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By Lourdemy Auguste

Special to CSMS Magazine

Nonverbal communication is another form of communication amongst friends and strangers. It’s not limited to just signs, but it’s also based on your actions also. For new immigrants migrating to this country, they most likely will use nonverbal gestures as a form of communication.  There are many different forms of nonverbal communication between different cultures due to language barriers. However, interpreting nonverbal communication from another individual can be a daunting task, for the simple fact that what one gesture may mean in their original country may have a totally different interpretation here in this country.

            A common form of communication among non-English speakers is smiling. If you are at a store or a place where a person who doesn’t speak English might need your assistance, be open to help. He or she might throw a smile at you, and if you smile back, he or she will certainly take that as form of invitation to start a conversation or to ask a question. The person will feel welcome to ask his question, and your assistance will be wholeheartedly welcome. But if the smile is not reciprocated, the person may feel embarrassed and will look elsewhere for assistance. Most of the times, we don’t take this into account. When a person is not able to speak the language, it is as difficult for him to interpret some form of non verbal signs of communication as well.

            The problems that may arise from not understanding the differences in non verbal behaviors are that you may inadvertently insult the person you may or may not be speaking with, which may cause a confrontation without knowing that you have started one. It’s an experience that I notice most of the time when I go out either to the mall or the grocery store. People don’t take the time to understand others from different cultures. A small but misinterpreted gesture could cause a confrontation between someone who does not speak English and some one who does. I think if people would take the time to understand the signs of nonverbal behavior or communication before reacting to them, it would lessen unnecessary confrontations between cultures.

The other day I was at a store and I was standing in a lane looking for an item when a Hispanic lady on a phone came to the same lane looking for something different. But because she was deeply involved in a conversation on her phone, she gave me a sign to stay put and don’t move that it would be a bother for her if I were to move. We both understood each other without saying a word to one another. Someone may have interpreted that as her being rude, because she did not excuse herself for getting in the way and she did not speak a word to me. However, I understood her signs when she pointed to the item she was looking for and also thanked me for allowing her to look at the item while I was standing there being on the phone.  

Non-verbal communication at school: its crucial importance

Understanding and studying the intercultural aspects of non verbal behavior will assist teachers with their students in defining gestures. It is a matter of academic empowerment for teachers to the initiative to learn about non verbal gestures from other cultures. It will help them in understanding how to help their immigrant students achieve success as the teachers are equipped with the knowledge of new gestures and the meaning of them. The ability to communicate in a nonverbal manner is a strengthening sign with intercultural students and other individuals.  Not only teachers should learn about nonverbal communications, but also it should be made a requirement for foreign students to learn what signs are appropriate to use when they are in public.

            Learning those aspects of non verbal communication will help each pupil in the future so that if they were to find themselves in similar situations, they will know how to behave in a proper manner. Non verbal communication does not only apply to adults, it also applies to children. The school playground is a major venue. After all, we are a multicultural society.  

Note: Lourdemy Auguste is an education major at Nova Southeastern University (NSU).

Also see Creating culture diversity

Make our society a better place

What we need to teach our ESOL students about Nonverbal communication

Indian Culture: Vibrant and thought-provoking

Role of alternative languages in our society

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