Being able to communicate, speaking, understanding, reading and writing are skills that most of us use every day with many different people. We communicate to express our emotions, feelings, thoughts, ideas and opinions, to ask questions and give answers. In fact, communication is about making contact with others and being able to be understood.
As said in the previous assessment criteria, when communicating it is important to be aware of the communication needs, and to adapt our communication skills accordingly. Often, we change the way we communicate with others depending on the way they respond to us, and we are capable to adapt the way we communicate without even realising it (Burnham & Baker, 2010). When communicating with others, we need to consider the context in which we are working. For example, we should use more formal language and behaviour in a staff meeting. In the educational settings we will certainly have a range of types of planned communication with other adults. When dealing with other professionals, there will be meetings and discussions as well as more informal communication at different times.
When communicating with adults we must pay attention to any aspects that might cause difficulty for them in expressing themselves or comprehending what is being said. Some adults have communication difficulties and adaptations are necessary to carry out effective communication. As teaching assistants, we must be confident and professional when communicating with other adults. In fact, the principles of relationship building with children and adults in any context are the same: if others are comfortable in our company, they will be more likely to communicate effectively. If we are not able to adapt the way we communicate to meet the needs of others, we are not communicating effectively. When we talk about communications needs of adults, it is relevant to be sensitive. According to Kamen (2013), some adults may find it difficult to communicate effectively with others, in particular when there is a hearing/speech impairment or a physical disadvantage affecting their ability to articulate sounds, or when they speak little English. Sometimes, we might need to ask if they have special educational needs or if English is their second language. Probably the best way to find out how a person wants to communicate with us is to ask them.
Being a foreigner myself, I can relate to the common challenges of adapting communication to circumstances where I need to express myself properly. Although I have been living in England since 2011, sometimes I still can’t find the exact words I need, or I struggle to discuss complex subjects, not because I don’t know them, but simply because I just don’t have the same depth of vocabulary as I do in my native language. This was particularly frustrating when I moved to this country, as I believed that when trying to communicate, English people would have assumed that my intelligence could have been impaired. Also, I feel self-conscious because I have an accent, and this can ultimately build anxiety when speaking in groups. Learning a new language and effectively communicating is not just about using correctly verbs and pronunciation, and people whose first language is not English should allow themselves to make mistakes and just accept that will experience some discomfort. Therefore, we need to be willing, persistent, and even when it’s difficult we must keep trying to speak.
When communicating with adults, problems can arise if a child’s family is from a different country and has different social norms and/or language difficulties. Speaking clearly and providing opportunities for the parents to speak, can help to create a positive and trusting relationship. We must value all contributions and if they are struggling to express themselves properly, we need to be attentive and patient towards people using positive language and being approachable.
If our interlocutor’s hearing, sight or speech is impaired, our body language, facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice will become more important. In fact, it is important to ensure that we are facing our interlocutors making eye contact as this reassures them that we are engaged in the conversation and actively listening to them, and in doing this they can lip-read us. If a teacher or teaching assistant can use sign language, communication with adults with hearing problems can go much smoother. Also, it may be necessary to adapt our dialogues including written communication as an aid. The spoken word is not the only way in which we communicate. Indeed, communication happens through the way we respond to others, how quickly we respond to an email or a text message, how attentive we are when talking with someone, how we dress, our ability to use gestures, etc.
Whatever the problem is, as teaching assistants we must be confident and professional when communicating with other adults.