Do you want to teach abroad? Learn these useful tips about gestures

Teaching abroad is no big deal except that you need to prepare for some communication-related challenges.

cheerful black man having video call and waving hand
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Let’s start with the tense. Most teachers use common set of gestures to show the required tense – e.g. pointing forwards with one finger means the future tense, pointing down to one’s feet means the present tense, while indicating over one shoulder with the thumb implies the past tense. These different gestures are first taught by giving oral instruction along with the particular gesture and, gradually, your students will get the point.

Of course, you can add to the common set of gestures and develop your own catalogue of gestures.

But you should be very careful with some gestures.

Quite few gestures are universally understood and interpreted. What is perfectly acceptable in, say, the USA or the UK may be rude, frowned upon, or misleading in other cultures.

Here are some useful examples:

Beckoning with your index finger. This means come here in the UK but not in the Middle or the Far East, Portugal, Spain, Latin America, Japan, Indonesia, and Hong Kong. It is more acceptable to beckon with the palm down, with fingers or your whole hand waving.

Pointing at something or someone in the room, using your index finger. It is impolite to point with the index finger in the Middle and the Far East. Using an open hand or your thumb is more acceptable. 

Making a V sign. This means Victory in most of Europe when you make this sign with your palm facing away from you. If you face your palm in, the same gesture means get lost or worse. 

Forming a circle with fingers to indicate OK. Although this gesture may mean OK in the U.S.A. and some other countries around the world, there are some notable exceptions. In Brazil and Germany, this gesture is obscene. In Japan, this means money. In France, it has the additional meaning of zero or worthless. 

Patting a student on the head. This can be very upsetting for some Asian students. In the Buddhist religion, the head is deemed sacred. So, some children from cultures influenced by Buddhism may feel uncomfortable if their head is touched.  

Passing an item to someone with one hand. In some Far East countries, this is very rude. Even a small object such as a pencil or business card must be passed with two hands. In many Middle and Far Eastern countries, it is rude to pass something with your left hand, which is considered unclean. 

Nodding your head up and down to say Yes. In Bulgaria, for example, nodding your head up and down means No.

Irobiko Chimezie Kingsley is an experienced teacher, researcher and academic writer. He provides academic writing services such as Thesis, Dissertation, Personal Statement, Research Proposal etc.