Лупій О.О. Facial expressions as one of the parts of body language used in teaching English

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Лупій Оксана Олексіївна – студентка Педагогічного інституту Київського університету імені Бориса Грінченка, напрям підготовки «Початкова освіта», кафедра іноземних мов і методик їх навчання Київського університету імені Бориса Грінченка

У статті розглядається явище виразу обличчя як один з найбільш часто використовуваних видів мови частин тіла у викладанні англійської мови в навчальних закладах. Автор дає визначення мови тіла, показує його види та їх аспекти, описує характерні особливості, функції, значну роль виразів обличчя і питання про їх застосування в процесі навчання англійської мови.

Ключові слова: мова тіла, вирази обличчя, почуття, функції, важливість, викладання англійської мови.

В статье рассматривается явление выражения лица как один из наиболее часто используемых видов языка частей тела в преподавании английского языка в учебных заведениях. Автор дает определение языка тела, показывает его виды и их аспекты, описывает характерные особенности, функции, значительную роль выражений лица и вопрос об их применении в процессе обучения английского языка.

Ключевые слова: язык тела, выражения лица, чувства, функции, важность, преподавание английского языка.

The article dwells upon the phenomenon of facial expressions as one of the most commonly used parts of body language in teaching English at educational establishments. The author gives the definition of the body language, reveals its parts and their aspects, describes face expressions’ features, functions, significant role, and the matter of their application in teaching English.

Key words: body language, facial expression, feelings, functions, significance, teaching English.

“Body language is a very powerful tool. We had body language before we had speech, and apparently, 80% of what you understand in a conversation is read through the body, not the words.”

Deborah Bull


Problem setting

Nowadays, when English education demands learners to communicate using two or three foreign languages, we need constant undertaking reforms of teaching foreign languages methods, searching new effective ways to support them, and making it possible to use all the time in classroom teaching. Obviously, it is body language as a kind of non-verbal language that is considered to play a very important role in the interaction between a teacher and a learner’s interaction. Namely, it helps learners understand what their teachers mean, and the teachers – to deepen their learners’ understanding and memories.

There exist different movements, shifts in the whole of teachers or learners’ body, gestures, eye contact, facial expressions that indicate what is going on, say something about us, show our feelings and emotions, such as fear, happiness, sorrow, and whatever happens on the inside may be reflected on the outside. Therefore, teachers should know how to utilize different facial expressions to deal with different situations that appear in the classroom. If a teacher could use his or her facial expressions well, he or she would create good studying atmosphere and enhance his teaching effect. Consequently, we believe, our investigation of facial expression as one of the parts of body language is actual today especially in classroom English teaching.

Last scientific researches and publications analysis

The problem of body language as one of the commonly used means in teaching English has been investigated by a number of researchers: Mori K, Naruse S, Hashimoto T, Tsuda Y, Takahara M, and Kagami S. (developmental changes in facial expression recognition in Japanese school-age children.), Ekman P. (cross-cultural studies of facial expression), Bethany D., Rachael J. (facial Expressions in Nonverbal Communication: Importance, Lesson & Quiz), Marracco M. (body Language Facts: How We Communicate Without Words), Mehrabian A. (how we communicate feelings nonverbally), Goodfellow S and Nowicki S. (the ability to identify emotion in facial expressions of 7-year-old children.), Grinspan D, Hemphill A. and Nowicki S Jr. (improving the ability of elementary school-age children to identify emotion in facial expression.), Mancini G, Agnoli S, Baldaro B, (facial expressions of emotions: recognition accuracy and affective reactions during late childhood.), and others.

Formulation of the article’s purpose and setting tasks

It has been a recognized fact that in classroom English teaching it is impossible not to communicate. All communication is either verbal or non-verbal. Verbal communication includes all spoken language, whereas non-verbal communication comprises body language and non-spoken vocalizations. As compared to verbal communication, non-verbal communication is less discrete, more vulnerable to understanding, more likely to be context dependent, more likely to contain the truth, all communication is either vernal or non-verbal [6].

Actually, teachers always use body language in communication in classroom teaching. They talk with their whole body and sometimes their body says much more than their words can do. Looking at someone, for example, means something completely different than not looking at someone. Even our very presence conveys a message. Teachers send their messages to learners of English with their facial expressions, our eyes, body posture, etc. – we say one thing, yet our body language reveals something different. Some linguists have admit that it is harder to lie to a blind person, because a blind person depends more on the sound of the voice than the words we use.

It should be mentioned that teachers’ awareness of body language will affect how they act and react to learners, and how the learners react to teachers.

Our investigation will explain some ways in which we communicate non-verbally using body language, mainly face expression, so that teachers and learners can use these signs and signals to communicate more effectively in classroom teaching English.

The statement of basic material of investigation

Being in contact with learners of English in classroom teaching, teachers can’t help communicating. Every now and then, there is a situation when a teacher or a learner really doesn’t believe what a person is saying. As usual, both teachers and learners are confused by a feeling that all is not right or a sense that something sounds false. Sometimes, it happens a teacher hears learners’ saying “Yes”, yet at the same time, the teacher sees the learners’ shaking their heads “No”. It occurs because of the difference between the students’ words and teachers’ understanding what they say and vise versa, that comes from non-spoken language or non-verbal communication in which people can express 935 of their feelings, and is known as ‘body language”. The more every participant of the English teaching process develops his or her awareness of the signs and signals of body language, the more it’s easier for him or her to understand each other and the communication becomes more effective [3].

Albert Sidney (or Sydney) Hornby, an English grammarian, lexicographer, and pioneer in the filed of English language learning and teaching defines body language as a term for different forms of communication using body movements or gestures instead of, sounds, verbal language, or other ways of communication. Body language is the process of communicating what you are feeling or thinking by the way you place and move your body rather than by words [8].

Linguists claim that body language is a kind of non-verbal communication and it forms parts of category of paralanguage, which describe all forms of human communication that are not verbal language. And they emphasize that face and eyes are the most expressive means of body communication [5].

Actually, body language includes many non-verbal behaviours: body movements, gestures (hands and arms, feet and legs, head and torso), shifts of body, postures, touch, muscle tension, eye contact, facial expressions, skin colouring (“flushed red”), special behaviour, breathing rate and perspiration, use of tone of voice, the rate of speech and the pitch of the voice, intonation, etc., used in communication in classroom teaching English are all parts of body language. It is believed to deliver different information, making a set of system which is the same as language signal (Yu Aihong, 2002). For example: A smile and handshake indicate welcome, waving one’s hand means “goodbye”, nodding the head is a way to show agreement while shaking it means disagreement.

It should be mentioned that the American psychologist Albert Mehrabian points out that there are three elements of face to face communication: words, body language, and voice tone. He emphasizes that at least 70% of the communication between people takes place through body language and tone of voice [1].

In the article we investigate one of the parts of body language, i.e., facial expressions which are a primary means of conveying social information between human beings (in our case – between teachers and learners).

It is a well-known idea that the face of a human being is wildly expressive. Face expression is “the index of heart”. Whatever people feel deep within themselves is at once reflected in their face making facial expressions an integral part of communication. Relatable Post #6283 runs: “Best friends can talk with only facial expressions.”

All facial organs on human face indicate facially expressive messages. These are: hear, forehead, eyebrows, eyes, mouth, chin, nose, lips, ears, teeth, tongue, etc., e.g.: a quivery smile is a cue of suppressed sadness [5].

Investigators distinguish 21 human facial expressions: from happy to awed

happy happily surprised fearfully surprised
sad happily disgusted fearfully disgusted
fearful sadly fearful angrily surprised
angry sadly angry angrily disgusted
surprised sadly surprised disgustedly surprised
appalled (not pictured) fearfully angry hatred

Here, we’d like to illustrate 20 facial expressions which can be used by teachers in classroom English training.

26 Lupii.jpg

The reasons why facial expressions appear may be as follows:

• facial expressions help us convey message;

• facial expressions make conversations more interesting;

• facial expressions give us an idea what others are thinking or feeling;

• some facial expressions show us if others understand what we are saying

• facial expressions can make someone want to talk to you.

Scientists recognize the idea that body language may vary between individuals, and between different cultures and nationalities. That is why it is very important to verify and confirm the signals that you read, by questioning the individual and getting to know the person [6].

An American psychologist Paul Ekman believes that the human face can show thousands of different expressions. Studying human facial expressions across cultures, the investigator found that some emotional responses – like those for anger, happiness, disgust, sadness, fear, and surprise – are universally understood across different societies. For example, happiness, on the one hand, is signaled by an open or closed mouth pulled up into a smile. In the case of genuine happiness, the crow’s feet wrinkles appear at the side of sparkling open eyes. The eyebrows will rise slightly. Anger, on the other hand, can be demonstrated by wide and staring eyes. As a rule, the interlocutor’s eyebrows pull down, especially towards the middle of the forehead, his or her nostrils cam flare, and the mouth flattens out. His/her teeth can be clenched, the jaw set forward, with the chin jutting out in a challenging position [9].

The smallest movements around the eyes and the mouth of the communicators may signal lots of what they are feeling and thinking. These tiny “microexpressions” are frequently the most revealing of their true thoughts. They might be trying to be positive, but their face is blaring out signals of negativity as their mouth pulls downwards or their eyes become narrow. Being deceitful they tend to raise their eyebrows. Fear or displeasure can be signaled by a grimace on the speaker’s face, impatience or dissatisfaction – by pursed lips, nervousness or uncertainty – by chewing on and biting lips [2].

Some other researchers have come to a conclusion that facial expressions may not be universal. They claim that people from different cultures across the world read facial expressions differently. They state that the interpretation of facial expressions by Westerners and East Asians differs immensely. For example, East Asians read feelings and emotions focusing mostly on people’s eyes, while Europeans and Americans scan the whole of the face. Rachael Jack, a researcher from Glasgow University in Scotland mentions that Easterners and Westerners look at different face features in order to read facial expressions. More over Westerners look at the eyes and the mouth in equal measure, whereas Easterners favour the eyes and neglect the mouth [2].

Having examined the use of facial expressions by teachers and learners in classroom English teaching – and everybody knows that English studying is rather difficult for most of learners – we observed an interesting situation: when learners gave wrong answers, teachers of English didn’t criticize them with an angry face, on the contrary, they kept smiling to carry out a magic function of it – to encourage learners, to keep them optimistic and perky in English learning. Good teachers should take this ‘warm and kind’ smile into the classroom, use it with love make learners feel comfortable, conquer learners’ mind, and motivate their enthusiasm [7].

Effective use of facial expressions may immensely improve teachers and learners’ relationship, to enhance learners’ efficiency, cognitive ability, capability, to make the teachers and learners to get knowing better each other, to create a studying environment relaxing, to activate learners’ interest in studying the English language, to and at last to deepen their imagination and impression.

It has been noticed by pedagogues that in the classroom English teaching the majority of learners are often much more attentive to what their teachers do but not what they say. In this case, teachers should use various kinds of face expressions combined with words to organize their teaching activities, help arouse learners’ interest, be more attentive, learn better, and motivate them be enthusiastic [10].

Teachers should also remember that using different facial expressions help them bring in their own thoughts, ideas and viewpoints more vividly, lively and carefully, help draw learners’ attention, make teachers themselves ensure that learners understand them clearly. Accordingly, teaching activities must be carried out without confusion and misunderstanding.

Further more, the use of facial expressions in classroom may improve teachers’ enthusiasm as well, and reduce learners’ weariness, indifference, apathy, etc. in classes, mainly in the afternoon resulting in English teaching be facilitated.

Researchers stress that use of facial expressions signify teachers’ intention more accurately and effectively, simplify their instructions, stimulate learners’ interest, optimize the purpose of teaching English, enhance teaching effectiveness, and more over improve learners’ ability of listening, speaking, reading, etc. [10].

In our opinion, it is important to servey concrete application of facial expressions in different aspects in English teaching.

Firstly, teachers use facial expressions in listening. Scientists point out that listening is a significant part of communication in classroom English training. The basic purpose in English training is to understand others and be understood by them. Using facial expressions in the process of learners’ listening ability development teachers achieve better effect. For example, saying “Betty is a very pretty girl”, a teacher opens his or her eyes widely with his or her mouth opened. Accordingley, learners will be deeply impressed that the girl is pretty.

Secondly, the use of facial expressions in speaking is rather significant. It is considered that the spoken language is one of the important ways of communication between teachers and learners in class. Some learners can be shy, and as a rule, they can read and write English very well, but they can speak English a little, or some of them cannot speak English at all. Thus, a teacher should try to develop the learners’ ability of speaking English. Teachers need to use new words, word combinations and sentences through vivid facial expressions and adequate gestures introducing themselves to new comers. They can smile saying ‘Hello’ to learners, shake hands with some learners saying “Glad to meet you”, etc. [7]

Facial expressions play a positive role in class teaching, and but in shaping learners’ character as well. Learners often respect their teachers of English, they can even immitate their teachers’ words, gestures, movements, facial expressions, and sometimes they do it subconsciously. Consequently, teachers of English should understand body language, especially facial expressions correctly, and master the methods and principles of their use stably [10].

Nowadays, as future primary school teachers, who are also in charge of teaching English, we should help our learners grasp and master the English language by means of new teaching technique, and keep in mind that this role can be given to facial expressions.

We believe, it is helpful to show how facial expressions can help pupils decipher emotion while playing a game in classroom English teaching the author of which is Gwen Dewar, Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, founder and author of Parent Science [4].

She suggests that a teacher should collect photographs of people making different facial expressions. To make your own, get some models and ask them to do a little method acting, recalling a situation when they felt the target emotion and then making the corresponding expression. It would be ideal if you try to use multiple models for each emotion. The collection of yours should include facial expressions of: happy, sad, fear, anger, disgust, surprise, for these ones are considered by Paul Ekman to be basic emotions, and the expressions people use to communicate them seem to be rather similar across cultures.

Besides, it is also helpful to add more subtle emotional expressions, like those ones which are associated with such feelings as boredom or pride as they are supposed to be more variable across cultures.

Before using your new cards with kids, test them out on adults, asking them to guess what emotion each expression represents. If adults have difficulty identifying some of the pictures, don’t use them.

When you have a good set of photos, turn them into cards. One way to do this is to attach a copy of each photo to heavy card stock, and then laminate them. For a cheap alternative to lamination, cover the cards with transparent packing tape instead. Alternatively, you can buy cards especially designed for the purpose [4].

And in the end, we’d like put a song “The expression on my face” in the article.


The expression on my face,

Is like an open book.

You can read just how I’m feeling.

By the way I look.


Show me a happy face,

Show mw a sad face.

Show me a mad face,

Show me a tired face,

Show me a scared face.

To put all in a shell, we ensure you that facial expressions are immensely interesting, sometimes funny, and always useful and helpful in the classroom teaching English.

Conclusion and the results of the investigation

Everything mentioned above in our investigation confirms that the study of facial expressions as one of the parts of body language is a very important part of communication and extremely useful in the classroom English training and ordinary English-speaking communicators as well.

The article provides an opportunity to get acquainted with body language and facial expressions definitions, various types, functions, roles, significance, necessities, importance and use of facial expressions. And we have also proved that there is much more to be understood about the messages we send and receive through the use of nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions.

Now, we hope, teachers of English know how to make full use of facial expressions in order to get the best teaching effect.

Teachers and learners should be expressive with their face. Teachers’ facial expressions can be extremely helpful for training English. Actually, their facial expressions tend to dictate how learners feel about what is discussed in class. Teachers need to wear an open, excited look and students take their cue. A smile of a teacher helps everybody instinctively know that a lighthearted discussion is afoot. Truly, a teacher can always shoot a darting glance at any misbehaving learners.

Teachers and learners can learn to read each other more easily by becoming more aware of facial expression and understanding what it might mean. This provides a better position for them to communicate much more effectively. They can also become more aware of the messages conveying to them by increasing understanding of each other.

In our further investigation we are going to observe eye contact as one of the parts of body language and its application in different aspects in the classroom English teaching.


  1. Albert Mehrabian. How we communicate feelings nonverbally (Psychology Today, Cassette Recording No. 20170). – New York: Ziff Davis, 1978. – P. 107
  2. Bethany Davis. Facial Expressions in Nonverbal Communication: Importance, Lesson & Quiz. – [Електронний ресурс] – Режим доступу: http://education-portal.com/academy/lesson/facial-expressions-in-nonverbal-communication-importance-lesson-quiz.html
  3. Goodfellow S. and Nowicki S. Social adjustment, academic adjustment, and the ability to identify emotion in facial expressions of 7-year-old children. – [Електронний ресурс] – Режим доступу: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19928317
  4. Grinspan D, Hemphill A, and Nowicki S. Jr. Improving the ability of elementary school-age children to identify emotion in facial expression. – [Електронний ресурс] – Режим доступу: http://teach-lessons.com/facial-expressions-for-kids
  5. Mancini G, Agnoli S, Baldaro B, Bitti PE, Surcinelli P. Facial expressions of emotions: recognition accuracy and affective reactions during late childhood. J Genet Psychol. No. 147(6). – Bethesda, Maryland: PubMed, 2013. – Pp. 599-617.
  6. Muffy Marracco. Body Language Facts: How We Communicate Without Words. – [Електронний ресурс] – Режим доступу: https://blog.udemy.com/body-language-facts/
  7. Naruse S, Hashimoto T, Mori K, Tsuda Y, Takahara M, and Kagami S. Developmental changes in facial expression recognition in Japanese school-age children. J Med Invest. No. 60(1-2) – Tokyo: NICT, 2013. – 114-120.
  8. Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary of Current English. – Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. – 1732 p.
  9. Paul Ekman. Cross-cultural studies of facial expression. In P. Ekman (ed): Darwin and facial expression: A century of research in review. – [Електронний ресурс] – Режим доступу: https://www.paulekman.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Facial-Expression.pdf
  10. Yuanyuan Tai. The Application of Body Language in English Teaching. Journal of Language Teaching and Research, Vol 5, No. 5 (Sep. 2014). – Finland: Academy Publisher, 2014. – Pp. 1205-1209.

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