NVC via Gesture & Movement

iDevice icon Reflection on Communicating without Words
Think of a time when you used non-verbal communication skills to send or receive important information about a situation you were in. For example, imagine you were stuck in an airport in another country and did not know the language. What could happen? How would you try to depict your inquiry?
IDevice Icon YMMV - Your Meanings May Vary...

Nonverbal Communication Use is Influenced by Culture/Gender

small child at deskAs you might imagine, culture and gender may have considerable impact on nonverbal communication. A really clear example of this playing out in the classroom is provided in a study by Gallimore, Boggs and Jordan (1974) that explored differences between Native Hawaiian and white Hawaiian schoolchildren. The study showed that Native Hawaiian schoolchildren sought help verbally from the teacher 19 percent of the time, whereas white schoolchildren sought help verbally 93 percent of the time. The study showed that Native Hawaiian children sought help, but did so through nonverbal means, such as increased eye contact or standing near the teacher.

When gender was considered, the differences were even more dramatic. Among the schoolchildren studied, none of the verbal communication used among the Native Hawaiian children came from the girls. Native Hawaiian boys did seek help verbally. In contrast, among the white non-native schoolchildren, boys relied on verbal communication strategies to seek help much less often than the girls. White boys sought help verbally 86 percent of the time, whereas white girls sought help verbally in every recorded instance, or 100 percent of the time. In this classroom, if the teacher had ignored nonverbal cues the Native Hawaiian girls would have received no help at all.

Cultural Body Language Differences

Culture also affects the interpretations made of gestures. One culture may view a gesture or a hand sign differently than another culture. These discrepancies may be deemed offensive from each viewpoint. The chart below depicts some brief examples of potentially misconstrued body language.

Shaking Hands

America Saudi Arabia

Normal person to person intro


Shake a man's hand after meeting him
if he extends hand first
Do not shake a woman's hand in greeting
because women only greet their husbands
in public.

  Japan and Korea
  Bowing is preferred, avoid hugging and
kissing when greeting.

A-OK Hand Gesture

America & England
Acceptable and general gesture
Insulting gesture equivalent to giving
someone the middle finger

Thumbs Up Gesture

America & England
Other Cultures Around the Globe
Acceptable as the A-OK hand gesture
Insulting as the A-OK gesture



America Throughout Europe
Approval of pretty women, cheering on at
a sports event.
Sign of disapproval

Direct Eye Contact


Asians, Puerto Ricans, African Americans,
Native Americans

If not looking directly, denotes weakness
and shyness
Considered to be rude, disrespectful, possibly
indicative of sexual inuendo

Gallimore, R., Boggs, J. W., and Jordan, C. Culture, Behavior and Education: A Study of Hawaiian-Americans Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications 1974.

Child at desk Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com

Paraphrased from: Cultural Body Language Differences
Article by Laura Jean Karr published 10-14-08
website: http://www.brighthub.com/education/languages/articles/4599.aspx

Paraphrased from:Gestures, Body Language and Nonverbal Communication
website: http://www.csupomona.edu/~tassi/gestures.htm
Sources: Axtell, Roger E., ed. Do's and Taboos Around the World. John Wiley & Sons, 1993.
Axtell, Roger E. Gestures: The Do's and Taboos of Body Language Around the World. John Wiley & Sons, 1991.
DeMente, Boye. Japanese Etiquette & Ethics in Business. Passport Books, 1987.

Additional Images from Wikimedia.

IDevice Icon Exploring Gesture and Movement as NVC

Gestures and body movements, through pantomime, function as an iconic form of communication. As a fun means to become more conscious of iconic forms of communication, you might want to try out (invite your fellow teachers to participate?) this optional activity. Afterwards participants share which messages were easy and difficult to encode and decode.

Pantomime as an Iconic Communication Activity

Objective: To demonstrate how gesture and body movements, through pantomime, function as an iconic form of communication (i.e., signs resemble referents).

Print out the messages below and place them in an envelope. Participants can select 2 or 3 messages from the envelope, choose one and act it out for the group. If they are unsuccessful after a few attempts, they put the message back in the envelope and pass it on to the next participant. If they are successful, they keep that message out of the envelope. Participants can take turns until all the messages have been successfully delivered.


  • Do you know what time is it?
  • Can you tell me where I can get a room for the night?
  • Can you give me a ride into town? I'm willing to pay you.
  • Is there a restroom around here?
  • I'd like to get something to eat. Where is the closest restaurant?
  • Where can I get a drink of water?
  • Is there a drug store around here?
  • How do I get to the train station from here?
  • Do you know where the bank is?
  • I need to make a phone call. Is there a phone around here?
  • Can you tell me how to get to the hospital?
  • How much money does this cost?
  • I'm looking for the police station. Do you know where it is?
  • I need to get some cash. Is there an ATM machine close by?
  • Where is the church?
  • Can you help me put this box into my car?
  • Where is the nearest grocery store?
  • I'm looking for a map of this town. Do you know where I can get one?
  • Can you tell me where the post office is?
  • I'm not sure where I am. Can you tell me the name of this town?
  • Where can I go to find someone who speaks English?
  • How do I get to the beach from here?
  • My car is almost out of gas. Is there a gas station around here?
  • Where can I go to exchange American dollars?
  • How far is it to the zoo?
  • Have you seen a small dog out here?
  • Where can I get some film for my camera?
  • Is there a bookstore around here?
  • Do you sell alcoholic beverages?
  • Is there a place here where I can rent a bicycle?
  • Is there a movie theatre in town?

Remland, M. (2000). Gesture and Movement as Iconic Communication Activity. Unpublished manuscript, West Chester University

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