Non – Verbal Communication

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A. Non-Verbal Communication

This paper reviews key issues in cross-cultural communication; verbal communication and non-verbal communication. Verbal communication is defined as spoken communication, including the use of words and intonation to convey meaning. On the other hand, non-verbal communication is “silent” communication, including the use of gestures, postures, position, eye contact, facial expressions, and conversational distance.

The issue of non-verbal communication is related to the teaching of Indonesian to speakers of other languages. The learners studying Indonesian should not only be equipped with the language itself but also the Indonesian culture because “……………to know another’s language and not his culture is a very good way to make a fluent fool of one’s self”(Brembeck, Winston:1977) and “Culture hides much more than it reveals, and strangely enough, what it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants”(Hall, Edward T:1959).

The paper will limit itself to non-verbal communication or speaking without words, not verbal communication. It will put emphasis on the importance of non-verbal communication concepts, because without them, a real communication can not be conducted smoothly and successfully. Moreover, the paper is also going to explore the similarities and differences of non-verbal communication between Indonesians and non-Indonesian speakers. By doing comparisons, the learners learning Indonesian will avoid themselves from interpreting non-verbal communication that is culturally different from their own.

If we don’t understand the non-verbal communication from different culture, it is possible that we can make a mistake of reading the other person incorrectly. Some forms of non-verbal signals are the same and universal and they have the same meaning or interpretation. But, the other forms are different and the have different meaning too, or no meaning in the other culture. Craig Storti in “Figuring Out” as quoted by Wienchecki (1999) mentions three main categories of non-verbal communication in the cross-cultural context. These are: a. Non-verbal behaviours which exist in your own culture and in the target culture which have the same meaning in both cultures. b. Non-verbal behaviours which exist in both cultures, but which are assigned different meanings in the two cultures. c. Non-verbal behaviours which have meaning in one culture but no meaning at all in the target language.

In addition, just as verbal language differs from culture to culture, the non-verbal language may also differ. One gesture may be common in a certain country and have a clear interpretation, it may be meaningless in another culture or even have an opposite meaning. Take, for example, the cultural interpretations and implications of hand gestures, the ring gesture, the thumb-up and V sign (Pease, Allan:1990).r

The question now is “Which communication is practiced more in our daily life?” Is it verbal communication or non-verbal communication ? Albert Mehrabian as quoted also by Pease found that the total impact of a message is about 7 percent verbal (words only) and 38 percent vocal (including tone of voice, inflection, and other sounds) and 55 percent non-verbal. One study also done in the United States showed that 93 percent of a message was transmitted by the speaker’s tone of voice and facial expressions. Only 7 percent of the person’s attitude was conveyed by words. Apparently, we express our emotions and attitudes more non-verbally than verbally (Adelman and Levine:1993).

B. Non-Verbal Gestures

The following are the examples of non-verbal gestures which have the same and different meaning in the United States and Indonesia (Pease:1990, and Adelman:1993)

a. When we are happy, we usually smile. In other words, smiling is typically an expression of pleasure. It can also show affection, convey politeness or even disguise true feelings. But, it depends on the situations and...
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