Translating Gestures and Body Language

Translating Gestures and Body Language | One Hour Translation

Body language, as well as gestures, are both forms of communication; sometimes just as important as verbal language.

Body language, as well as gestures, are both forms of communication; sometimes just as important as verbal language. So, when conversing with another person, body language and gestures must be taken into account, because this is how we determine how to ‘read’ the people we’re interacting with.

Non-Verbal Communications

These non-verbal communications might include emotional expressions, personal distance, visual and/or physical contact, periods of silence, and voice volume and tone. Certainly, communication via body language is quite easy to understand when dealing with people who speak the same language, have similar personal characteristics, and who come from the same culture. However, there are huge differences between our everyday gestures and those of someone from another geographic area that’s linguistically and/or culturally distinct from our own.

Dangers for Interpreters

In the case of interpreters, for example, it is very important for them to take into account these characteristics when performing their work, as the body language of each person can vary according to their language or where they live. From an interpreters point of view, they must be experienced enough to pay attention to the spoken words and also the body language being displayed. This is vitally important for interpreters in meetings and conferences, but it’s even more important for interpreters who are required to perform simultaneous or consecutive interpretations whilst standing/sitting next to the speaker. Misinterpreting a gesture could easily create misunderstandings that result in the audience not comprehending an intended message.

Different Countries - Different Body Language

Most people within groups who share the same culture make gestures unconsciously, and these are quickly understood by others. However, problems arise when a gesture may mean something totally different, even the complete opposite, in a different part of the world.

Let’s have a look at an example. In Bulgaria, to say ‘no’ one moves their head up and down, which is the exact opposite in Western cultures. And ‘yes’ is indicated by moving your head from side to side. And Bulgaria isn’t the only country where we see this ‘opposite’ system: it’s also used in Pakistan, parts of India, and Turkey.

Another example: in some Muslim countries you are only allowed to use your right hand to give and receive money, and to eat.

Both body language and gestures play important roles in our interaction with other people; and it’s something we should keep in mind when conversing with someone of a different culture or background or when travelling abroad.

Below we’ve listed just a few translations of body language and gestures -

Feet:

When feet are crossed at the ankles, the translation is ‘feeling at ease’. However, when feet are pointed towards the door, the translation is ‘I’m out of here’! Foot tapping translates as ‘anxiety, or a desire to leave’; whilst foot shuffling suggests ‘being bored with the current situation’.

Hands and Arms:

When someone brushes their hair back with their fingers they are either ‘preening’ if they like you; or they have a conflict with what you’re saying’. Crossed arms translates to either ‘discomfort with their appearance’; or ‘shut off to social influences’. Alternatively, arms behind the back show ‘openness to what’s being discussed’.

Eyes:

When a person continually pushes their glasses back onto their nose, and if it’s accompanied by a slight frown, it indicates ‘disagreement’. It may also indicate that their glasses are too big!

And when someone’s eyes are moving to the sides it translates as either lying, or nervousness. Some people suggest that looking to the left indicates ‘attempting to remember facts’ and eyes moving to the right indicate ‘lying’. When someone is looking down at the floor, it translates to shyness, trying to hide something emotional, or being upset.

Head:

An overly tilted head is a ‘sign of sympathy’; while tilting the head and smiling can indicate ‘playfulness or flirtation’. A lowered head indicates ‘something to hide’; but if it’s lowered after a compliment it translates as ‘shyness’. And a cocked head indicates ‘confusion’, or alternatively they’re challenging you.

Actions:

When someone moves closer to you it translates to ‘warm thoughts about that person’; however when someone moves too close into another’s personal space it can translate as ‘hostility and/or an attempt to dominate’.

Straight posture with shoulders back indicates ‘leadership and power’.