Body Language in Cultures

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Sean E.
English 102

Body language is not language in the strict sense of the word language; it is in fact, a broad term for forms of communication using body movements, gestures, facial expressions and eye behaviors in addition to sounds, verbal language, or other forms of communication. Although we may not realize it when we talk with others, we make ourselves understood not only by words but also by our body language. Body language sometimes helps make communication easy and effective. In order to improve the quality of our communication, we should pay more attention to nonverbal communication. Culture has great influence on communication, body language is a cultural signifier that each culture has developed differently to help them communicate nonverbally within there culture.

Communication is an essential part of one’s life. One must understand how to communicate with words and through body language. Some scholars treat body language as an equivalent to nonverbal communication. Although we may not realize it when we talk with others, we make ourselves understood not only by words. Louis Forsdale, writer of “Perspectives on Communication” states that “In 1972, a research made by American linguists showed that only 35 percent communication message is sent by verbal communication, while 65 percent is sent by nonverbal communication.”(340) It is obvious that nonverbal communication plays an important role in our communication. We can understand it well by some functions and different cultural instances of body language. When we communicate with people from other cultures, the body language sometimes help make the communication easy and effective, such as shaking hands is such a universal gesture that people all over the world know that it is a signal for greeting. But sometimes the body language can cause certain misunderstanding since people of different cultures often have different forms of behavior for sending the same body signals. Each country has a different culture and each culture is unique in its own way. So the way people in different countries communicate is diverse too. For example, Arab men often greet by kissing on both cheeks. In Japan men greet by bowing. In the Unite States we use what would be considered the “universal greeting” of shaking hands. Just between these three cultures they have three varying ways of greeting one another. Individuals are not born with the knowledge of how to greet another individual but adapt knowledge through the practices of their culture.

Body language is indeed a powerful and useful form of communication with many forms and interpretations. How one uses body language, and how another interprets it can vary greatly from culture to culture. The communication patterns of Asian languages serve to reinforce traditional cultural values and beliefs. Like all cultures Asian individuals develop skills that help one read another’s body language that share the same culture. Someone from an outside background wouldn’t be able to understand or read another cultures body language because they didn’t grow up practicing those same skills. Information is conveyed through nonverbal forms of communication, including silence, the timing of verbal exchanges, facial expressions, eye contact, body movements and gestures, posture and positioning, and interpersonal space. According to Roger G. Axtell, the smile is the "ultimate gesture." It carries certain characteristics unlike any other single gesture and is universally understood. (134 ) However, in various cultures there are different reasons for smiling. The Japanese may smile when they are confused or angry. In other parts of Asia, people may smile when they are embarrassed. Asians may nod and appear to indicate understanding, but are non-verbally communicating that they are politely listening. Chinese and Japanese people like to avoid saying the word "no."

Posture is also considered to be more relevant by some...
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