember, give us the clues for understanding.  Nod and smile, or frown and shake your head!