Learning a language is more than learning words. Sometimes you need to learn to speak body language, too. It is just as important to be able to read someone’s non-verbal communication (aka body language), as it is to speak the language. You can learn a lot from body language. People do not always say exactly what they mean, but their body says a lot.
Here are some easy signs of non-verbal communication to keep an eye out for (to look for, watch for).
Have you ever seen anyone roll their eyes (move their eyes in a circle)? Do you know why they did it?
Some people roll their eyes when they’re frustrated, irritated, skeptical, annoyed, or disapprove of something. It can be quite often involuntary (automatic).
Many English speakers will roll their eyes when they are being sarcastic, too.
For example, if you have a friend whose daughter never does the laundry (wash the clothes), she might say, “I’m sure my daughter did the laundry today- ha!” while rolling her eyes. This means she doesn’t believe what she’s saying, and is being sarcastic.
Crossing your fingers can mean two things.
Firstly, crossing your fingers while saying something can mean that you’re lying- or telling a “white” lie (a small untruth that isn’t very important).
For example, saying, “Yes, I did all my homework!” while crossing your fingers, and with a little smile, means you didn’t do all your homework, and you are showing that you are saying it with a little fun.
You may see this in movies or with small children. If someone crosses their fingers behind their back, it generally means they’re not telling the truth and are showing those standing behind them that they are lying.
You normally don’t see this with adults. But if an adult does this, it can be quite funny!
Secondly, crossing your fingers can mean you’re wishing someone luck. You can cross your fingers and say, “Good luck,” or, “I’ll cross my fingers for you!” This is the most common use (often used) of this body language sign.
Have you ever seen someone use “air quotes” before? This is when you put your first two fingers (pointer and middle) in the air and bend them to look like a quotation mark: “ “
Using air quotes usually means that someone is quoting something that someone else said, but that they do not believe is true.
For example, let’s say you have a friend who can never hang out (spend time) with you. Every time you invite them somewhere, they always make excuses (explanations, give reasons) for why they cannot come.
You could say, “Tim can’t come to the movie because he’s (air quotes) working.” This means you don’t think he’s actually working, and that he may be sleeping, watching TV, or doing something else instead.
Do you want to say that you believe in (think they can do something, support) someone? Give them the thumbs up!
A thumbs up and a big smile will help your friend know that you support them, think they have good ideas, or just generally like them. A good thumbs up is a good non-verbal communication sign.
Crossed arms are one of the most common body language signals, and we wrote about it before in our blog How to Speak Body Language. Sometimes, it can just be comfortable to hold your arms like that. But if someone is saying something negative and crossing their arms, it can mean they don’t want to talk anymore. They may also disagree (not think the same) with what you are saying.
You may see this a lot in business meetings, especially if the meeting runs too long!
What non-verbal communication signs do you know? How does your culture use non-verbal communication? Share with us in the comments below!
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Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor and is a big fan of a good laugh either with air quotes, crossed fingers, or a sarcastic thumbs up! Good thing we have emojis for all these, now!
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