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