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Non–verbal Communication

  1. Communicating Nonverbally: Obviously, there is more to communicating than just the words you use. In every culture there is a whole realm of nonverbal communication that consists of things we aren't usually conscious of, such as gestures, eye contact, physical distance between people, facial expressions, and touching behavior.

    Nonverbal communication is an important aspect of intercultural communication. Most of us, if we have not been abroad, will not be very aware of the various ways we gesture with our hands, and we take our facial expressions for granted. Various studies of facial expression have shown that many cultures around the world have similar ways of expressing emotions such as anger, sadness, and joy. But they also show that the same expression can have more than one meaning; for example, in some cultures a smile can mean that the person is embarrassed. In addition, the extent to which facial expressions are used varies across cultures. The Japanese, for example, tend to display fewer facial expressions than people in the U.S. or Latin America. The longer you are in your host country, the more naturally you will be able to use the nonverbal behaviors that are appropriate for various situations.

    You can use two basic strategies for picking up the nonverbals more rapidly: observation and practice.

  2. Observe: Make a conscious effort to watch carefully how people communicate with each other nonverbally. How close do they stand to each other? Do they maintain direct eye contact? Is there a lot of vigorous gesturing when they are speaking? What gestures do they use? Make a note of whether these patterns change between friends versus casual acquaintances.

  3. Practice: Make attempts to perform the nonverbal behavior with groups of host nationals you feel comfortable with and who will let you know tactfully whether you are doing the behavior appropriately. Much of the difficulty of nonverbals is that, even if they are learned and understood, actually performing them may seem unnatural or uncomfortable to you. Despite these hurdles, the people with whom you interact will appreciate your attempts at using the appropriate nonverbals. For example, a person in Japan who does not know to bow slightly when greeting someone of higher status will come off as disrespectful. If you stand too far apart or refuse to touch casually in many Latin American countries, the host might thing you are cold and unfriendly. To engage in these nonverbals properly demonstrates your sensitivity to the other culture, as well as you willingness to adapt.

Taken from Nonverbal Communication (p. 133-4) in Maximizing Study Abroad: A Students' Guide to Strategies for Language and Culture Learning and Use as cited in – Read about Nonverbal Communication


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