Thursday, June 28, 2007

Teaching Gestures to ESL Students

No matter what country you are from, and whatever language is spoken in your country, there are unique physical gestures that are familiar to almost everyone in the country. Although some gestures cross borders, others do not. In fact, simple hand gestures may have very different meanings in different countries.

Awhile back, I was on a train with an American friend and an Iranian friend. The train was nearly full and we had difficulty finding three seats together. My American friend was at the other end of the train. My Iranian friend used a hand gesture to tell her to come to us. My American friend smiled and waved at her. I then gestured to my American friend and she came to us right away. We were both using “come here” gestures, but my gesture worked for Americans and hers worked for Iranians.

While gestures may not need a lot of time in the in the ESL classroom, I believe that they are a part of an ESL teacher’s responsibility to bring to the attention of ESL learners. One way to do this in an ESL classroom is to ask students to show, for example, how they would ask someone to come to them using physical gestures. Then the teacher can show how it’s done in the English-speaking country that they are in. Of course, this is only a small bit of a lesson. The main point is that gestures are a part of effective cultural communication.


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