The Role of Culture in Nonverbal Communication

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  • 0:01 Nonverbal Communication
  • 1:20 Gestures & Touch
  • 3:40 Paralanguage & Silence
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Nonverbal communication is a large part of most conversations, but gestures and other nonverbal cues can mean different things in different cultures. In this lesson, we'll examine the role of culture in nonverbal communication.

Nonverbal Communication

Lila loves to talk to her friends and family, but she's noticed that sometimes she doesn't need words to communicate. The other day, for example, when her friend Maria asked how Lila was doing, Lila just gave Maria the okay sign, making a circle with her thumb and first finger, to show that she was doing well.

Nonverbal communication is the transmission of a message from one person to others without speech. Things like Lila's okay sign are part of everyday communication for many people. Even when Lila does speak, she still communicates nonverbally. For example, when she interviewed for a job she dressed up in a suit to communicate that she was responsible and right for the job.

But Lila has also noticed that nonverbal communication can vary depending on a person's culture, or the beliefs of a certain ethnic group. For example, Lila loves the color purple; in her culture, it represents nobility and creativity. But her friend Maria is from another culture, and in her country, purple symbolizes death and mourning. Maria almost never wears purple, except when her grandmother died.

To help Lila with her nonverbal communication, let's look closer at the ways in which nonverbal communication can be affected by culture.

Gestures & Touch

Remember when Lila gave Maria the okay sign to let her know that Lila was doing all right? It's a good thing they weren't in Brazil, where the sign is considered offensive.

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