Face-To-Face With Change:  The 
Implementation of Technology-Enabled Learning of Nonverbal and Paralinguistic Features of Language

Project Description

Project Abstract

The In The French Body project, supported by a FIPSE grant in 1989-92, produced an innovative set of interactive video materials that put language students "into a French Body" and "into a German Body" through a method-acting approach. Students learn those critical aspects of verbal and nonverbal communication that distinguish native speakers from non-natives, allowing more effective interaction in real-world encounters. Unfortunately, these aspects of foreign language are not making their way into foreign language curricula in spite of the availability of the proper approach and materials to do so.

With FIPSE support, these materials have been through classroom testing and formative evaluation at the 3rd semester level. We wish to test ways of implementing this approach by using a participatory design process with teachers. We project that training an initial set of teachers in these communication skills and the use of the materials, working with them to author lesson plans that incorporate the materials and approach, and providing them a way to share their experience with the language teaching community will be an effective way to further the wider adoption of these language learning goals.

Population Directly Served:
30-60 teachers of foreign language.
300-800 students of French or German.


We began a bold new project in language teaching with FIPSE's help beginning in 1989. It was our hope that the language profession would seize the new idea of including full communication skills, both verbal and nonverbal and run with it. While enthusiasm at conference talks was gratifying, we found that when it came down to actually using the material and method, the action chain broke down. In some cases, the teachers had to jettison this component before they ever began in favor of components that were established items in the curricular guide. It was difficult for departmental leaders to convince other teachers of the value of studying authentic face-to-face interactions among native speakers.

Any new idea is hard to catch fire, but it is going to be particularly difficult to implement an idea that asks the teacher to go into uncharted territory, to explore with students something the teacher might not have learned in his or her own language training. Through this grant, we will experiment with and observe the ways that implementation of the teaching of nonverbal and paralinguistic skills in foreign language can be fostered. We are working with teachers to come up with ideas of how implementation can be accomplished at the beginning, intermediate, advanced and professional levels of language training using materials that we have developed in a previous FIPSE project. In the end, we want to have a corps of teachers who are trained and comfortable in the teaching of nonverbal and paralinguistic skills to serve as models for others who are considering trying out this kind of teaching. In this way we can support teacher and language department needs in adopting and adapting to the new ideas expressed by the In The French/German Body project of 1989-92.

The dates of this three-year project span September 1995 until August 1998.


The Concept
Communicative skills, though critical for language students today in an era when the U.S. is reevaluating its role in the world community, are not adequately addressed by current language curricula. Students are often unpleasantly surprised when, at the end of their first year of language study, they find that they have not acquired the skills necessary to comprehend an un-dubbed foreign film, or follow a conversation between two native speakers. This unfortunate circumstance results from a focus on linguistic features in isolation from their cultural context and other modalities of communication. Language, particularly spoken language, is too often taught as an agglomeration of discrete linguistic features of the written language, with no authentic reference to its specifically oral features. Much of what students are given as examples of oral language is actually scripted material in dramatizations or semi-spontaneous material such as broadcast interviews that are unlikely models for student speech in face-to-face interaction with native speakers.

The video that we have produced for our first two packages is the best that currently exists for the study of the real interactional patterns between native speakers. The best that one could do would be to have hidden cameras in places where native speakers meet and capture them unaware. In the film industry, however, that is considered to be unethical so we must always inform people that they are being recorded. Even if it were allowable, there would be many technical difficulties to overcome in order to acheive full body and facial shots, proper lighting, and excellent sound. Our compromise was to bring the native speakers into the studio and to tape them for many hours until enough natural samples of intereaction were captured under our technically controlled taping environment. These speakers were friends and co-workers so that they might end up talking about somewhat more involved topics than the weather or introductions. Our videodiscs contain samples of interactions at many different registers and emotive levels. They are balanced for numbers of interactions between males and females and contain a certain range of ages that are also representative of our student target audience. Only 3 in 10 of the conversations on each videodisc are improvised in any way. The balance of them show people talking about events in their real lives and people who are interacting about issues that have really occurred between them. The pacing and rhythm of these conversations are perfectly natural and were judged to be so by a panel of native speakers and other experts.

Ideally, students of a foreign language should be continually exposed to and given practice in the culturally accurate use of the rhythms of the foreign language throughout their language courses. These rhythms can only be achieved by having students express themselves in the foreign language using the culturally defined range of space, posture, gesture, intonation, eye contact, and other paralinguistic and nonverbal features. The student may or may not remember in the long term the particular lines of dialogue that they have memorized for performance of the Wylie Exercise in their French or German class. However, their production of the target language will be marked thereafter by a subtle shift toward more native-like performance that will enhance their ability to deal on par with native speakers of the target language in face-to-face situations.

The Project's Evolution
Through a recent grant from FIPSE, we developed a teaching method and supporting materials that uniquely apply the capabilities of interactive video to the teaching of face-to-face communication skills in French and German. Our accomplishments include:

A major portion of our activity during the development period consisted of classroom testing and formative evaluation of the materials. Student and teacher input guided further refinement of the software design and method of video production. Users seemed uniformly pleased with the overall performance of the interactive tool and its ease of use. However, we confined our efforts to the third semester level and now must look at the wider picture as we move from a focus on materials to integration of the approach into the classroom.

We had hoped that simply making the materials and video instruction in how to use them available to language teachers would cause them to include this component in their curricula. The reality is that the materials were purchased by about 30 sites but have largely remained on the shelf. Until recent discussion about including nonverbal proficiency in the ACTFL National Standards Project, this had never been listed as a curricular component. With no charter to do this kind of teaching, teachers have been reluctant to make room for it in their already busy schedules.

In spite of the fact that some talk about this is coming from several sides, teachers are still left with a void in their training which makes them hesitate before taking on an idea as novel as this. Most teachers, having been trained to teach language skills in a cognitive manner, are ill-equipped to undertake teaching nonverbal and interactional skills which must be done in a more experiential way.

Goals And Major Activities Of The New Project

During this three year project we seek to train a critical number of teachers in the teaching of nonverbal proficiencies and to develop models for implementation of the unusual goals of the In The French/German Body learning activities. There are several environments, context and levels in which this sort of work might be done. But we will need the financial support of a FIPSE to do the necessary exploration. The project starts September 1995 and ends August 1998. The sequence of events involves:
  1. Recruiting approximately ten test sites to use the materials at a variety of levels in their language curricula. (Year 0 and Year 1)
  2. Professional development for teachers at the test sites via on-site workshops and an on-line forum. Teachers need to have learned nonverbal and paralinguistic competence themselves before trying to teach others. We will evaluate teacher achievement of the language and teaching skills taught in the workshop to verify workshop effectiveness. These workshops will also serve to "train the trainers." (Year 1)
  3. In the Participatory Design Phase, we will work with the test site teachers for six months to revise their curricula to include this component and to write lesson plans that use the IFB/IGB materials and site-specific adaptations of the approach. (Year 1)
  4. Teachers implement the plans in their classrooms at several levels per site. Site language departments will be asked to modify or augment their normal curricula for a period of one year for classes taught by the test teachers. Teachers will record their experiences before, during, and after the courses. Use of pre- and post-tests for students (decoding, encoding, listening comprehension and motivational) will be encouraged to ascertain learning outcomes. (Year 2)
  5. Dissemination of site teacher experiences with this newly introduced component of their language curricula. We will collate the lesson plan and curricular work of the site teachers and publish a book about the approach and teacher experiences. Teachers will write articles for local and regional newsletters and will receive travel funds to give talks at local and regional meetings. Some participants may be invited to present at national conferences if their experiences merit that level of dialogue with the language teaching profession. It is hoped that site departments will adopt the new curricula permanently, with adjustments based on the teachers' experiences.(Year 3)
At the conclusion of the project, all site teachers, along with certain foreign language acquisition experts, will be invited to a teleconferenced colloquium on the teaching of communication skills in foreign languages. This focus group of opinion leaders in the foreign language profession and site teachers will react to, and report on the implementation of the ideas promulgated by the In The French Body project and materials. They will show video from their classrooms to demonstrate the approach in practice. They will discuss possibilities for wider dissemination of the teaching of nonverbal and paralinguistic features of foreign language. The video of this teleconference may be used as a vehicle for dissemination after the grant period.

During the course of the project, we intend to produce training videos using footage that we will obtain from the test site courses. At the very beginning of the project we wish to buy the rights to an extremely effective film, “Communication With The French”, that was produced by documentary filmmaker Midge MacKenzie about this method several years ago. This film (transferred to video and shown at conferences) has proven to be an effective lead into the approach we are promoting. These types of videos can be shown in workshops, at conferences, mailed individually to departments, or included in the videodisc package and serve in the later dissemination of this work.

Research Questions

What sort of progress are we looking for in this project and how will we measure it? Teachers are a central concern of this project with its focus on implementation. The research questions are:
  1. Pre-Workshop: What are the best ways of sparking an interest in this topic to the degree that it moves teachers to seriously investigate teaching it.
  2. Workshop: What are the practical aspects of the training workshop? What time frames, locations, or other planning needs of the workshop or course on nonverbals for foreign language that hinder or encourage participation.
  3. Post-Workshop: How does one maintain the momentum of the workshop after returning to "the real world" of everyday teaching and departmental inertia.
  4. Teacher Support: Once the teacher is carrying out the work in his/her classroom, what kind of support is needed to make that first experience such that the teacher is motivated to repeat it.
  5. Departmental Support: Can the department adjust to include the technological resources necessary for technology-enabled teaching? What room arrangements, personnel support, scheduling conventions or other issues get in the way of acceptance of a new kind of routine?
  6. Professional Support: To what degree does the language teaching profession require hard statistics in order to condone a new or unusual method? What are the time frames for acceptance of a change? What is considered a "radical" change and what is considered only a minor re-adjustment?
  7. Long Term Tracking of Results: As we have done from the beginning in 1989, we have a database of all teachers using the In The French or German Body materials or who have them on site but have not used them. We will continue to call, write, or e-mail them on a yearly basis after the grant's termination to find out how they are coming along in their use of the materials. We maintain a newsletter called KineScoop in which we discuss uses of the materials and invite teachers to submit their materials. This newletter is free to all and is supported by sales of the materials. We will also encourage maintenance of the on-line discussion group past the term of this grant. All these will inform us and the profession over the long term about progress toward the incorporation of full communication skills in our language curricula.

As a subtopic to this project, we would encourage site teachers to conduct their own research on learner outcomes. We recommend three different testing instruments that are particularly good for measuring the outcomes of this kind of learning. These include a test of nonverbal and intonational decoding skill, interactional synchrony performance test, and test of listening comprehension. This would serve as preliminary work to a later full-blown study of learner outcomes. Furthermore, it would help teachers to focus on the effects that this kind of work has on their students' proficiency in face-to-face interaction skills. Please see Models For Site Research On Learner Outcomes for ways that teachers might conduct this testing. The results of this testing could also be used as a pilot report to the profession at the conclusion of the project.

Test Site Activities

We feel that the best way for teachers to become good teachers of this approach is to learn with it. Therefore, our site teachers will be going through the 7 contact hour exercise in a workshop simulation of their students' learning process. (See sample Teacher Workshop Plan.) Concurrently, we are maintaining on-line electronic discussion group for In The French/German Body users via the Internet.

Of those participating in each of these one-week on-site workshops, a minimum of three should be willing to carry forward to implement the changes that will be necessary in the foreign language curriculum of their home institution. We will give preference to institutions who have teachers at each of the three levels of basic language instruction and an additional advanced level willing to work on the project. After their initial training in the 1995-96 year, project teachers will work with the department chair and the curriculum committee (where applicable) to incorporate the French/German Body material into the departmental curriculum. We would ask for a report of these discussions. Project teachers will work with their department chair and curriculum committee to obtain consensus on trying the new curriculum over the following one year period. We will ask them to submit their plans to us by July 1996.

The 1996-97 year will be devoted to implementing the new curriculum and its accompanying lesson plans. During Year Two, a small travel fund will be available to sites that have taught with the materials in the 1995-96 year and already have results to report at conferences. Teachers will apply to the Project Directors for these funds which will be awarded on the merit of the proposal and on the applicant's need.

On June 22-24, 1997, we will hold a Mid-Project meeting for debriefing on the 1996-97 teaching experiences. We will invite at least one teacher from each test site to discuss experiences with implementation and to plan for subsequent promulgation of the method. We will also invite at least one guest speaker and our FIPSE Project Officer. This meeting is currently scheduled to be held at West Point Academy in New York, just before the CALICO Annual Symposium on language teaching and technology.

In Yeare Three, teachers will be eligible to apply for funds to attend conferences at the regional, state or local levels in order to report on their experience and results. A condition for receiving any funds is that teachers submit an article about their experiences teaching with In The French Body or In The German Body to a regional, state or local language teaching newsletter. Teachers who choose to do more extensive studies of learner outcomes using the test instruments provided by this project will be eligible for funds to attend national conferences. We will encourage them to write a companion article for professional publication.

At the conclusion of the project, all site teachers, along with certain foreign language acquisition experts, will be invited to a second, more open symposium on the teaching of communication skills in foreign languages. This focus group of opinion leaders in the foreign language profession and site teachers will react to, and report on the implementation of the ideas promulgated by the In The French Body project and materials. They will show video from their classrooms to demonstrate the approach in practice. They will discuss possibilities for wider dissemination of the teaching of nonverbal and paralinguistic features of foreign language.

We intend to produce training videos using footage that we will obtain from the new test site courses and the teleconferences. We will buy the rights to an extremely effective film, “Communication With The French”, that was produced by documentary filmmaker Midge MacKenzie about this method several years ago. We found in our previous project that short video summaries were a very cost-effective means of disseminating the teaching concepts and practices that we were trying to communicate to teachers. When we showed the MacKenzie tape at an AATF workshop there was an immediate demand for copies of this 45-minute video which is not currently available. Both of these types of videos could be shown at conferences, mailed individually to departments, or included in the videodisc package and serve in the long term dissemination of this work.

The teacher workshops, teleconferences and longer-term training will serve as professional development in the special language skills we are teaching, in new teaching skills, and in the use of technology for approximately 30-60 teachers of foreign language. The test site administration of the In The...Body courses will immediately benefit 300-800 students of French or German. These activities can potentially benefit the members of the foreign language teaching community (10,000 in the U.S. alone). The 400,000 college students and the million or so high school students who pass through basic French and German courses annually will also benefit if the new curricular goals proposed by our program take hold among language professionals nationally.

Project Evaluation Procedures

At the most basic level, we will compare what teachers propose as a good implementation concept and plan in their pre-implementation report (due July 1, 1996) and what they finally recommend to others to do in their post-implementation report (due July 1, 1997). We will gather information on and measure the evolution of the ideas and central themes that arise by recording and studying the discussion that occurs on-line and through the questions and comments that are phoned in or come up during the workshops. We will survey the teachers through workshop questionnaires in Year One and compare their attitudes toward this change again at the end of the project. They will be encourage to submit proceedings papers or some written or taped correlate to their talks in order to receive reimbursement. We will use these recordings and written accounts, in part, for a book on the project.

We will analyze our own experiences in recruiting the test sites from Sept. 1993 through June 1995 and include the lessons learned there in our final report. If any attrition in or replacement of test sites occurs during the project, we will report on the causes and outcomes of that process. All this information will be pertinent to others trying to bring about change in curriculum through the "test site" approach.

At the student level, we will have pre- and post-tests of nonverbal comprehension and output. While these results will not have been obtained through highly controlled test design, they will provide some degree of information about learner improvements resulting from this treatment. Those results can help in our long-range planning for an eventual rigorous study of learner outcomes. Also, we can test for attitude change through the use of questionnaires with the students and a control group in the same environment minus the treatment. Again, we would not make strict claims about these results since we will not have large numbers for each treatment variation. But they should point to trends of importance in determining the recommended implementations of this approach.

Organizational Support

Northeastern University, an urban university with a heavy emphasis on the practical application of educational ideas, offers cooperative education through internship opportunities in government, corporations, laboratories, and schools. Students from throughout the university take courses in French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Russian which are offered by the Department of Modern Languages of the College of Arts and Sciences. Students seeking a B.A. in a liberal arts field must complete a four quarter language requirement. The Department is working in conjunction with the College of Business Administration to provide intensive language and cultural training for majors in International Business. Also, there are programs in American Sign Language and English as a Second Language. There is a well-equipped language laboratory and computer center located in the new Snell Library that will serve us as Carolyn Fidelman gives several courses with the In The French or German Body component added in.

Northeastern's biggest direct contribution to this project will be its promotion of the method and materials through its training institute for public school teachers in Massachusetts. This provides us with an unusual opportunity both to improve the high school teachers' communication skills in the target language and to follow possible implementations of this new component of language teaching at the secondary level in our state.

Other Support
Over the years this work has received funds from the Rockefeller Foundation, Apple Computer, Network Technology Corporation and FIPSE. External cooperation in the field testing portion of this project will come from the numerous institutions who have expressed an interest in doing so over the past four years. (See the Project Participants page on this web site for the current listing of participating institutions.) We will continue to work to identify test sites with the highest potential for visibility within the language profession.

Project Staff

Carolyn Fidelman, Project Director, holds degrees in French (B.A. 1974 U. of Georgia), Foreign Language Education (M.Ed. 1977 U. of Georgia), and Interactive Technology (Ed.M. 1988 Harvard), and has extensive experience in both classroom teaching and commercial courseware development. She was project director for the 1989-92 FIPSE project In The French Body. Her combination of talents helped insure that the products of our previous effort both met the needs of teachers and students, and that professional standards of production were applied to all materials developed. Her experience in teaching foreign languages will aid in planning for the introduction of these materials in postsecondary language learning environments.

Stephen Sadow (Ph.D., 1977, Harvard University), Associate Professor of Modern Languages, will serve as co-principal investigator. Professor Sadow has been at the forefront of innovation in foreign language teaching throughout his career. The author of four books and numerous articles, he specializes in the application of creativity-stimulating techniques to the teaching of languages and the use of experiential methods of teaching about foreign cultures. He has served as Chairman of the Greater Boston Foreign Language Collaborative of the Academic Alliances. He has received a citation for his work from the AAHE. He has taught at Northeastern for eighteen years. Having served on many committees, councils, and task forces, Professor Sadow is well-acquainted with how special projects function within the university environment. He will ensure the smooth functioning of the project as well as its local viability and visibility.

Judith A. Hall, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Northeastern University, is a specialist in nonverbal behavior and in the use of statistics in behavioral science. She is Editor of the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior and co-author of a text on nonverbal communication as well as author of numerous other scholarly publications. She has already provided support to the original FIPSE project by consulting on the design and statistical approach to the FPONS and GPONS tests. Her advice in the design of the evaluation phase, including statistical analysis, will be most helpful.


Getting the word out about a new idea can take many forms. Basic research findings influence graduate students, theoreticians, and leaders in the field of foreign language teaching. A student standards guide lays out ideals for teachers in the field in an accessible way. But engaging directly with teachers and their departments, collaboratively hammering out the issues and agreements needed for full implementation of a change in curriculum is the fastest track to the following step, full dissemination.

While the publication of the new videodisc packages In The French Body and In The German Body has made it possible for teachers to obtain the materials, it has not resulted in significant dissemination. There are too many questions remaining for the adopter. The activities proposed by this project will lay the groundwork for implementation, informing the profession and its individual members of the merits of and paths to teaching and learning full communicational skills. Going beyond the issues relating to this method, we hope to provide useful experiences and insights into what is known about the process of implementation itself.

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