Body Language Skills: 5 Unspoken Commandments for Language Learners

Man extending his hand to illustrate the power of body language

How Body Language Influences Your Communication Skills

Lady putting a finger over her lips to illustrate that it's not only about words but more about your body language.

You may be good at speaking a language but did you know your body is constantly speaking and communicating with other people too?

Long ago,

I was very shy as a kid and barely spoke at all so I spent several years studying my own body language. Read every book, every article, every little thing that I could find in a quest to unlock the hidden meanings in our movements, gestures, and how they help us communicate with others… essentially to be able to read what they want to say by simply observing their body movements. It’s quite a fascinating area… and I still dabble in it from time to time.

Body language is a foreign language in itself…

The only problem with reading the bodies of others, or using your own to improve the communication skills you’d like, is that most of these “little signs” you read about are useless. Interesting, but useless in one-on-one conversations. You simply can’t look at any one particular body cue, or even a few of them, and conclude, with any level of certainty, what they are really communicating. Body gestures and movements in general can be tricky to decipher.

Hold on, not all these body signals are to be underestimated!

There are a few BIG cues that mean BIG things – usually. I’m going to go over five of the biggest and give you a few suggestions on how to use your body in order to project an image of a confident language learner. These are very simple things that you can do to increase the probability that others will come to take notice of your language skills without you saying much verbally.

So, without further ado, here are The Five Commandments of Body Language for Language Learners

Commandment #1 Thou Shalt Smile

The simplest, most obvious, and most powerful of the body language commandments for language learners or anyone who wants to become a better communicator.

Smiling conveys, both instantly and clearly, many wonderful things about yourself. Smiling demonstrates confidence, friendliness, a positive attitude, a good mood, and it gives the impression that you’re someone who is, most likely, fun to speak with. It’s also very difficult to ignore. (A master communicator is never ignored.)

Smiling also conveys to other people one other very important thing. Smiling tells everyone that you’re probably not a serial killer.

The Key Point?

Don’t forget to brush your teeth before heading out for that language exchange event you have tonight!

Commandment #2 Thou Shalt Be Open and Inviting

This simply means being “open” and “direct” with your body.

The most obvious “closed” body posture is when you have your arms crossed in front of you… effectively providing a barrier to keep other people away and reduce the connection in the conversation. Being “closed” also includes such things as holding objects, maybe a drink or even just your hands, between yourself and the person you’re talking to… again providing a barrier to keep others away. Or an indirect body orientation, such as pointing your shoulders, body, or head in another direction, effectively directing your attention away from the other and toward something else.

Closed body postures are very common because they serve to reduce the level of perceived exposure in a situation. When you’re open, directly facing the other person with your hands to the side, and possibly your palms facing up and towards the other, you’re letting yourself be vulnerable. Presenting yourself to others inherently includes the possibility of getting rejected. Since people don’t like rejection, they will often “play it safe” by closing themselves up and, essentially, rejecting the other, with their body language, first – before the other has a chance to reject them.

While this may reduce the risk for you to be rejected in a conversation, it’s unlikely to be of much assistance in conveying the confident language skills you’d like to portray. 

In other words,

To use your body in a “skilled” fashion, you must learn to keep it open and be vulnerable first.

Commandment # 3 Thou Shalt Make Eye Contact

“The eyes chico, they never lie”

Tony Montana said it best in his famous movie “Scarface”

Obvious, powerful eye contact is one of the most potent “weapons” in your language skills arsenal. Direct eye contact shows self-confidence (notice how timid language practitioners with low self-esteem usually avoid direct eye contact). 

Beware not to overdo it. 

Too much direct eye contact will make others feel uncomfortable.

Commandment #4 Thou Shalt Nod the Head

Nodding according to some people can be a tough one to master.

Luckily for me I’m a natural nodder.

Nodding is a very powerful reinforcer. You can literally strengthen friendly behavior from your language partner by nodding your head.

For example, 

If the conversation is going well, you can nod your head slightly, and often, to make sure it continues in that direction. If the conversation starts to veer in the wrong direction, you can withdraw your attention, by not nodding your head, and stop it dead in its tracks. Then use your conversational skills to point it in another more desirable direction.

Nodding tells your conversation partners that they are interesting, that what they are saying is interesting, that they have your undivided attention, and that you’re someone who knows how to focus his attention on something other than himself.

Try a simple experiment. Listen to someone without nodding and watch how they sputter along quietly and perhaps uncomfortably. Then begin nodding your head while listening to them and observe how they perk up and become more enthusiastic. The power of “the nod” will amaze you.

Long story short:

No matter their background “Learn to nod, and people will nod with you. Forget to nod, and you nod alone.” (getting a little poetic here)

Commandment #5 Thou Shalt Learn to Physical Touch

Being one of the five love languages in his book Gary Chapman states that touching, if done appropriately and subtly, has an immediate, almost magical effect on another person. Equaled in power only by the smile and, perhaps, eye contact, you must master the art of touching in order to become the successful language master communicator you’ve always wanted to be.

In our modern society, we have become somewhat cold, impersonal, and standoffish people, especially in the larger cities. Most people in our society are literally “starving” for body contact… “starving” for touch. So starved, in fact, that the occasional brief, friendly, touch of another can send chills up and down the spine.

Final Thoughts on Body Language

Woman pressing her fingers against each other while deciding what to do to illustrate the power of body language.

The Five Commandments of Body Language Skills for Language Learners are not for everyone but if you want to reach “god level” in your foreign language practice, they must be implemented.

Mastering the above techniques will make you so good at having conversations, that you won’t even need to say much with words so your B1 language level won’t even matter at this point.

Easy? Not really.

Integrating these body language commandments in yourself takes time, dedication, practice, and consistency.

Bringing awareness about what they are is an excellent starting point!

Want more?

Make sure to come back often and read the latest and greatest tips for language learning acquisition on the Byond Language Blog! and by the way check out one of my most popular posts so far on HOW TO HAVE GREAT CONVERSATIONS WITH NATIVE SPEAKERS WITHOUT A HIGH PROFICIENCY LEVEL.

Until then:

Keep learning my friends!

Meet Daniel

Since he was a child, Daniel has been passionate about Social Dynamics. Learn how Daniel got his start as a Language Coach, and why he decided to start this language blog. If you want to send Daniel a quick message, then visit his contact page here.

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