Developing multimodal communicative competence: Insights from “semantic gravity” and the Knowledge Process framework

Yuanjun Dai, Zhiwei Wu

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


This article explores how EFL students' multimodal communicative competence can benefit from a pedagogical design, informed by “semantic gravity” (i.e. the extent to which meaning is dependent on a context) and the Knowledge Process framework (i.e. epistemic moves of experiencing, conceptualizing, analyzing, and applying). 68 Chinese EFL students were enrolled in a workshop-style course on becoming effective communicators. The study focused on a thematic unit about multimodal communication, which included two 90-min lessons and a take-home assignment (i.e. an essay on four subtitled versions of a nursery rhyme). The students were engaged in semantic waves between concrete multimodal products/practices and a multimodal metalanguage and pedagogical weaving between experiencing, conceptualizing, analyzing, and applying. Thematic analysis of the students’ essays showed that the students were able to (a) analyze the metafunctions in the four subtitled videos; (b) analyze modal contribution and intersemiotic complementarity; (c) evaluate the subtitles from a semiotic perspective; (d) offer ideas to recreate the subtitled nursery rhyme as a multimodal ensemble; and (e) recognize the multimodal nature of communication. Implications are drawn for EFL teachers to use “semantic gravity” and the Knowledge Process framework to move pedagogies in the direction of multimodality.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102561
Early online date14 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


  • EFL
  • Knowledge process framework
  • Multimodal communicative competence
  • Semantic gravity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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