While being able to understand, speak, read, and write world languages is usually the primary focus of language learners, we musn’t forget the importance of non-verbal communication cues like hand gestures. Even with impeccable pronunciation and perfect grammar, you may inadvertently offend someone using “false friend” gestures from your home culture that have wildly different connotations abroad:

  • In Japan, for example, I saw the shock on a British friend’s face when he first saw Japanese students pose for a picture. Many young Japanese think it’s cute to use backwards peace signs, unaware that it means “f*ck you” to people from the U.K., Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand!
  • In Bangladesh, I made a serious gaff when trying to congratulate my team for a job well done: I didn’t know at the time that in that part of the world, a thumbs up means “up yours”, not  “great job” as it does in the U.S.

To avoid making a fool of yourself like I tend to do so well, spend some time familiarizing yourself with the infographic below that details many of the most common hand gestures around the world.


The Global Guide to Hand Gestures

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