What is the purpose of communication? Is it to practice language? Maybe it is to polish our verb forms and word order? Perhaps it is to use all the vocabulary that we have learned in a language? Hopefully, we can all agree that this sort of “communication” that has not have a clear goal is not the reason that we engage in language learning. The reason we communicate in any language in any form is to convey or understand a message.
When it comes to understanding or conveying a message there are three ways of looking at the communication. The ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines put communication to these categories: interpersonal, interpretive and presentational. Each of these modes of communication looks at the message in unique way. A solid understanding of how a message is conveyed or understood when speaking, writing or reading is essential to using various tools needed to effectively communicate.
Presentational communication is one-way speaking or writing that does not allow for real time clarification of meaning. This means that the speaker/writer has to be sure to “fill in the gaps” and have a solid understanding of what the listener or reader knows or needs to know to interpret the message.
Conversely, interpretive communication is one-way listening or reading that also does not allow for real time clarification of meaning. When reading and listening in this context the reader/listener needs to fill in their own gaps in understanding. This may require accessing personal knowledge of the topic or doing research. The most effective tool is the use of context clues and identifying what is understood to make meaning globally.
Interpersonal communication, on the other hand, is two-way speaking that allows for clarification of the message in real time. When communicating interpersonally all speakers and listeners are involved in creating and interpreting the message and work together to assure that there is a collective understanding.
These tables below lay out the three modes of communication.