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By Jessie Hailey

 Special to CSMS MagazineIf you see someone with a clenched fist and a grim expression, you do not need words to tell you that this person is not happy. If you hear someone’s voice quaver and see his or her hands tremble, you may infer that the person is fearful or anxious, despite what he or she might say. The power of gestures as a form of communication is reflected in the fact that the co-culture of the deaf in the United States has a rich and extensive vocabulary composed of gestures.             Another example of the power of gestures can be found in the hand signals used by various urban gangs. The slightest variation in performing a certain gesture can be the catalyst for a violent confrontation. You can see the importance of gestures in intercultural communication because some gestures that are positive, humorous, or harmless in some cultures can have the opposite meaning in other cultures. Not all the time we have to talk to let the other person know what we want.  Just with the action and gestures of our body, we can express what we want to say.            For this reason, it is significant that we learn as much as we can about other non-verbal communications of other cultures.  In case we have a situation where the child is doing a sign or a gesture that we are not familiar with, then we can better understand and help him or her.              Produce a list of common American gestures, such as the “ok” hand signal. Next, produce a list of gestures you know of from other cultures. Compare your findings with those of other groups. How might immigrant students have difficulty in understanding a new culture’s gestures? Gestures like the “okay” sign, pointing, beckoning, head movements denoting acceptance and understanding, and using the middle finger as an  insulting or obscene gesture.             Germans point with the little finger, Japanese point with the entire hand, palms up, Navajo use their chin and much of Asia, pointing with the index finger at a person is considered rude.In China, if you place your right hand over your heart it means you are making a sincere promise. For the French, pulling the skin down below the right eye can mean “I don’t believe you”. In Argentina, one twists an imaginary mustache to signify that everything is okay. Immigrant students might have difficulty because some of the same movements from their culture can have different meanings. There are also cultural differences regarding the amount and size of gestures employed during a communication encounter.Also see Pay attention to non verbal communication when we teach in multiethnic classrooms Creating culture diversityMake our society a better placeWhat we need to teach our ESOL students about Nonverbal communicationIndian Culture: Vibrant and thought-provokingRole of alternative languages in our society Note: Jessie Hailey is an education major at Nova Southeastern University (NSU). She wrote this piece exclusively for CSMS Magazine.

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