Do You Speak Body Language?

My class consists of 19 students, of which only 1 speaks English only in his household, and even he began his life in a bilingual environment. The other 18 speak at least one, if not two other languages in their homes. Most of my students speak Arabic, but many also speak French. I have 3 who speak French and not Arabic, 1 who speaks Spanish, and 1 who speaks a Philippine dialect. All of my students speak SOME English, but to varying degrees. My job is to teach them English, while also teaching them everything we normally teach in school (reading, writing, math, science, social studies etc.) Fortunately, I am certified to teach ESL and have some experience with English Language Learners. Due to my unique teaching position, I have had some readers ask for tips on teaching English Language Learners. So, from now on, I will now be doing a Teaching Tip Tuesday geared especially towards teaching English Language Learners. Here’s this week’s Tuesday TESOL Teaching Tip:

This week’s Tuesday Teaching Tip is being published on Thursday.  See Tuesday’s post to find out why it was late.Smile 

ELL Teaching Tip #12: Teach (and Learn) Body Language

When you learn a language, either your first or your second, you learn more than just words.  Language is highly embedded in culture (See Tip # 10 for more information on how this is true.)  One way that you see language and culture mixed is through body language.  Body language varies greatly from one culture to another.  Here are a few simple examples to illustrate this point:

1.  In most of the US, it is rude to look away from an authority figure when you are being scolded.  In many Hispanic countries, it is rude to look at an authority figure when you are being scolded.

2.  In most of the US, it is customary for people to say “come here” by using one index finger.  In many Middle Eastern countries, this same gesture is considered inappropriate and rude.

3.  In most of the US, it is customary for people to be used to having their own personal space bubble.  In Morocco, it is normal for people to stand quite a bit closer to you while they are talking to you.


While these are simple examples, they illustrate the point that body language canimage differ from country to country.  When you are teaching students who speak another language at home, they likely also have a different culture at home.  It is important to:


  1.  Be respectful of their current body language.  Never tell a student that it is “wrong” to stand a certain way.

  2.  Don’t misinterpret their current body language to mean something it does not.  Try to understand if there is a reason behind a look or gesture they are using.

  3.  Explicitly teach body language that goes along with the sentences or       gestures you may use.  When teaching body language, do it respectfully.


One way that I explicitly teach body language, while being respectful of my students’ culture is by saying “I know that in Arabic this means…, but in English we…”  I always focus on a difference in language, and never on one being right, while the other is wrong.


Do you enjoy the weekly TESOL Teaching Tips?  Do you want to know more about teaching English Language Learners?  I will be speaking on this topic on March 22nd at the Everything’s Intermediate Expo, and I’d love to have you “join” us.  It is a virtual expo, which will help us connect no matter where we are!  Click HERE for more information.


Check out Tips 1 – 10 here.




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About rakisradresources

teacher mother of 3 wife

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