Communication: Definition & Clarification

Recently on Twitter, Tea with BVP caller extraordinaire, Longinus, as well as some Inclusive Latin Classroom folks, got me thinking about the definition of communication. What follows are terms I’ve been using for a while (almost entirely unoriginal), clarified by Bill VanPatten on Episode 68 of Tea with BVP.

Communication isn’t only speaking:
Communication is the interpretation, negotiation, and expression of meaning. We interpret when we read, and express when we write; no speaking necessary.

Two people are usually involved, but not required:
If I write a note (expression), and place it in a drawer, but then the apt. catches fire (yes, we have renters insurance), there’s no possible way for anyone to read it (interpretation), or ask me about it (negotiation), even if that was my intent. I most certainly expressed my ideas, there just wasn’t anyone around to interpret them.

In Latin, reading—though not to be confused with translating—is the primary form of communication. ACTFL modes of communication are helpful, here. Reading is one-way, and Interpretive (i.e. interpretation), but someone had to write what we read…at some point (i.e. two people involved). That person who wrote what we read is also one-way, and Presentational (i.e. expression). Neither of these become Interpersonal (i.e. negotiation) unless there is interaction between two people, and this interaction doesn’t have to take place in person. This is why Bill VanPatten refers to communication as “expression, interpretation, and sometimes negotiation of meaning.” Both the writer and reader engage in acts of communication, it’s just that their role is different.

Timing (i.e. real, or asynchronous) & Perspective:
Ovid wrote something (expression) a couple thousand years ago that I can try to read today (interpretation). There has been no interaction between us, eliminating the possibility of negotiation. However, if I write an adaptation of Ovid (expression), and then send it to John Bracey, a couple things could happen. John could star the email, forget, and never end up reading it (no interpretation, just my expression). Or, John could read it (interpretation), and send back some notes or questions (negotiation). This interaction between us would be delayed, but still the same process communication-wise as if we were in person. Now, if I also star and forget about that latest correspondence from John, however, neither negotiation nor interpretation occur. This doesn’t change the fact that John expressed ideas and attempted to negotiate with me. That is to say, from John’s perspective, he still engaged in communication, but it was only one-way without my involvement.

Communication as a concept, not as verb “communicate:”
Although I’m engaging in the act of communication by trying to read Ovid (interpretation), one could hardly say that I’m “communicating with” Ovid anymore than Ovid is “communicating with” me, or us as a society. Ovid certainly expressed meaning, itself communication by definition, but in the absence of real time interaction and negotiation, or even delayed negotiation of meaning over letters, we are not “communicating with” each other.

Someone correctly brought up the fact that the idea of “communicating with the ancient world” isn’t possible. Classicists use this phrase, referring to relating to [certain] ancient people’s ideas (expression) by learning more (interpreting) about the past, and making connections to our own lives, but this ends there as far as communication goes. There is no possibility of interaction (negotiating) with ancient authors. When we read about the past, communication is one-way.

Partially- or fully-communicative:
Things get more complicated from here, but the definition of communication still holds up. An activity lacking a purpose yet focusing on meaning is partially-communicative. Most teachers spend their time doing partially-communicative activities in preparation of a few fully-communicative tasks along the way. Personally, I don’t bother with tasks/Tasks, and find them awfully close to performance-based assessments, the juice of which tends not to be worth the squeeze.

3.31.16 Tea with BvP Takeaways

I’ve been following (and calling into) Bill VanPatten’s Second Language Acquisition (SLA) show since its debut last Fall. I’m proud to say that I have the honor of being the first SLA Quiz winner. Yes, it’s on my CV, and yes, the first prize was a branded bag of teaI edit the episodes so busy people who don’t have an hour to listen still get some nuggets of wisdom. This past week’s episode was important. I had to listen to the show again (even AFTER I edited it), as well as send Bill VanPatten two or three emails to clarify a few points. Here are some takeaways with major implications for teachers who facilitate acquisition in their classrooms:

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Error Traps: Why students CAN’T make errors in classes with Acquisition as the goal.

In one of Bill VanPatten’s latest Tea with BvP episodes (which I’ve edited down to only his responses, see the CI Materials page for past edited episodes), he talked about how there are no errors when it comes to the expression, interpretation, and negotiation of meaning of our students, at least in terms of language acquisition. What we hear/read from students is a consistent representation of how they’ve construction the second language system in their mind. It is what it is, and there are very few factors besides time and comprehensible input. Thus, there are no errors.

This has HUGE implications for language teaching. Take the following comparison…

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