Body Language and Language

Mar 30, 2010 4:26:33 AM / by Rachel Reardon

Those of you who have seen the all-time classic film The Remains of the Day, with Antony Hopkins and Emma Thomson, may remember the “book" scene, in which she tries to grab a book from his hand. In this scene, you can unmistakably “hear” their feelings although neither of them speaks.

Language is considered by many as a means of communication. Nevertheless, verbal communication sometimes hides true feelings and thoughts: what we utter has gone through a filter and when it surfaces it may not represent exactly what we want to say and what we really think; as if our id is hindered by our superego, in Freudian terms. There is, however, another form of communication, the nonverbal, also called body language: it consists of our facial expressions, gestures and body movements, which we use in order to send out information about how we feel. When we listen to someone, we always try to discern what they really mean by watching their face or gestures.

The good, or bad, thing is that we cannot hide our feelings. We may say one thing, but our body language won’t hide what we really mean, which oftentimes may be the opposite of what we say. Like Stevens, we may be able to control our voice but our body will betray what we think and how we feel. Stevens and Kenton never exchanged a tender word but their body language expressed what they meant behind their typical “Mr.” and “Miss.” (Both Hopkins and Thompson proved what great artists they are here.)

Gestures are part of the body language and they are important in learning a language. While you may be used to accompanying your speech with gestures, you may need to be very careful when using the same gestures in a foreign country to accompany and boost your newly acquired phrases. Along with learning a language, try to learn these differences.

In Greece, for example, to say “no” you toss your head upward moving slightly the chin forward while clicking your tongue against the alveolar ridge (no, it’s not as complicated as it may sound) or you just raise your eyebrows doing the same click! (By the way, the Greek “no” sounds like Ok, so it may be difficult to say “no” in Greek either way!) In other countries, to say “no” you move your head right to left and left to right, which in Greece suggests that you feel pity for someone. Or, in Greece, extending your hand with the fingers apart is very insulting. However well you apologize, being proficient in Greek may not solve the issue!

Are there any gestures that are a no-no in your country?

Topics: Language Learning and Culture

Rachel Reardon

Written by Rachel Reardon

Rachel works with some of the coolest marketers, designers, and writers around to help Mango look and sound its best. She loves bold colors, old books, the Montréal metro, and Star Trek. She has conflicting feelings about the Oxford comma.

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