It is said that more than 60% of our communication is non-verbal. Body language is non-verbal communication where we express our thoughts and feelings using our facial expressions, eye movements and body gestures to tell people what we are thinking and how we are feeling.

Body language is not universal. What might be completely acceptable in this neck of the woods may mean something completely different in another country with a different culture, language and means of communicating.

In your English language classes here at the Central School of English you have the chance of a lifetime to meet and study with people from all over the world. Learning English in a multicultural environment has so many benefits and learning English in Ireland ensures that you get to meet people from so many backgrounds and cultures.

Because people from different countries and cultures use different body language to communicate different ideas, we thought it might be helpful to give you a hand with some of the important verbs of movement and gesturing.

For this reason, this week our English language practice blog is all about verbs of movement and gesturing and what some of these movements mean, depending on which neck of the woods you are in.

We hope that what you learn here will help you from getting the wrong end of the stick at some other point in the future! And we hope that for all of you who dream about travelling around the world, our tips will help you when you visit many new countries.

Verbs of body movement

To shake: to move an object up and down with rapid/quick movements

To bow: to bend the head or upper part of the body as a sign of respect, greeting or shame

To nod: to lower and raise your head quickly

To mutter: to say something very quietly, as if you are speaking to yourself

To whisper: to speak softly and privately

To shrug: the movement of raising your shoulders up towards your chin

To stare: to look at something in a concentrated way with your eyes wide open

To wink: to close and open one eye quickly

To wave: to raise and move your hand over and back in opposite directions

To cross: to put one of your arms, fingers or legs over the top of the other

To slurp: to ingest food with loud sucking noises

To beckon: to make a gesture with the hand, arm or head to instruct someone to approach or follow you

Practice Sentences

When Joan introduced her brother to her best friend for the first time, they shook hands.

Jack shook his head when his mother asked him if he wanted some more vegetables with his dinner. Jack didn’t like vegetables!

Peter bowed his head in shame when his father asked him if he has stolen the money. He felt terrible and wanted to say sorry for what he had done.

The hotel manager bowed to greet his guests when they arrived at the hotel.

Paul nodded his head when his teacher asked him if he wanted to play football. Paul loved football!

Sarah muttered to herself that she was tired of doing mathematics. She didn’t want her teacher to hear her.

When Jack and Paul were studying in the library they had to whisper to each other because talking in the library is forbidden.

Paul asked Sarah what film she wanted to see in the cinema. Sarah didn’t care and just shrugged her shoulders.

Liza thought the painting was the most beautiful painting she had ever seen. She stayed in the museum and stared at it for a long time.

Ben winked at his mother after telling the joke. Ben was always pulling his mothers leg.

Martha went to the airport to say goodbye to her cousins. She waved goodbye as they left her to walk to their departure gate.

I have my driving test in the morning. Keep your fingers crossed for me!! I am really nervous I won’t pass it!

Max was in a hurry and he slurped his coffee noisily.

Jack’s mother beckoned him to come indoors because it was time for his dinner.

Differences in body language and gestures around the world

In Ireland, and in many countries in Europe, nodding your head usually signals that you agree or approve. However, in Bulgaria, Turkey and in Greece, nodding your head signifies a negative response or feeling.

In Europe, shaking someones hand is considered polite when you meet a person. In the Middle East it is normal for a person to continue holding your hand after you have shook hands to say hello. In many Asian countries, people do not shake hands when they greet each other. Rather they bow their heads. There are also different types of bow depending on who you are meeting at any particular time. In Thailand, you should never shake hands with someone. Instead you are expected to bow your head while holding your hands together in front of your chest.

In Europe, shrugging your shoulders indicates that you either don’t know an answer to a question or you don’t care about a result. However, in China shoulder shrugging is seen as very impolite and signals to a Chinese person that you don’t care about them or respect them.

In Japan, people avoid eye contact and are embarassed by another persons stare. Good eye contact is expected in European and Arab countries and is considered a sign of an assertive personality. However, staring at a person for a long time is considered rude.

To cross your legs is common in Europe and in North America. This is seen as a relaxed gesture in these parts of the world. However, crossing your legs is seen as a rude gesture in Asia and the middle East because in doing this you are pointing the bottom of your shoe at someone. This is considered disrespectful.

To cross your fingers in Ireland and in many parts of Europe is seen as a sign of wishing someone good luck. Keeping your fingers crossed for someone means that you hope the person has a good outcome. However, in Vietnam, crossing your fingers is seen as highly disrespectful and an insult.

To slurp food is considered very impolite in Europe. However, in Japan, slurping your food is good manners and shows that you are enjoying your food.

To beckon someone with a finger is seen as a gesutre that means to approach someone in Europe. However, in the Phillipines this gesture is seen as very disrespectful and you can even be arrested for beckoning someone with your finger. Beckoning with one finger is also considered rude in the Middle East.

What can you tell us about your neck of the woods? Do you have different body language and gestures that we don’t know about?

Idiom vocabulary

Neck of the woods: area of a country

Chance of a lifetime: an extremely important or fortunate opportunity that may never happen again

Give someone a hand: to help someone

Keep your fingers crossed: to wish someone luck for something

Get the wrong end of the stick: to misunderstand something

Practice your idioms:

Can you complete the following sentences with the idioms from above:

  1. Which ___________________________do you come from? I am from the south-east.
  2. I asked him if he could ____________________________ moving house next weekend. He said that he wasn’t busy and that he could help me on Saturday morning.
  3. I told the waiter that I would like a vegetarian pizza but he brought me vegetable soup. I think he _______________________________ when I ordered my food. I will have to order again.
  4. Martha has bought a ticket to travel around the world. It really is the __________________________________.