Monday, 29 June 2015

Discussions--Series 24--ELT Professionals Around the World

Please read Post 68 and then come back here. Thanks.

Discussions Series Twenty-four
Topic 61
Ferd Roseboom (an untitled life in progress)
How would you test someone's interpersonal communication skills?
Assuming that the higher one's interpersonal communication skills the more rapidly SLA can occur (not to mention one's first language), how would you test for such skills? Is it something you've ever thought about? I hope those more familiar with SLA research than I am will also comment.

<<It is one of the aspects of language learning tested in major language examinations.>>
Really? How? Subjectively or objectively? I'm intrigued.

But ..., such speaking tests do not separate interpersonal communication skills from L2 skills. I've had students with poor interpersonal communication skills in their L1. You can almost tell who they are before they even open their mouth by watching their eye contact with others. Perhaps, that's one metric.

A decade ago, I thought of another one. At the time I considered it an aspect of fluency, and created an activity I'm sure we're all familiar with. I gave students a list of 12 nouns I wanted them to elicit from their partner through descriptions rather than visuals, a kind of verbal charades. I thought If I timed their ability to do this and compare their times, it might be one way of testing for this. Then yesterday, I tried it again with two separate students: one adult and one 13 year old but this time, I had them do it exclusively in L1 with another L1 speaker (ideally I'd want to use 2 or 3) before doing it in English with me. I recorded the 13 yr old and noted the difficulty in L1 which she seemed to have overcome by the time she did it with me in L2 which struck me as strange. The time in L1 4:03 and in L2: 4:30. It seemed to test L2 confidence more than interpersonal communication skills as the adult seemed to overlook language she apparently knew to describe the object that the 13 year-old had no trouble with.

I obviously still need to search for other means of testing for interpersonal communciation skills and overall fluency.

Interpersonal skills are an aspect of emotional intelligence which could affect language acquisition but is not necessarily an indicator of mastering a language.

Thanks for your feedback, Rachel and EQ tests might actually be enjoyable and worthwhile for students. I haven't done one myself.

Perhaps another factor I should be looking at, but more as a determiner of SLA than one's interpersonal communication skills is linguistic flexibility. Can they communicate in a meaningful and productive way with a 4 year old as easily as they can with a professor on an academic topic? This is what may give women the advantage over men in SLA. What I mean by 'meaningful and productive', might best be summed up by the following 'stages' of dialogue:

Stage one is "Shared Monologues", where group members get used to talking to each other.
Stage two is "Skillful Discussion", where people are learning the skills of dialogue.
Stage three is "Reflective Dialogue", which is approximately Bohm's idea of dialogue.
Stage four is "Generative Dialogue", a special "creative" dialogue Isaacs seeks for his groups.

There are many ways of assessing interpersonal skills, the easiest being watching your students in a group activity. I have used many practical situations where a group of students are set a challenge whilst you sit back and watch their behaviour - it's quite enlightening even at its simplest level.
However, for more accurate evidence there are many websites that provide questionnaires and other ideas for more rigorous assessments. Google it!
Good luck.

I greatly appreciate your insights on what seems an ignored but integral aspect of SLA. I feel the same about validity and reliability of those online self-evaluations and it seems that performance evaluations are moving toward that blend of self-, colleague-, supervisor-, and client-evaluations.

Wonderful comments! So thank you all. Clearly, it's critical to develop a definition of this vast set of skill/s. As already stated, language is just one (large) factor within the myriad others. Often, like pornography, one's interpersonal skills are "clear" to see when we observe another in "operation" in the various settings - including in social interactions, business negotiations, classroom and group activities, and certainly when we're are exercising a role at some levels of authority! I would be very interested in reading more about a comprehensive definition that covers it fully!

Though Mr X didn’t permit communication, I’ve included his comments here because of their importance:

I think it is possible to build up a provisional taxonomy of interpersonal communication skills. What follows might do as a starting point: it is not intended to be definitive [and you are most welcome to propose additions or alternative frameworks].
First, there are the everyday social skills that relate to the self and to relating to others. At a personal and essentially individual level we seek to develop qualities such as: confidence; resilience; perseverance; self-regulation [emotional management]; connectedness; intercultural understanding and diversity awareness; and [perhaps more controversially] citizenship.

Secondly, there are a range of cognitive skills, including skills of reflection and skills of critical and analytical thinking; such cognitive skills might also include forensic skills and skills of identifying evidence to support conclusions. These go far beyond the fields of ESOL and linguistics. Bloom identified six types of cognitive skill [knowledge; comprehension; application; analysis; synthesis; and evaluation]; however, there other ways to look at cognitive skills. For example, we can see cognitive skills as covering:

• Attention skills
Sustained attention [ability to stay on-task and focussed for some time]
Selective attention [ability to sort input/data and focus on a particular aspect]
Divided attention [ability to multi-task]
• Auditory processing skills
Ability to analyse, blend and segment the sounds of language [phonemic awareness]
• Visual processing skills
Ability to perceive, think and analyse in terms of visual images [and more generally semiotic awareness]
• Logic and reasoning skills
Ability to reason, correlate and conceptualise to solve problems using familiar and unfamiliar data
• Processing speeds skills
The speed at which the brain processes input: faster processing leads to more efficient thinking and learning.
• Long-term memory storage and retrieval skills
This is working memory; it concerns the ability to bring to mind the information needed to complete immediate/short-term tasks.
Thirdly, interpersonal communication skills include a range of executive skills: communication [both face to face and technology mediated]; multi-tasking and task switching; maintaining focus; and data organisation or curation.
Fourthly, we can see cognitive skills as part of a framework of 21st century skills for life and learning. This is perhaps the area that is most pertinent to the interests of Ferd and others on this blog. It is also the murkiest. There is no single and dominant and agreed description of 21st century skills that I am aware of. They include qualities [perhaps skills or perhaps competences] such as commitment, creativity, curiosity, initiative and motivation [especially self-motivation] but they also include aspects such as learning to learn and drivers of learning [especially information technology-related skills including programming/coding].
In all this, I am acutely aware that many of these interpersonal communication skills overlap and are repeated.
Once we have sorted these ideas out, we can begin to consider the original question in more detail. How would you test someone's interpersonal communication skills? 

Here is another taxonomy of interpersonal skills to consider. It is based on Klein C, DeRouin RE, Salas E [2006] Uncovering workplace interpersonal skills: A review, framework, and research agenda in: Hodgkinson GP, Ford JK [editors] International Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology Volume 21 New York: Wiley and Sons [pages 80–126]
Part 1: Communication Skills
Active Listening
Paying close attention to what is being said, asking the other party to explain exactly what he or she means, and requesting that ambiguous ideas or statements are repeated
[Sub-skills: Listening with empathy and sympathy; listening for understanding]
Oral Communication
Sending verbal messages constructively
[Sub-skills: Enunciating; expressing yourself clearly; communicating emotion; interpersonal communication]
Written Communication
Writing clearly and appropriately
[Sub-skills: Clarity; communicating intended meaning]
Assertive Communication
Directly expressing one’s feelings, preferences, needs, and opinions in a way that is neither threatening nor punishing to another person
[Sub-skills: Proposing ideas; social assertiveness; defence of rights; directive; asserting your needs]
Nonverbal Communication
Reinforcing or replacing spoken communication through the use of body language, gestures, voice, or artefacts
[Sub-skills: Expression of feelings; perception or recognition of feelings; facial regard]
Part 2: Relationship-Building Skills
Cooperation and Coordination
Understanding and working with others in groups or teams; includes offering help to those who need it and pacing activities to fit the needs of the team
[Sub-skills: Adaptability; shared situational awareness; performance monitoring and feedback; interpersonal relations; communication; decision making; cohesion; group problem solving; being a team player]
An individual’s faith or belief in the integrity or reliability of another person or thing; willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectation that certain actions important to the party will be performed
[Sub-skills: Self-awareness; self-disclosure; swift trust]
Intercultural Sensitivity
Appreciating individual differences among people
[Sub-skills: Acceptance; openness to new ideas; sensitivity to others; cross-cultural relations]
Service Orientation
A set of basic individual predispositions and an inclination to provide service, to be courteous and helpful in dealing with customers, clients, and associates
[Sub-skills: Exceeding customer’s expectations; customer satisfaction skills; ability to maintain positive client relationship; selling; building rapport; representing the organization to customers and the public]
Process by which individuals attempt to influence the reactions and images people have of them and their ideas; managing these impressions encompasses a wide range of behaviours designed to create a positive influence on work associates
[Sub-skills: Self-expression; face-saving and impression management; managing perceptions; self-promotion]
Social Influence
Guiding people toward the adoption of specific behaviours, beliefs, or attitudes; influencing the distribution of advantages and disadvantages within an organization through one’s actions
[Sub-skills: Business etiquette; reasoning; friendliness; coalition building; bargaining; appeals to higher authority; imposing sanctions; networking; persuasion, positive political skills]
Conflict Resolution and Negotiation
Advocating one’s position with an open mind, not taking personally other members’ disagreements, putting oneself in the other’s shoes, following rational argument and avoiding premature evaluation, and trying to synthesize the best ideas from all viewpoints and perspectives
[Sub-skills: Conflict-handling style; conflict management; conflict prevention; compromising; problem solving; integrative bargaining; principled negotiation; cultural negotiation; mediation] 

Thanks, again, David.

Re: ACTIVE LISTENING: Inferring emotion or personal impact of what someone's saying seems to be an integral part of that. I recall being surprised by how much of the story a female colleague watching a foreign TV drama in a language she didn't understand could pick up.

Re: TRUST: Could the gullible have weaker BICS? Think about the famous 'marshmallow test'--was it not a lack of trust that made the children forfeit a future gain? Were these children's parents more likely to make promises they'd fail to honour or just plain forget? Is this same short-term focus not a result of a lack of empathy? I was listening to Sam Harris talk about the Heaven's Gate cult mass suicide. Apparently, when joining the cult, members permanently broke ties with their immediate families.

I must admit, I'm overwhelmed by how much you've presented me with. But rather than throw up my hands and say, forget it---I don't have the time nor patience to go through it all in order to develop a practical test that's reasonably valid and reliable, it may be simpler to condense BICS down to a fundamental notion and then test whether that notion is fundamental to aspect you've outlined above. Perhaps you can guess what notion I'm thinking of. It's....

It's simply empathy. Years ago, I read a claim by a British neurologist about a close relationship between empathy and intelligence in early childhood development. Infants first learn to communicate by following a mother's gaze which explains why eye contact is an integral aspect of BICS. I recall once seeing what I thought was a 5 yr old who was actually a dwarf. It was the way she used her eyes that had me check my assumption about her age. Years back, when I repeatedly did placement tests, I could almost predict someone's English level by their eye contact alone.

Assertiveness, confidence,... doesn't that boil down to how much someone knows themselves? And isn't that connected to trust? Conflict resolution and negotiation....doesn't that boil down to the same? If someone's emotionally mature, they're more likely to deal with setbacks and problems in a clear and rational manner, and therefore have more confidence.

And we are back to emotional intelligence in assessing the BICS. There are several possibilities to assess interpersonal competencies , most of them are formative of course..(can you think of a summative assessment for empathy?) Most widely used are reflective journals and real life scenarios given to students. Robert A. Facione has some interesting rubrics on his website.

Mr X:
A fresh morning … I do my most thinking around dawn and up to mid-day … then I go downhill.
First of all, I wholly agree with Katerina that we should be very careful about singling out eye-contact as a significant component in assessing [and evaluating] interpersonal communication skills; she also touches on another can of worms with her remark eye contact or lack of being culture specific. It is not just eye contact that is culture specific. There is a great deal of cultural and ethnographical and sociological/socioeconomic variation across the whole range of interpersonal communication skills. How can we reconcile this with a narrow focus on language teaching [let alone the esoteric world of SLA and ESOL]?
I return to the original question: How would you test someone's interpersonal communication skills?
For me, the word <test> has a specific meaning and is distinct from the word <assess> [although of course <testing> represents an aspect of <assessment>. The word <test> in essence suggests a standardised and replicable measuring instrument that can be administered and interpreted by anybody with the requisite background knowledge and skills: it also includes implications for qualities such as validity, reliability and practicality [as I hope I have illustrated in my previous postings].

For me the phrase <interpersonal communication skills>covers a range of indeterminate skills [or competences]. I repeat the point that until we can come up with an agreed definition of <interpersonal communication skills> then it is pie in the sky thinking to attempt to develop any test of these skills: if you have no target there is little or no point in just testing what you can actually test or what it is most convenient to test [as reflected in the suggestion that< we are back to emotional intelligence in assessing the BICS>].

If you want to change the original question to cover how you would assess someone's interpersonal communication skills then I think that you have a better chance of success. As Rachel points out here are several possibilities to assess interpersonal competences. They seem to take the three basic forms that I indicated previously; observation; interview; and self-reporting [reflective journal] or self-survey [questionnaire]. These are not mutually exclusive alternatives; they can certainly be used in combination [and crucially over time]. Taking the time factor into consideration, it seems sensible for Ferd to consider some form of systematic portfolio assessment. As Rachel points out, most of these assessments we are looking at are formative rather than summative, but this has implications again for validity, reliability and practicality. The risk is that the whole process deteriorates into a matter of <general impression> {and this seems to be the starting point that Ferd is trying to get away from]. Are we at risk of just going round in circles here?

I note that Ferd’s original question also asks how we might test for such skills given the assumption the higher the subject’s interpersonal communication skills are the more rapidly SLA can occur. This again seems very clearly to place our attention on formative assessment rather than summative. But would Ferd get the formative feedback sought in the time-scale entailed in portfolio work?

Another possibility if you choose to use a portfolio approach is that you can assess [and perhaps even test some of] the agreed range of interpersonal communication skills discretely, with a mixed battery of tests and assessments, but then the question arises whether it is all worth the time and effort entailed. What would be the product? What would be the ROI? 

<<I keep seeing the horizons roll back on this theme....>>

Me too, David.

I know I'm deliberately groping in the dark. I've so far resisted the urge to switch on the light and search for published content. Sometimes it's worth first thinking through something thoroughly before looking at what others have uncovered. You might discover what they've overlooked.

Bearing in mind what ... said about coming up with a working definition, I'm wondering if we shouldn't first consider INNER Personal Communication Skills---the internal dialogue one has with oneself beginning in infancy. If healthy (empathic) communication between mother and infant [gaze-following] coupled with a relatively stress-free upbringing produce a more intelligent, happier, confident, and more (socially) adventurous child, then that inner dialogue should function properly.

What do I mean by that? I live in China. The 2-5 yr olds here born to parents of lower social-economic status are more likely to just stare at me or retreat behind a parent for protection when this towering, blonde-haired, blue-eyed foreigner approaches. They seem oblivious to whether their parent's perceive me as a threat or not. In some instances, they even cry at the mere sight of me approaching. What's going on here? Why the fear? Is it an amygdala high-jack? Children are naturally playful. Are they just the introverted half of humanity? There's something else going on and I think it has to do with the strength of the parent-infant bond. If a real threat were to approach such as a growling dog, perhaps even the boldest toddler would retreat. Seems to me it's a failure of the intelligence to evaluate the threat, in this case, noting how their parent perceives the threat. It may amount to a lack of trust in the...I don't know....the love/awareness/capability/concern of the parent.

The other day, I asked a mother of a 2 year-old boy on a subway here in China about her child's Chinese vocabulary, noting the relative ease with which he interacted with me (non-lingually). I'm wondering if there's a correlation here between L1 and L2 rates. Another question: what accounts for variances in L1 acquisition rates in infants born of the same mother?

I've requested that 13 yr old I tested this week ask her parents how she might've reacted upon my approach at age 2. I sincerely doubt, it'd've been with fear. She's defined those 12 words more concisely and in less time than adults at her approximate level. What she's learned just seems that much more 'available' to her. I'm guessing in part this is due to not being overwhelmed with the copious amounts of grammar and vocabulary that students must study in high school that only discourages them.

Could it be as simple as that---that the adults are more aware of the alpine dangers and pitfalls that Mount English presents, and are therefore less confident, focusing more on the peak than on more immediate goals or why they're even climbing?

Much truth in what you say, Ferd! I particularly appreciated your "inner dialogue" that's so integral that we all tend to grapple with and do. And, additionally, how we all tend to automatically "stereotype" another via their appearances

<<...we all tend to automatically "stereotype" another via their appearances...>>

Glad you brought up that word, Tal. Stereotyping, or over-generalization isn't the problem. Understandably, newborns of any species not only distinguish between in and out group members, but show a clear preference for their in group.

The problem is prejudice, that, by definition---'pre' + 'judge'---seems to short-circuit the intelligence. Those toddlers who just stare at me in fright appear as fixated as deer staring into headlights--there's a mental paralysis going on there. A normally-functioning inner dialogue, perceiving a potential threat would alert its parent, would it not?

In prejudices, there seems to be a failure to suspend judgement and possibly due to stress. In infants, might this be empathic distress, the stress of the mother transferred to the child through lack of bonding? Parents of such children seem to be as equally capable of holding prejudices as their infants. Or is that just my prejudice?

I'm wondering how these same children respond to other potential threats--a mean-looking dog, fore example. I'll ask the parent of the next terrified 2 year-old I encounter. Would they immediately notify their parent or just stare at the threat? If the former, then are we dealing with something else entirely?

<<Does this happen even if you smile at them?>>

Yes, it's my 194 cm, fair complexion, and big nose that's off-putting. I've got to watch my head as the doors in my apartment and on Beijing subways are 180-190 cm. I haven't ruled out hypersensitivity so that's another question to ask their parents.

Ladies and Gentlemen, We (all) tend to "retain" Insularity, to some extent or, hopefully, have succeeded in "ejecting" it out of our psyche. I'm afraid this is our common human condition! Very little can be done about it, except we hope that education, travel and globalization will, at some point, render it extinct! Our "trajectory" gives me hope.

None of that's necessary. What I'm rejecting, is the notion that prejudism is derived from ignorance or fear. On the contrary, these are its results, along with hatred.

<<This is thought provoking indeed.>>

If I pretend not to notice them staring at me, the stare wouldn't turn into dread for most of them but foreign faces are ubiquitous, especially in advertising. Many Chinese dye their hair blonde these days and there are Asian albinos. I attended the wedding of one I worked with whose skin was fairer than mine, hair blonder, eyes bluer. His parents were normal but if I recall, his sister was also albino. Riding the subways, here in Beijing, I've seen 3 or 4 this year alone.

As for my height, it's far more common to see Chinese my height or taller. I stood next to one well over 2 meters on the subway the other day and I probably spent more time looking at him than anyone else. Every train's got a few at least approaching my height.

As for the infants' stares, I recall an adult peasant stare at me too in such a transfixed state, as if I had 3 eyes and slimy green skin. The lack of inner dialogue is very apparent. Observation tells me that such types, as with the parents of such types, are not the ones who'd ever question their feelings or thoughts, or those of others. As with a Chinese friend's mother, it seems they react based on sets of received beliefs. They're not curious about very much.

This seems to me to be a good place to begin with in thinking about interpersonal communication skills. There's no real inner dialogue within such types, just a broken record. A child who clings to, or pulls at its mother as I approach has at least begun an inner dialogue, as has the adult who, at the very least, whether alone or with others, exclaims 'wai-guo-ren' (foreigner) as I pass. Some foreigners take offence to this but even the language to express this in English is prejudicial, is it not?

So, how does all this relate to SLA?

Is there not a direct correlation between the ability to suspend belief and interlanguage fossilization? Which students seem to jump to the most (erroneous) conclusions about L2 and which seem the most cognizant they're merely assumptions that need to be verified? Do the former not jump to the same kind of conclusions elsewhere in life? Are such jumps not driven by emotion? I have no doubt that 13 year-old can easily break bad habits and adopt new ones, whether they be health or language related.

Is there such a thing as language shyness? Could L1 interference be more of a subconscious rejection of the strange, the unusual, a retreat into ? Children can be shy in the sense of wanting to retreat to the safety and security of the familiar? I was panic stricken the day I was separated from everyone I knew---my first day of kindergarten. My sister's kids and even her husband had difficulty adjusting to their new home after they'd moved. I recall my Chinese girlfriend and I teaching them to make sushi on a picnic when they drove across Canada. Even though they'd helped make it themselves, they didn't want to eat it. Perhaps it was all the travelling by car that made their mother's comfort food that more appetizing. 

It's good to see a lot of in-depth philosophical brooding regarding factors that influence (non-) exhibition of communication skills at interpersonal level.

I think we need to help learners build their confidence level which stays where it is or increases or improves depending on several factors that contribute towards this level---language use and comprehension (lexis, structure, pronunciation, speaking speed, fluency/accuracy of the parties involved), perception of self and others (present or non-present)--idiosyncratic behaviour, willingness to listen and participate, attention span--distractors--external and internal).

<< Interesting that you should notice a different reaction in children so young.>>
Not really. I clearly don't belong to the in group.

I'm thinking of affective filtration and your list, K R

How would you test someone's interpersonal communication skills?
First I am not sure at what circumstances you are referring!
Communication and Correspondence?
Because before you start to test someone there must be a specific reason and need but here NONE WAS GIVEN. 


I've seen two types of students:entering undergraduate studies (in my case, engineering) I taught for two decades:one with a low level of confidence despite having studied in English medium schools that they're not ready to face an audience, and the other with a lack of confidence in their linguistic and socialising skills because they studied all subjects at school in the regional medium and hence don't like to face an audience. The latter are eager to socialise but are tongue-tied.

I succeeded more with the latter group by building their confidence in me as a person caring for them, their welfare--helping them sort out their problems with other discipline teachers and the Principal. 

<<...before you start to test someone there must be a specific reason and need but here NONE WAS GIVEN.>> --Hallmark Mandy

You're right, I didn't. But I did state an assumption about SLA I think is worth testing. I look at these toddlers, and, like the marshmallow test, I'm confident I can predict which ones are likely to go on to university and professional careers, and which won't. If you read the psychological studies on parent-infant bonding and intelligence, you'll probably appreciate why I think so. The other day I heard a statement by a leading health expert in America that Adverse Childhood Experiences is the nation's most serious health issue. 

I think that Emotional Education Theories, Multiple Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence theories, should provide some tests and steps to be able to test what you propose.

Hello Ferd Roseboom,
The world and structures needs no order, the old concepts failed and bred inequality, corruption and disintegration.
I have seen through my involvement in education that the main causes of failures are the structures.

Parents are made slaves and deprive their children equality because they don’t have what the rich does.

Why should we test a child before admission? Is it not short sightedness or just a means to create ill gotten wealth?

Quotas and IQ test before a child is selected in schools must be abolished because they are sold to the highest bidder.

What is happening at FIFA now including the hand of French player Henry is part of my argument.

To eliminate the rightful qualifier they have the money to pay $5Million!

Ferd Roseboom
Hallmark Mandy: I'm having difficulty understanding what you've written and how it relates to the topic. You seem to feel very strongly about education, equality of access, IQ testing and corruption. Those are not easy problems to deal but I'm not sure how it relates to interpersonal communication skill testing, or what I've recently posted about one's inner dialogue? The point I'm trying to make is that it's not the school nor the teacher that makes the biggest difference in a child's education---the 13 year old I've mentioned says she doesn't learn much in school. The parent-infant bond particularly in the early years, and from then on, parental influence, is the most important thing in a child's life. You can't buy that.

Mr X:
Since so many of the respondents on this thread seem to be drifting away from the original question, if you want to read a broader view of the topic in real-world terms [or at least business world terms outside ESOL], the Economist Intelligence Unit has just issued a report on <Driving the skills>. I am still reading it but these are the main points.
From the Economist Insights 05 June 2015 []

The report makes the point that skills demanded by employers are shifting as computer technology becomes more pervasive, traditional trades disappear and the world of work becomes more globalised and collaborative. It goes beyond a narrow focus on <interpersonal communication skills> and seeks to answer questions such as whether 21st-century skills, such as leadership, digital literacy, problem solving and communication are in fact complementing traditional skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic, and whether such skills are in fact meeting the needs of employers and society more widely.
Perhaps the most revealing finding in the report so far for me is that whilst only a minority of 18-25-year-olds reported that they felt their education had provided them with the skills needed in the workplace, 77% of them claimed to be confident or very confident about their career prospects. This represents a clear mismatch between perceptions and actuality, especially when you consider the views of employers [see the first bullet point below].
Other key findings in the report include:
• 51% of executives say a skills gap is hampering their organisational performance and only 34% claim to be satisfied with the level of attainment of young people entering the company.
• 50% of teachers, students and executives cite [collaborative] problem-solving as the most important skill for potential employers, with 70% expecting its importance to increase over the next 3 years. In addition to problem-solving, teamwork and communication are also cited as the most in-demand skills in the workplace.
I shall press on with my main theme in further postings.

Thanks for this, David. Looking forward to what you can share with us.

I've just started looking online for Interpersonal Communication Skills tests. Wikipedia seems to lump them under psychometric tests so that's the area I've been exploring. However, one online one claims to measure:

> Insightfulness – The ability to understand other people's words and intentions.
> Verbal Expression – The ability to express yourself verbally in a way that is clear, concise, and effective.
> Assertiveness – Your ability to express your opinions and ideas.
> Listening Skills – The ability to take turns and listen appropriately to others during conversation.
> Emotional Management – The ability to control your own emotions in conversation and the ability to properly respond to others' emotions.

Another is based on the 'Big 5 Personality Traits Model that tests: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

It seems such tests, like the Myers-Briggs Test may measure personality more than interpersonal communication skills, though. The challenge in test development is ensuring validity and reliability--not an easy task, particularly when it comes to personality testing and exclusive self-reporting. How one behaves in a given situation has been shown to be far more influenced by incidental factors than we realize. I'm sure we've all been surprised by someone who at first appeared inarticulate, or shy only the display the complete opposite within another context, outside of class, for example, or when talking to friends, or discussing another subject.

I wonder if a satisfactory testing apparatus can be got ready to test objectively interpersonal communication skills, for the simple reason that linguistic, social, psychological human behaviour depends entirely on their perceptions and the resultant attitudes which in turn affect motivation--- gloomy you think but this is the fact.

For that matter, no objective testing of grammar, vocabulary, comprehension are totally objective because they're prepared by 'subjective' humans.

We can only attempt to build validity and reliability to the extent possible and be done with that.

Is there really a need to test interpersonal communication skills? It is quite obvious who possesses them and who doesn't. The main issue is how to help develop them and encourage the LL learner. It is true that early developmental years play a significant role in developing those skills however the role of a teacher cannot be undermined. It is the duty of the teacher to provide an inclusive community of learners that would encourage self expression , open mindedness and reasoned judgement. An environment that would affirm the learners identity by respecting their L1 whilst encouraging the use of L2. As stated a successful acquisition of L2 requires good oral skills in L1.
Improving interpersonal skills as every other area requires practice and shift of emphasis from writing skills to communicative.

On a funny note, this video illustrates the absurdity of standardized testing and the lack of emphasis on interpersonal communication skills in educational systems...

<<Is there really a need to test interpersonal communication skills? It is quite obvious who possesses them and who doesn't.>> --Rachel Berko-Gabay

If it's so obvious, shouldn't it be that much easier to measure?

<<The main issue is how to help develop them and encourage the LL learner.>>--Rachel

First, as Katerina mentioned early on, what's needed is a working definition. How about the 'Big 5' model: insightfulness; verbal expression; assertiveness; listening skills; and emotional management? I'm happy with it for now but do you care to include, alter, or omit anything?

Now, to answer your question:

Wouldn't the best way to develop these skills be the way they should've been from infancy? Call it remedial care-giving, but through establishing low-stress inducing (affective filter reduction), trusting, caring bonds that promote natural exploratory behavior (language risk-taking), are we not replicating the caring infant-mother bond and banishing the distant, distracted, or scolding mother [? what's a term for the opposite of bond]? You may want to read up on self-efficacy because it's really the inner dialogue or self-prejudices brought on by this distant, distracted caregiver that we're really addressing, is it not?

<< ...but the ability to learn languages has little to do with this bond.>>

You're right. The child's only source of bonding isn't the mother, but it's the most pivotal for reasons we're still understanding. The ability to learn ANYthing has EVERYthing to do with the quality of that initial caregiver bond or attempts to replicate it, often much later on. And the quality of that infant-mother bond doubtlessly reflects the quality of the mother's inner dialogue, as well as the wife-husband, mother-grandparents, father grandparents bond. As the saying goes, it takes a community to raise a child.

In many N.A. schools, teachers' ability to teach is severely compromised by the need to alleviate the affects of ACE (adverse childhood experiences), considered now to be America's #1 health threat. At the time I did my B.Ed. 5 years ago, it seemed I was the only one who saw the 'inclusive classroom' as much an oxymoron in public education as a 'mixed-level class' was in ELT. It's really all about cost-cutting in the public and improving profits in the private sector. Any guesses where this fiscal fixation at the expense of community strengthening originates?

There are a number of studies recently providing evidence that overall health, happiness, and intelligence are inextricably linked. One expert in ACE and addiction is this Canadian:

DR. GABOR MATÉ: <<You know, the traditional medicines of China for 3,000 years, the ayurvedic medicine of India, and the tribal shamanic medicines of all cultures around the world have always taken for granted that mind and body can’t be separated. Now, Western medicine has cleaved the two apart for, really, 2,000 years. Socrates already criticized the doctors of his day for separating the mind from the body. And the irony — in fact, the tragedy — is that now we have the Western science that shows, incontrovertibly and in great detail, that mind and body can’t be separated, and so that any attempt to do so leaves the medical practitioner short of many tools to help clients. And, of course, it leaves patients short of what they need for their own healing.

The point now is that the emotional centers of the brain, which regulate our behaviors and our responses and our reactions, are physiologically connected with — and we know exactly how they’re connected — with the immune system, the nervous system and the hormonal apparatus. In fact, it’s no longer possible, scientifically, to speak of these as separate systems, as if immunity was separate from emotions, as if the nervous system was separate from the hormonal apparatus. There’s one system, and they’re wired together by the nervous system itself and joined together by chemical messengers that they all secrete, and so that whatever happens emotionally has an impact immunologically, and vice versa. So, for example, we know now that the white cells in the circulation of our — of the blood can manufacture every hormone that the brain can manufacture, and vice versa, so that the brain and the immune system are always talking to one another. >>

Hello Ferd Roseboom,
Really you did not nor did you understand where they relate you must be living in another world or simply out of touch in what is really happening in the world.

Until now we would never had known that sponsoring and hosting of games are the ROUTE OF FIFA CORRUPTION.

I have seen and heard how IQ AND PERSONALITY TEST becomes loop hole for under table payments before admissions are granted.

You must have got yourself wrong by saying the point you were trying to make is that it’s neither the school nor the teacher that makes the biggest difference in a child’s education, REFER TO YOUR TOPIC CAPTION :> How would you test someone's interpersonal communication skills?

NO, I feel strongly against inequality of access, IQ testing and corruption, wars and those who produces, manufacture arms and weapons that create WARS.

Thank you for your contribution, we all must start to see things in perspective and wake up against the EVIL OF WARS AND WEAPONS: 

First of all problem solving has more to do with creativity and critical thinking. You can be a wonderful problem solver with no interpersonal communication skills at all. Moreover, one can be a child of an abusive family and have excellent interpersonal communication skills. As to PISA and other measurements, let's not forget who funds them- economic organisations with a clear agenda of producing better workers. As to numerical measurements of interpersonal skills, there is a method not that I think highly of but still ,it is Social Learning Analytics which especially suited to virtual learning environments. A computer collects data by detecting facial expressions , heart beat etc...
However, since I believe that humans are more complicated and unexpected than machines, I can't say I favour those methods.

Good points about problem solving and ICS, Rachel!

David, I'm in awe at the detail and clarity of your summation and analysis. There seems to be more to Hallmark's confusion than merely a language barrier.

I read Wikipedia's entry for Jim Cummins. Not only do I sense his BICS vs CALP is a false dichotomy but it seems BICS does not pertain to what we normally think of ICS:

>>BICS refers to the basic communicative fluency achieved by all normal native speakers of a language. It is cognitively undemanding and contextual and is better understood as the language used by students in informal settings, say, on a playground or cafe. << ---Wikipedia

Yet another linguist's misnomer to add to Rod's and my list of them! It should be clear that the ICS of adults sitting in a cafe are likely to be far more developed than those of children fighting over a toy in the playground. Not always, but much more likely. That's why, as a working definition, I'm adopting the 'Big 5' model: insightfulness; verbal expression; assertiveness; listening skills; and emotional management. And, as Rachel's pointed out, problem solving is not part of it.

So then, the question is, how do we test these, and more importantly, why?

I'll start with why. I conduct placement interviews for incoming students. In the 5 minutes I speak with them, I get a rough idea of what level to place them in based on fluency, vocabulary, and grammatical accuracy, sentence complexity, etc. The interview does not tell me how nervous they are or how much they may have prepared although I can sometimes get a sense. But it does not tell me what their proficiency was years ago when they last studied and practiced English on a regular basis. And it does not tell me how articulate they are in their L1, how many (different) words they speak in a day and what the ratio is between passed on hearsay and articulated thoughts. It tells me little about how well they can read between the lines of print or infer unstated assumptions in L1 nor how effectively they can switch register from addressing an academic audience to a kindergarten class. And it tells me nothing about their ability to suspend belief whether about themselves, about English, or anything else for that matter.

Why is knowing all that so important? Recently, the owner of a school I sometimes work for told me many students eventually become frustrated with English and quit. From a business perspective, she'd obviously like to turn that around. Perhaps the same is true where I work. Many of the resources I teach with are inappropriately graded for the levels I teach. I don't teach courses, and arguably, I don't even teach 'classes', just random groupings of students.

Wouldn't having answers help determine not only how quickly someone might progress, but also their ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development)? You may want to ask yourself this: if you were to test the highest performers amongst your students, would they not all possess many of these traits: not just talkative, but articulate in L1; equanimous (calm and in control of their emotions, not controlled by them); aware of subtleties of written, verbal and gestural expression; and able to simplify or complexify their language to suit their audience? If you teach high school or college students, you may want to survey their regular teachers.

Are these not essentially the 'Big 5': insightfulness; verbal expression; assertiveness; listening skills; and emotional management?

So, how do we test these 5?

I've already suggested a (time) measurable way to test verbal expression in (either L1 or) L2: the 'verbal charades' descriptions to elicit items, but as with other means, story retelling, directing someone to perform a task, etc. it's difficult to determine whether we're testing verbal expression or verbal economy. How can we measurably test the former, articulateness?

Any ideas for the others?

I first heard about these '21st Century Skills' upon reading '7 Habits' author Stephen Covey's 'Leader in Me' about how to develop these habits in children as young as 5.

I think u haven't dealt with drama and theatre education techniques yet, as tools to develop and test interpersonal communication skills and also to prove problem solving. There's a lot u can get from those views and techniques and are already used in SLA. And I think they are really helpful.

You're right Assumpta Giralt. Although I used an improv game on Sunday and am preparing a role play for this afternoon's class, I know I could take much better advantage of drama techniques. However, it seems you don't fully appreciate how difficult it is to ensure validity and reliability in test creation. I suggest you take the 10-minute ICS test I'd linked to and then come back and tell me how accurately you think it portrays yours. I'm sure you'll be amused by their request you pay $5 for a more 'detailed analysis':

..., it seems CUPs 2005 publication 'Second Language Needs Analysis' and Routledge's 2007 'Language Testing and Assessment: An Advanced Resource Book' have a little more to say on the subject of ICS than earlier works referring to either BICS or Gardner's intelligences. I'll sum up later what they say but do you mind telling me why you've ignored the 'Big 5' I've been referring to in favour of 21st Century Skills? 

Canada Communicative Language Benchmark and British Council has some indication, but in order to become a good problem solving, we have to have character. Learn some basic 21st century skills.

Kevin, what do you mean by "some indication"---a mere reference? If you're referring to ICSs, would you mind posting a weblink, or document title and page number?

The ICS test u link ( Ferd R.), is the same I took yesterday from ", the land of tests", so I've taken it twice and I think I almost got the same score. Well it's not bad for a start. At least it makes u aware of several aspects that without those general tests of behaviour ( more than personality ) one wouldn't notice, and turn important when communicating with people personally and professionally.
On the other hand, why are u so worried about testing? Do u have to design ur own ?
I truly think that valid, valuable and reliable tests are needed in all aspects of learning.
But one can design quite reliable tests on performing/drama and oral tasks, can't one? And there u can test ICS.
From clear objectives to designing tasks, recording them, observing and coming to conclusions.
U can evaluate them yourself or involve students peers or another teacher. Also set a written test or a reflective composition... 

This is the link of the Canadian Language Benchmarks for helping students in communication skills:

Thanks, Kevin. 

Kevin: While the Canadian Language Benchmarks, IELTS, TOEFL, TOEIC and other standardized tests do indeed test interpersonal communication (skills) as any reputable test should (would you not agree?), they DO NOT separate ICS from L2 competence. And furthermore, your link only mentions IC in the singular sense, I found no acknowledgement that we're talking about a subset of skills such as the one you brought up: problem solving.

yes i would agree. any test should. Even something simple, such as the Bloom Taxonomy.

Then, when designing tests or any other material, we should take into account the emotional implications of any communicative act. But I don't know yet how to show and include them in lesson planning in a way that makes me happy. I'm on it, but i don't always succeed.

I perhaps would conduct Behavioral Interviews. Job interviews around specific skills and behaviors. Have used previously and students value the opportunity to use a widely used interviewing technique. 

<<I'm not sure ... the poper communication in fact )..>> --Assumpta

I'm not sure what you're trying to say either. Try using machine translation ( It works best when the language is clear and unambiguous with few figurative expressions (idioms, metaphors, phrasal verbs). In fact, I'm quite confident that had you written your <<I'm not fact).>> reply in simple L1 and used machine translation, I'd have no trouble understanding you.

<<I perhaps would conduct Behavioral Interviews.>> --Kevin
But what others have mentioned here is that self-reporting is insufficient for a number of reasons.

Since David's been the only one to post any actual SLA reference to ICS, I thought I'd search myself. In about a dozen book titles on the subject of assessment and evaluation in ELT, I found only 4 references to ICS---surprising in itself. Three referred to BICS which I've already dismissed as a misnomer, and the 4th referred, not to learners' ICSs, but to those of test examiners, ironically. At issue is the affect examiner personality differences might have on candidate exam results:

>>The final point concerns the test design, that is, the operationalization of the underlying construct. Communicative competence or effectiveness is an abstraction that is rarely defined with any precision in terms of actual test performance. What this means is that, as we saw here, differences in interviewer technique that might affect candidates’ performance in relation to the construct are also not easily predictable. Differences in interviewer behaviour that might on the surface be taken as evidence of the natural variation that occurs among native speakers (and therefore evidence of test validity), may, as was the case here, turn out to be relevant to the construct. It is, it seems, simply not appropriate to assume that the variation that is allowed to occur is not relevant to the construct, especially where the construct can be interpreted as encompassing interpersonal communication skills.<< ---'Language Testing and Assessment: An Advanced Resource Book' © 2007 by Routledge Press

Another text along the same lines warns examiners against this:

>>McCarthy and Carter (1994) and Hoey (1991) have seemed to observe a similar tendency in learners’ discourse, i.e., transactional rather than interactional discourse. Such spoken discourse lacks the interpersonally-oriented language functions and elaborated configurations of speech acts which are expected in English conversation. Thus, McCarthy and Carter cautioned that the lack of such discourse features in EFL learners’ spoken discourse can be due to both the sociolinguistic variables existing in learners’ cultural backgrounds and to the NS perception of NNS discourse styles.<< ---'English Language Assessment and the Chinese Learner © 2010 by Routledge Press

With this last reference, I can't help but wonder whether those with higher ICS would not only acquire L2 faster and to a higher level, but additionally be that much better equipped to adapt socio-linguistically. I don't know if anyone's tested it but thickness of accent may be one indicator of this:

>>Interpersonal interaction provides a range of challenges for anyone joining a new place of work and workplace small talk certainly represents one such challenge. Skilful management of small talk is extremely important in accounting for successful integration into the workplace, but it is an area that is often overlooked. This paper examines the challenges presented by social talk at work for two particular groups: newly immigrant workers for whom English is a second language, and workers with an intellectual disability.<<---'Second Language Needs Analysis' Cambridge University Press, © 2005

It seems you are trying to find a correlation between ICS and better competence in Language acquisition. However, many excellent L2 students lack all ICS and vice versa. I find the connection quite feeble.

<< It seems you are trying to find a correlation between ICS and better competence in Language acquisition. >> --Rachel

Not necessarily better, just faster and perhaps much easier.

<<...many excellent L2 students lack all ICS and vice versa.>> --Rachel

Huh? Impossible either under Cummins' (limited) BICS definition or the (broader) definition I found:
> Insightfulness – The ability to understand other people's words and intentions.
> Verbal Expression – The ability to express yourself verbally in a way that is clear, concise, and effective.
> Assertiveness – Your ability to express your opinions and ideas.
> Listening Skills – The ability to take turns and listen appropriately to others during conversation.
> Emotional Management – The ability to control your own emotions in conversation and the ability to properly respond to others' emotions.

This begs the question, how would you define ICS, Rachel?

<< In this case u sound to me a bit pretentious, but u seem to be an expert.>> -- Assumpta

Even if I were an expert, I'd like to think I'd be asking at least as many questions and questioning at least as many assumptions. The greatest thing you can do for me is to join me in my quest or show me where I've erred in my assumptions.

So far, I've only looked at Assessment & Evaluation. Perhaps it wasn't the best place to start. Next, I'll broaden my search into general theory and research... and maybe, I'll have to extend my search beyond English Language Teaching. If anyone has an (E)LT (research) journal subscription, those of us still interested in this thread would appreciate you sharing with us what you can find via an archival search. If you're into collecting LI endorsements, I'll happily endorse you for research or whatever you're still missing. ;-)

Ferd Roseboom
Picture, if you will, an ICS spectrum based on my list. At the far left are those afflicted with Autism or other mental disability---inept socially and linguistically. On the far right of the spectrum are those in optimum mental health. They're highly intelligent (why shouldn't they be?), caring and considerate, emotionally and intellectually mature (from a very young age*), aware of themselves, others and their needs and, needless to say, are generally well-liked by others, assertive without being aggressive, and generally in control of their lives.

Given the same motivation to learn the language (is that even possible?), is it not reasonable to assume that those at the far right will progress much easier and faster than those in the middle? And if that's the case, are we spending too much time focusing on the teaching end of things and not enough on what prevents the learning from a much more fundamental framework than we have so far?

* latter far right person might also have started life left of the center and matured as they got older.

Rachel Berko-Gabay
The spectrum affects all learning not only SLA. As to mental disability I guess you ment cognitive? mental health is a different issue.
regarding my definition of ICS. I would define it succintly as the ability to achieve one's goals when conversing with other people. Among the elements contributing to that we would find body language a d self confidence which are personality traits. ( realm of psychology&sociology)

<<..regarding my definition of ICS. I would define it succintly as the ability to achieve one's goals when conversing with other people.>> --Rachel

But such goals invariably extend to persuasion, intimidation, threatening, or bullying.

<<As to mental disability I guess you ment cognitive? mental health is a different issue.>>

Why would a cognitive impairment, be it temporary or permanent (a mental disability), not fall under the term 'mental health'? It might surprise some to know that the same tablet that can relieve the pain of a migraine can also relieve the pain of loneliness.

Evaluating / testing ICS should be based in pragmatics of linguistics: getting things done. I work with highly educated and experienced newcomers to Canada with high (often native-like) linguistic levels. The elements of their success are strongly rooted in their ability to interview well, resolve conflict, motivate others and overall "be likeable" to their peers and employers. Our ELT courses are designed to help newcomers get hired in commensurate positions and then progress in their careers. The cross-cutting theme in these courses is Canadian workplace culture - the communication and behaviours sought after by the employers. Learning local cultural idiosyncrasies is what helps our clients achieve their goals.

<<Evaluating / testing ICS should be based in pragmatics of linguistics: getting things done.>>

Then, let's say an employer needs a small percent of staff trained in Language X. None of them currently speak it nor have ever studied it---they're all unilingual. The employer is confident that with your extensive language teaching experience, you'll know best whom to select---the personal characteristics and qualities that successful language learners possess. Is such confidence misplaced?

David: I've just read your two posts but am confused as to why you would think I would want to test ELLs using an ICS test IN ENGLISH. Perhaps my previous post might clarify what my ultimate aim is in all this.

Good ICS are not language related or impeded by culture. People who possess good ICS competencies would have the adequate flexibility and adaptability in any language and culture would not be a barrier for them.

<<Good ICS are not language related... >>

I'd say, "not language-dependent", but otherwise I agree with you. Seems to me that ICS features prominently, not exclusively, in what characteristics and qualities successful language learners posses.

Culture is very much related to pragmatics. Firstly, there is a different kind of pausing in turn-taking, the Finnish taking much longer pauses while the Mediterranean etc speakers with hardly any. Secondly, levels of formality and expression differ significantly from culture to culture and so does how direct one should be in their everyday interaction. Even the title one calls strangers by such as 'uncle' or 'aunt' or 'sir' or 'madam' will determine the level of respect and trust as well as social distance that is expected in that context. This can change with time, which is why those who move away can experience culture shock on their return.

Ferd, the answer is simple. Select those who are keen on doing it.

<<...the answer is simple. Select those who are keen on doing it.>> --Katerina

If only it were that simple... (to test the various motivations through self-reporting). I'm surprised no one's suggested language learning aptitude tests such as MLAT, DLAB, PLAB, or this newer one:

>>>>> The Cognitive Ability for Novelty in Acquisition of Language - Foreign (CANAL-F) is a test measuring language aptitude, or whether and how well a person can learn a second language. It was developed by Grigorenko, Sternberg, and Ehrman in 2000,[1] using "acquisition processes" as a theoretical base.[2] This is a completely new approach to the concept of language aptitude.[3] The test uses an artificially-constructed language called Ursulu to test for language aptitude.

CANAL-F was developed as an alternative to another aptitude test, the Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT).[4] The MLAT is strongly associated with a language teaching methodology known as the audiolingual method, largely popular in the 1960s and characterized by repetitive drills. The audiolingual method fell out of vogue in the 1970s, and because of this many of the instruments associated with it, such as the MLAT, also lost favour. The MLAT, while used successfully in a number and variety of different contexts, does not reflect the latest thinking in how language is acquired, developed and maintained in the mind of the learner, so a new tool was desired which could better test the revised theories of language, especially insofar as cognitive theory is concerned.[5]

While based on Carroll's theoretical work, the CANAL-F takes a slightly different approach to assessing foreign language aptitude. The test aims to measure:
> ability for acquiring vocabulary,
> comprehending extended texts,
> extracting grammatical rules and
> making semantic inferences

all in the context of the major underlying feature of language aptitude being an ability for the learner to cope with novelty and ambiguity.[4]

Rod Ellis points out that despite CANAL-F using a new formulation of language aptitude as its base, the results it gets are very similar to those of the MLAT. He says, however, that one advantage of CANAL-F is that it "does afford the possibility of achieving a closer match between specific aptitudes and specific psycholinguistic processes".[3] <<<<<<<

Seems I'm not the only one in ELT to take issue with BICS. The following distinction comes from a 2009 Oxford University Press publication called 'Exploring Learner Language':
> interpersonal communication: interactive communication primarily intended to maintain social relationships
> referential communication: communication in which information is exchanged
between two speakers, by means of successful acts of reference. 

Dragana and Katerina, I agree with you two. At a fundamental level, cultures "create" the persons within. In community oriented cultures, the imperative would be to have members that are "prepared" to successfully negotiate their own community oriented more complex "pathways" in their culture. In the individualism inclined cultures, the imperative would be to have members that are "prepared" to be markedly more self reliant. Each would appear a little "odd" to another!

Religious and Sociopolitical conditioning undermines an individuals genetic uniqueness and their ability to look within to discover it and their own inner authority that challenges all outer authority. By the time the ego develops (around 24) it becomes a bundle of fictitious belief systems and pretend to know who and what it is, it knows neither...

<<At a fundamental level, cultures "create" the persons within.>>

Why is it that the most fluent L2 speakers seem to the least constrained by their L1 culture and vice versa, not unlike those Chinese toddlers who cry at the sight of me or hide behind their mothers?

Some or more truth here, Ferd! Feeling a little or more "dissonance" is normal - when "faced" with a very different looking person for the first time!

Thanks, Robert. I like your thoughts on the subject.

Tal & Robert: Can you tell me how what you say affects the speed or ease of SLA? Given what I'd said about the importance of mother-infant bonding on empathy and intelligence, seems the one who clings to their culture is not unlike the toddler hiding behind it's mother, afraid to explore the new. New research suggests there may even be neural mechanisms in children whose immune system, physical health, or mental health has been compromised, to suppress exploratory behavior.

Regarding CANAL-F, MLAT and other language aptitude tests:

I'd only ever heard of MLAT but not through any TEFL course, not even the CELTA. Not sure why that is. No book I have even mentions the CANAL-F although it's 15 years old. As I said earlier on, the value of first thinking through something before looking at what others have done is to consider what they may have overlooked. I don't know enough about the CANAL-F or any other language aptitude test to comment, let alone compare it to what an ICS might reveal. I'm hoping to hear from others.