Magazine topic: 
Life around the world
Total votes: 94

Language learning beyond words

by : 
'I speak two languages, Body and English'

- Mae West

Did you know that about 55% of communication is nonverbal, so in fact, our bodies are actually saying more than our words? I find that the key to a successful conversation in a foreign language (in any language I should say) is to speak to people not only in their spoken language but also with the body language they know best.

Britain, along with much of Northern Europe, is classed as a 'non-contact' culture hence, 'personal space' is very important to us. In a formal context we would often greet each other with a handshake. Informally, but less frequently, my British friends and I would greet with a hug but hardly ever would we greet with a kiss on the cheek let alone a hug and two kisses on the cheek! Here in the south of Italy, and in many different parts of the world, people of both sexes greet with two kisses on the cheek, use a lot of hand gestures and are very tactile. In other words, little personal space is left between people when interacting.

Having studied Italian at university, I have learnt to successfully communicate in spoken Italian and living in Vibo Valentia I have started picking up the locals' body language. Sometimes, I find myself not knowing what hand gestures to use when expressing myself. However, what I do know for sure is that keeping my personal space intact would be denying myself the opportunity to appreciate Italian body language and fully immerse myself in the culture.

5 Body Language tips:
  1. Vary gestures; head, arms and hands (mirroring gestures is a way to start).
  2. Facial expressions; always smile at people! They say that smiling is the most powerful unspoken way to communicate friendliness.
  3. Eye contact, because 'the eyes are the window to the soul.'
  4. Don't worry about personal space. Italians are a tactile people so moving away or keeping your distance may be interpreted as unfriendly.
  5. Touch; when meeting and departing always shake hands.  

Have you ever noticed any differences in the body language of other cultures?


gianggiang's picture
gianggiang 28 October, 2015 - 12:44

There are differences in the body language of other cultures, but our world has two languages which people in different countries can understand without translating and noticing . They are football and music.
Most of us concerned about football. Although you rarely play soccer, you know about Messi. CR7,....and you are eager for Worldcup...
Music- I'm sure it is a part of our lives. Music is the best medicine to heal our pains. Music is said to be the melody of life. If someone says that they don't listen to music, they are telling lies, There is a fact that music always exists beside them. We can feel beauties of songs although we don't know what the singers are singing.
......................Once upon a time, there was a little boy who played football so well that he attracted a little girl's attentions. Every day, she often stood on the balcony to see him play soccer on the schoolyard. The girl wanted to say something to him but she felt embarrassed. One day, when she was strolling in the park ( No, exactly it was a large garden), she came across a ball rolling on the grass. The boy was coming behind her. He smiled at her and said: " The weather was very great,did you want to play soccer ?" It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship......The girl couldn't forget the days when she and the boy listened music together on the way to home after they had practised playing football. They were memorable moments.
Time went by neither slowly nor quickly, both of them grew up. The boy had to move to Czech because of his parents' work, the girl still lived in Vietnam. Before he left, he had winked at her and hold his middle finger and ring finger.He said goodbye without explaining the meaning of his gesture. The girl only knew that it was a body language.
Time can make you forget lots of things, and time helped the girl forget the boy. They didn't keep in touch any more.
...Only after did she realise the meaning of his gesture, he just wanted to express " I love you" and " My eyes take your photos"
No relationships last forever, but nobody can forget beautiful memories in the past.
The little girl's mother said that nothing was more memorable than childhood, and nothing was lovely than children's loves. Their love was honest, simple, sweet, Their childhoods were a bow of cherries.
The special languages: football and music made two children closer whereas body language built a barrier between them.
Until now, the girl still believes that:
If their childhood were blue skies, those special languages would be white clouds.
If their childhood were green grass, those special language would be golden flowers.
If their childhood were............
A part of their childhood was created by those special languages.
And... I was the little girl in that story !
I speak four languages: Vietnamese, body, music and football.
- gianggiangphi.

34 users have voted.
hadia's picture
hadia 30 June, 2016 - 11:50

Whoa! What a lovely story Giang ;-)
You know what Giang??
Smile is a Language that even child can understand.
Isn't it amazing??
True Indeed. Sometimes, more than a language, gestures, actions and little lovely deeds speak much. I guess that's why someone rightly said, "Actions Speak Louder than Words"
Your world of Football and Music seems so fascinating and mesmerizing :-) I guess I sometimes too feel in some other words whenever I listen some music having lovely lyrics. they really have a magical effect on us!
But your story had a meaningful yet sad ending :( Children often have beautiful way of expressing love. They have selfless aims and lovable means of inducing feelings of joy, happiness and love to others. They are adorable. I miss my life of being a little girl :-) It was amazing. And lovely too. No worries, no sadness, no tensions! Just Happiness and Love :)

36 users have voted.
Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
Jonathan - Coor... 28 October, 2015 - 14:07

What a charming story. Thanks for sharing it with us. :)
Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

38 users have voted.
gianggiang's picture
gianggiang 29 October, 2015 - 04:51

Thank you.
... I am curious if you have a part-time job in a bakery. The man in the picture is wearing an apron. ( I hope my question is not a spam.)

32 users have voted.
Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
Jonathan - Coor... 29 October, 2015 - 10:14

Very observant! :) No, I don't work in a bakery but I do enjoy learning how to cook and bake various things, and this photo was taken on one of those occasions. Thanks!
Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

36 users have voted.
gianggiang's picture
gianggiang 29 October, 2015 - 22:47

I am curious to know why my story ( as you 've said it is charming) only has 1 vote, but my silly question has two votes. It's unfair!

31 users have voted.