Study English every day--absolutely free!
(more about these lessons and the teacher)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Look at the three people in this picture.
What is their body language saying?
See below for answer.


What do you know about body language? How important is it in speaking your language, or any language?


Read these three little scenes:

Amy: Hi, Anita! Would you like to come to my party Saturday night?
Anita: [looking down, no eye contact] Uhhh…sure…that, um, sounds like, ah, fun.
Amy: [angry] Fine, Anita! If you don’t want to come, just say so! [walks away]

Bill: Hey Steve, look at the new software I invented!
Steve: [smiling and nodding] Gee, Bill, that looks like something I created years ago.
Bill: So, you like it?
Steve: [still smiling] Not exactly…

[Barbara is giving a speech]
Barbara [whispering, no eye contact, hands shaking] Hello, every body. Today I want to talk to you about how to improve your self-confidence…

* * *

Anita, Steve, and Barbara are all suffering from the same problem. Their bodies are saying one thing, but their mouths are saying another. This is called "incongruity."

When Amy invites Anita to the party, for example, she expects a smile, eye contact, nodding of the head, and a straightforward "Yes," or a polite "No, thanks." Instead she sees Anita giving an unclear response. Most people would rather hear an honest but gentle "No" instead of a half-hearted "Yes."

Bill and Steve have a different problem. Steve's words accuse Bill of stealing his idea. But his smile and nod seem to be approving of Bill’s action. Bill is right to be confused by Steve’s response.

Barbara’s speech seems almost funny: A speaker on self-confidence whose voice and body language tell you she lacks self-confidence!

To avoid incongruity, consider the intention behind your words. Then, practice matching your body language to your spoken language.


Here are a few things to consider:
  • Use of voice: Is the pitch (tone) too high? This can tell people you're nervous. Be careful of the pace (speed) of speech, too. It’s better to speak clearly than fast. And try to be neither too loud nor too quiet.
  • Eye contact: Too much can seem aggressive, like you want to fight; too little seems evasive, like you want to hide something. Try to look at the listener for a moment and then look away briefly.
  • Stance and posture: Moving from foot to foot can make you seem nervous; standing too firm can make you seem aggressive. Try to stand in a relaxed way, not too stiff and not slouching (bending your back forward).
  • Facial expression: Generally, this is how we use our eyebrows, nose, and lips. Are you smiling? Frowning? Is your nose wrinkled? Are your eyebrows raised? These all send a message to the listener.
  • Gestures: How do you move your head and hands? Are you nodding or shaking your head? Is it tilted like you are confused, or pushed forward to emphasize a point? What are you doing with your hands? Are they making your point clearer, or more confused?
People who practice public speaking know how important these things are. Few people realize, however, that they are just as important in our day-to-day communications.


Stand in front of a mirror. Practice using body language with these sentences.

1. I'm cold.
2. I love riding horses!
3. Where is my camera?
4. I'm hungry.
5. What time is it?
6. The weather is beautiful today.
7. My computer is broken.
8. I take vitamins every day.
9. I've eaten three times today.
10. Do you have a pen?

Now write the sentences on cards, and give them to a friend in a different order. (If your friend can't speak English, write them in your own language.) Perform your body language for a friend, with no words. See if he or she can guess which sentence you are "saying" with body language.


1. How important is body language in your language?
2. Are there gestures or facial expressions used with your language that have a different meaning when used with English?
3. What problems can happen when body language doesn't match spoken words?

ABOUT THE PICTURE: In the picture above, the man is flirting (talking sweetly) to the woman on the right. She is enjoying it. The woman on the left is jealous.

This lesson is ©2012 by James Baquet. You may share this work freely. Teachers may use it in the classroom, as long as students are told the source (URL). You may not publish this material or sell it. Please write to me if you have any questions about "fair use."

No comments:

Post a Comment