In order to fully learn English you will need to learn more than how to read, write, and speak the language. In fact, there’s a whole other element to learning a foreign language that is directly related to the culture of the country where it is spoken, and that is body language.
Remember, gestures and behaviors may carry a whole different meaning than they do in your home country. It’s important to pay attention to what native speakers are saying even when their mouths are closed, which means understanding basic movements and body positions that are common in American culture. If you are in the United States to learn English, or are planning to come soon, you’ll want to be aware of this unspoken language. Here is a look at some of the most basic elements of American body language:
1) Personal space is very important. Sometimes, being close to people is unavoidable, such as in crowded spaces like an elevator or on the Subway. Whenever possible, though, it is preferred to give more personal space to the person or people you’re in proximity to. Whether it’s in a meeting, at a party, or in the classroom, be sure to leave enough space between you and others where a normal handshake would be comfortable.
2) Crossed arms usually signal a negative mood or a problematic situation. Be mindful of the positioning of your arms during conversations. If you fold them across your chest, that’s a sign that you are unhappy with the situation or angry about something. Practice keeping your arms at your side, gently rested on a table, or with your fingers casually interwoven together.
3) Eye contact shows you’re engaged in the conversation. When you learn English, you’ll have many opportunities to practice your skills in and out of the classroom. When talking to others, make sure to keep eye contact. It’s okay to look down or away occasionally as you take in the information, but be sure to let the person know you’re actively listening by looking at them regularly and acknowledging what they say with a nod of the head or other subtle movements.
These are just a few of the many types of body language you’ll experience when you learn English. Watch others around you to learn more and continue practicing your skills in social situations.