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Cultures in the classroom

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Information for teachers

Non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication

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Non-verbal communication

Non-verbal behaviour causes communication problems in multicultural classrooms. Experts assert that up to 70% of communication is non-verbal. This includes body movements or kinesics and elements of speech known as paralinguistics. There are cultural differences in every aspect of non-verbal communication. The difficult part of these differences is that we often don’t recognise them. Difficulties in communicating verbally are obvious, but not nearly as obvious when their body contact or tones of speech, for example, are different and yet these can also cause communication problems. 

Non-verbal communication is as important as what we say, but we’re less conscious of it than we are of speech. So our reactions are often subconscious. We may decide that Carlos is pushy and aggressive, for example, without realizing it’s because he stands closer than we’re comfortable with. Carlos, for his part, has probably decided that we’re stand-offish, unfriendly and possibly dishonest because we keep moving away from him.

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Teachers and non-verbal communication

Understanding non-verbal communication helps teachers manage a classroom. It helps interpret students’ needs. Some cultures are highly expressive, for example, while others have muted responses.  A Japanese student who is very animated is more likely to be very upset or excited than a Brazilian exhibiting similar behaviour. The latter may just be trying to get a point across.  Knowing what certain gestures mean can help teachers respond appropriately. An upward glance from a Japanese student, for example, often means they haven’t understood but hesitate to ask.

Watching and listening carefully can help us identify friction between students. Cultural differences can make it difficult for students to work together. Add culture shock and the general frustration of language learning and it’s easy to understand why students sometimes get annoyed with partners from other cultures or try to avoid working with some classmates. When teachers detect tension, they can intervene at critical moments, move students around so the students involved don’t work together for extended periods and help students understand differences.

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Contact: Ngaire Jehle-Caitcheon | Email: info@culturesintheclassroom.com

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