Language Matters in January 2014: Body Language

Dear Language friend,

For the first Newsletter of the year 2014, we’re going to talk about a topic that concerns everyone: Body language. Body language is almost as important as spoken language. Although it is non-verbal, it says a lot about you and how you feel! Body language includes facial expressions, gestures, or even the tone of your voice. Most of the time, all of these elements will have a major impact on your professional life, your business relationships, and can make, or break your success. However, it is not as easy as it seems to know all of the variations of body language, as you can find different interpretations of it in different countries. This is why in this month’s newsletter, we will talk about the significance of body language in different countries and cultures, and how it affects your business and professional life. Read on!

Contributed by Sophie and Nico

Body Language and Crucial differences

What kind of body language you use depends on your individual cultural background and upbringing. However, it is even more important to know about different types of body language than about the actual language. A wrong interpretation of body language can be quite dangerous or even life threatening. It is especially important if you want to develop a business relationship with companies from other countries, as only a slight misinterpretation could lead to considerable damage. For this reason, you should know about some crucial differences between cultures. For example, did you know that shaking hands is considered impolite in Japan and is replaced by a bow? The depth of the bow shows the amount of respect shown and indicates the relative status between two people. However, there are even differences in countries where hand shaking is common.


In Germany and France, you usually pump one to two times while shaking hands, whereas you pump five to seven times in the US. This means that a French man with one pump might find an American handshake too overwhelming and an American might find the French too cold. You thought nodding always means yes? Think again! In Bulgaria it even means “no”. In India, people tilt their head side-to-side to show agreement. One last thing you should be aware of is that showing the soles of your feet is considered rude in many Asian and Arab countries as it can be perceived as “I find you lower than what I walk on”. So, you should not cross your legs in a meeting in one of these countries, as it carries the risk of showing your soles to others.

Use body language effectively

Apart from these differences in body languages you should know how to use body language correctly. Especially if you are speaking in front of a large audience, it is essential to know how other people perceive you. Keep your back straight if you stand, shoulders back, and head up. Then you are perceived as a self-confident individual, which eases the situation. What you should not do is slouch, stick your belly out, stuff your hands in your pockets, or fold your arms defensively, because all of these gestures suggest aggressive unease.
A gesture you can use effectively is talking with your hands. However, you should know what you are doing with your hands as it can also be perceived as aggressive or irrelevant if you do it too often. If you want to have the attention of the audience, facial expressions can also be useful. No other part of your body is more powerful in communicating non-verbally. So you have to be aware of what you are doing with your face. Smiles can be important signals of generosity and non-aggression, but if they are forced, they may indicate that you can hardly tolerate the person you are talking to. Frowning does not only suggest disagreement or anger, but also concentrated thinking. There are hundreds of other facial expressions that suggest different things. If you master to use them rightly, which is pretty hard as they usually happen automatically, it can make a difference.
You should also keep an eye on everybody, so that no one feels excluded. Don’t focus on only one person and do not stare at people. Always be aware of the standards of the country you are in. In the US and in Canada, you exhibit interest with intermittent eye contact. In Muslim cultures, intense eye contact is seen as a sign of trust and sincerity between men. However, between different genders, anything more than brief eye contact is inappropriate. In Asian, African and Latin American cultures, it is considered to be a challenge if you stare at somebody. And in Japan you should not even look into the eyes of other people as it makes them feel uncomfortable.

Have a word with yourself

You see that there are many – sometimes only slight but important – differences between cultures. It is always good to know how other people in other countries and cultures think and act to understand them better. The next time you think “Why does that guy look at me so strangely and why does the atmosphere seem to be so chilly?” have a word with yourself and reflect on your behavior. Maybe it was confusing, or even offending the person you were talking to.


LingoStar Language Services

Here at LingoStar we are trained to work with people from all around the globe who speak many different languages. We have solid expertise when it comes to dealing with clients and translators from all over the world. We offer a range of services from translating and revising to updating and localizing your content into more than 100 languages. And if you ever want to improve your language skills in order to have better job opportunities, we also provide language tutoring services!
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