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26 | Language


BY ANNE MERRITT SOURCE: THE TELEGRAPH Something as simple as a smile can display friendliness in one culture, embarrassment in another, impatience in a third. Even silence means different things in different places.

GESTURES When trying to communicate through a language barrier, it?s natural to use gestures as a way of illustrating your point. We assume it?s helpful, since our words are being visually reinforced. Hand motions are, however, culturally relative, and the wrong gesture can inadvertently lead to confusion or offence. The thumbs-up sign is equivalent to the middle finger in Greece and Sardinia. Tapping your finger to your temple is a gesture to show memory in North America, but suggests insanity in Russia. Even nodding yes or shaking one?s head no can be misunderstood abroad. The yes-no gestures are reversed in countries like Bulgaria and Albania. In Turkey, ?no? is gestured by nodding the head up and back.

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Language learners will put a lot of time (and money) into mastering the vocabulary and structure of a foreign language without ever considering these non-linguistic parts of communication. To help you master these significant parts of communication ? or simply avoid making an embarrassing faux pas ? here are four non-verbal traits that vary from culture to culture...


It?s not just the individual gestures that can cause miscommunication, but the rate of gesturing. Some societies, like Italy and Spain, are known for talking with their hands. Others are more reserved with body movement as a form of politeness. In parts of East Asia, gesturing is considered boorish behaviour, and would be rude in a professional setting. SI L ENCE Though it can feel like a void in communication, silence can be very meaningful in different cultural contexts. Western cultures, especially North America and the UK, tend to view silence as problematic. In our interactions at work, school, or with friends, silence is uncomfortable. It is often perceived as a sign of inattentiveness or disinterest.

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Expats World Magazine - Issue 4 - Oktober 2017  

Expats World Magazine - Issue 4 - Oktober 2017