In the last units, you learned a lot about using your body, eyes, voice, and hands to send various messages to your audience. In this unit, we will look at how gestures may be used within and across different cultures!
In Unit 2, we looked at “Gestures of Focus,” which help speakers show which words and phrases are important. In other words, by speaking a word or phrase and using your hands to, for example, point at that word, you are telling the audience, “This is important, so remember it!”
In Unit 4, we studied “Gestures for Expression,” which makes what a speaker saying more vivid to listeners. In other words, your voice and your hands “paint a picture” in audience members’ minds, and this helps them better understand what you are trying to say.
In this unit, gestures are looked at from a cultural perspective—so this is more of a cultural lesson than a speaking strategy. According to recent research, where you are from determines how you tell a story (Nicoladis, Nagpal, Marentette, & Hauer, 2019). There are two parts to telling a story. The first part has to do with how a person presents the order to the listener. In Asian countries, the focus tends to be more on the lesson one can learn from the story; in Western countries, the story is told in chronological order (in other words, from the beginning to the middle to the end).
While this information may not seem important to speaking, it is actually extremely important! First, if you understand this information, then you can begin to look at how you tell a story. Do you use your hands to show emotions or turmoil within the story, or do you let the moral of the story dominate? Do you start at the beginning of a story and follow the events in order, or do you stress the importance of understand the moral or lesson to be learned? Second, if you understand how different cultures tend to tell stories, then you can be more mindful of your storyteller, and therefore more sensitive to his or her culture’s way of presenting a tale. In short, knowing that “culture/language groups differ in story-telling style” will help you be a culturally-sensitive listener (Nicoladis, Nagpal, Marentette, & Hauer, 2019).
Think of a famous story, legend, fable or fairytale from your culture. Write down some notes detailing the important parts of the story. What is the setting (where and what time does the story take place)? Who are the main characters? How does the story evolve (beginning, middle, and end)? Are there any lessons to be learned from the story? What parts of your culture are highlighted or stressed in the story, characters, and/or lessons?
Use the box below to record your notes about your chosen story! Feel free to draw pictures of the setting, main characters, important items, and/or maps to help illustrate your story!
When you are ready, form small groups of 3-4 students, and take turns telling stories. Don’t think about gestures or your voice—tell the story as naturally as possible. After you are finished, have the other group members (the listeners) tell you how they noticed your hands moving, voice changing, etc. as you told different parts of the story!