Universal Communication

Words by Liam Pressley

When enjoying a holiday in Italy a prominent thing that stands to many tourists is how animated Italians can be in expressing themselves with their hands. Big, grand and enthusiastic actions during conversations can immediately allay to an observer whether someone is nervous, excited, angry or just plain bored.

Even without speaking Italian we can often understand a gist of what the conversation is about.

This is because communicating through hand gestures and “acting out” what we mean is a universal language that often transcends the barriers between individuals who speak different languages.

The example above is a stereotype of Italian culture that we can and should apply in our classrooms to reinforce the point(s) we are making in lessons. This is especially handy when it comes to describing an unfamiliar word to our Breadies. The more we exaggerate a hand gesture while repeating a new word, the more our students will learn to equate this new vocabulary or verb to the matching gesture, thereby reinforcing their memorisation of the word.

Non-verbal cues that we omit when we engage in conversations with others can make a difference in how a message is perceived. Many gestures are universally recognised right off the bat, such as a finger on the lips to signify ‘be quiet,’ or the rapid tapping of one’s foot to mean ‘hurry up!. This is not always the case, however, and occasionally the way in which different cultures display outward, non-verbal communication can create a big difference in how the spoken language is interpreted.

How can we use hand gestures to enhance our Breadies’ learning, and how can we use gestures specific to Chinese culture to improve our overall teaching experience?

1 Forget the chest and point to the nose:

In Western culture, it is common to refer to ourselves in conversations by pointing to our own chests. In many instances in China, however, individuals will prefer to point to their own noses to signify a personal mention. For example, if you say “Hi, my name is Jim” while pointing to your nose, this reinforces to a Bready that you indeed are Jim.

This is useful for the next time you have a taster session with a young Bready and you are introducing yourself.

2 No pointing to the other person:

This one cannot be stressed enough.

In many instances in Chinese culture, pointing at someone else can be considered extremely rude. A young child with no prior exposure to Western culture may not fully comprehend this cultural difference and see it as offensive. Rather than point to the student when showing that you want them to speak, gesture to your Bready with an open palmed hand. This is seen as friendlier and less domineering.

3) Use open body language:

Business leaders, politicians and university lecturers often resort to specific body language techniques to enhance their arguments to audiences. Such protocols can make or break whether a public speaker seems engaging, aggressive or boring to listeners.

It is essential to always consider the stance we are taking while we are teaching to not appear intimidating to students. Little tools such keeping your arms open, refraining from covering your mouth while talking and never mumbling in lessons can have a greater impact than you think.

Open body language, coupled with a friendly and clear tone will immediately relax students and keep them engaged in the lesson content.

By being respectful of a few cultural differences in hand gesture communication, we can really assist our Breadies in learning and reinforcing everything from new vocabulary, to grammar and commonly used English expressions. Our Breadies may even start to act out these gestures themselves, as a tool for remembering what certain words or phrases mean.

It is difficult to ever be too over the top when introducing new concepts to our students so feel free to be as expressive as need be to get the point across!

This was first published in our September edition of the newsletter. If you would like to find more articles at this – don’t miss it in your inbox!