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Non-Verbal Communication: Using Sounds

woman talking on phone - non-verbal communication
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Imagine you’re speaking to someone on the phone. How do you know that the other person is listening? How can you tell if they’re impressed, surprised, or intrigued? Without any visual clues, it will be because of the sounds they use. This part of non-verbal communication (NVC) is vital, especially in a medical English situation. If you’re listening to someone speak, use sounds to show you’re paying attention, and that you’ve understood the other person’s meaning.

Additionally, if you’re studying for the OET, remember that the speaking sub-test will be recorded for the assessor. The assessor won’t be able to see your facial expressions, so using sounds is a great way to show you’re listening.

Different languages use different types of sounds. And each sound has different meanings. In English, the inflection of a sound is also important. Some sounds are level, some go down, some go up-down, or down-up.

Look at the guide below. You don’t have to learn many sounds. But it’s important to learn their pattern, and what they mean.

Try these easy sounds first

To show surprise: Oh! (upward inflection).

To show that you’re impressed: Wow. (level or downward inflection)

To show you’re listening: Mmm or uh-huh (level inflection)

Now try these more difficult ones:

To show you’re very interested or intrigued: Ooh or Mm-hmm or Uh-huh (up-down inflection on the final syllable).

To enquire further: Oh? (down-up inflection)

Although the sounds themselves can be easy, the inflection can be difficult. Learn by listening to people responding with sounds like the ones above. You can search for videos online, or pay attention the next time you watch or listen to a conversation between native English speakers.

This video tutorial from SLC will teach you more about how to demonstrate active listening in the speaking exam. Keep listening, and keep practising. Best of luck!

Stephanie Lam
About the author

Stephanie Lam is a writer, journalist, and English teacher. She specialises in writing fabulous words for the wellbeing and health industries.

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