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Kids World

Topics of interest to teachers of English as a second or foreign language to young learners.

October 15, 2003

Body Language

Kids Communication in most cultures is either written or verbal, but varying degrees of non-verbal communication, in the form of body language, also exist. The purpose of non-verbal communication is to give signals to the other participants in the conversation. If those non-verbal signals, which work in one's own culture, do not work in another culture, one is opening the door for misunderstanding. The following is a list of body language points I try to instill in my students from an early age because developing such habits supports the flow of English in a natural way. It is easier to do this with youngsters because they have not yet become accustomed to speaking English with Japanese body language.

Do's and Don'ts for Body Language When Speaking English:

  1. Stand and sit tall when speaking.
  2. Do not place fingers or a cupped hand in front of your mouth when speaking.
  3. Maintain eye contact when speaking to people.
  4. Listen with your eyes as well as your ears.
  5. Do not close your eyes and tilt your ear to the speaker when listening. Instead, keep your eyes on the speaker and focus on what you hear and what you see.
  6. Do not hesitate when you speak. (It's okay to make a mistake.)
  7. Do not spell with your fingers on your hand.
  8. Shake hands standing straight with a firm handshake, good eye contact and a smile.
  9. Do not bow when you shake hands.
  10. When you point, point with your fore finger, not your middle finger.
  11. Speak in a clear, audible voice, not too soft and not too loud.
  12. In English class, when doing pair work, do not dip your head into the book; lift the book up and maintain eye-contact with your partner, practicing in a natural way.
  13. Do not just memorize phrases; be natural.
  14. Do not cup your hands and whisper to a friend; it alienates others.
  15. Do not point to your nose when referring to yourself; point to your chest.
  16. If you do not understand, give a signal that you do not understand, like shaking or tilting your head. Do not stand/sit in silence. Being silent sends the signal that you understand when you do not.
  17. Be attentive and helpful to your teacher and classmates.
  18. Act confident and poised.
  19. Select the best mannerisms from the West.
  20. Do not turn to other people to get their comments before you answer in English. Think for yourself.
  21. Be the best you can be.

These points do not need to be outlined or dictated to the students at any point in time. Instead, as they come to your class and study English together, the Do's and Don'ts can be given attention in a positive, repetitive way. During self-introductions or pair work, for example, the teacher can show the students how to focus on eye contact and how to shake hands. If a girl speaks and covers her mouth, the teacher can show her how to speak without covering her mouth; then she should speak again without covering her mouth. A boy who shouts out an answer in a loud, disturbing voice can be asked to repeat the answer in a normal voice. It is all a process, which takes time. But it's a worthwhile process which deserves attention from the teacher. Body language is an integral part of language acquisition and presentation; the earlier students learn what works and does not work in English, the better.

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