Student Blog: What do you really mean? How to read international body language

International students in Alison’s B2 class at English Language Centre York evaluate the meaning of body language, incorporating their very own photo shoot to demonstrate!  From Angola, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain and Libya, they share their thoughts on the messages your body language conveys in different parts of the world.

In General

Around the world we have more than 2000 languages. But there is one language which is international – BODY LANGUAGE. It’s thought that about 70 per cent of what we want to say we express through body language.

If you really want to understand other people you have to learn to understand what they say even if they aren’t speaking.  For example, if someone raises their eyebrows it could be you have surprised them. If someone frowns you must be careful maybe you made them angry or worried. But if you open both your arms when you meet someone you know they can be sure that you are glad to see them again.

Sometimes people bite their nails if they feel nervous or terrified. The short answer in every language for “No” – shake your head, for “Yes”- just nod and when you don’t know the answer shrug your shoulders. People who think they are in the wrong look down before they say “Excuse me” and of course we excuse them. Don’t forget the old-fashioned tradition when men kneel down in front of women when they propose marriage with the hope that they would react by “nodding”.

By the way, you must be very careful (especially abroad) with what you show with your fingers. For example, the V-sign that you might have used to express your happy feelings, could offend people . . .

Homestay Hosts

Staying with a host family is the easiest way to live in the UK. It clears you from responsibilities; bill-wise, you don’t have to pay for electricity, water, the internet, also you don’t need to cook and wash your clothes.

On the other hand, living with a host family can be difficult. When we arrived here, they welcomed us with frowning faces.However, the friendlier you are, the better treatment you will get. They start giving you your favourite food and buying a lot of fruit you can put in your room.

After 2 months of staying with our host families, we’ve got used to living peacefully with them and we totally agree that living with host families is one of the best experiences we’ve ever had.

If we’d been impolite to our host families, they wouldn’t have treated us so well. If you want a good tip you’d better respect your host family, their habits and try to deal with their daily routine.

International body language

Additionally when you arrive at school you will see different people from different countries and different body language such as:

Eastern European and Scandinavian people. They have static body language. It means that they are not very expressive, in fact they are reserved about speaking with other people at first, but after this they are very friendly.

The Mediterraneans are completely different.  They are more open, more friendly, more expressive. They are very tactile and they don’t worry about personal space. They usually use their hands when they speak with other people; it is the same for Arabic people.

Arabic people in general are friendly and they are also very expressive. You know when they agree or disagree with you.

The Asians have a lot of personal expressions and they use both hands when they deal with you. They need a lot of personal space. However, when they know you well they forget about the personal space and they become more friendly and attentive.

Students have to be careful when they are speaking with people from other countries, because some body language could be offensive for them.

by Tatjana Wittorff, Haifaa Faraj D Arihieli, Noora Ali M Alyahya, Sae Won Lee, Carlos Filipe Da Cunha, Hyung-Sik Jung, Oleksander Bezpechnyi, Rafael Aguirre Povedano, Kalid Alasmari, AlMokhtar Abdullah Abul Gasam, from English Language Centre York.

If you liked this blog, you might also like this article with tips on how to make a effective professional phone call in English.

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